Expert Voices

How to Prevent a Broken Heart (Op-Ed)

A woman holds an image of a heart in her hands.
Feeling brokenhearted can have real effects on the heart. (Image credit: Broken heart photo via Shutterstock)

George Gibbs is director of Pastoral Care and a clinical counselor at Ohio State University (OSU)'s Harding Hospital and Talbot Hall, part of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. At the facility, Gibbs and others help patients and families work through mental or behavioral health challenges. Gibbs contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Many hearts will be filled this Valentine holiday, but a few will also be "broken." That's because being in love, or in any relationship, means taking a risk that all won't go as planned.

As the director of Pastoral Care and a clinical counselor at OSU Harding Hospital at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, I counsel people that entering into a romantic relationship can make you vulnerable because it gives the other person importance in your life. His or her behavior and choices can be a source of encouragement and support — or rejecting and hurtful. There are no guarantees against the emotional pain of being vulnerable in this way.

However, there are some behaviors each of us can practice to improve the likelihood that our relationships with loved ones have a better chance for success.

Maintaining personal mental health is an important foundation for everything we do, and certainly so for loving relationships. It can be self-defeating to focus on the other person in such a way that it deteriorates one's own mental health. This will undermine all relationships eventually.

In addition to keeping personal mental health as a foundation, I can offer these suggestions for building stronger relationships:

Focus on the positive. Practice verbal and non-verbal expressions of affection and keep shared interests and activities a priority.

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Practice forgiveness. Even the best relationships include disappointments and hurt. Forgiveness entails the ability to acknowledge the pain, talk about it, and in time, to make an active decision to no longer dwell on the anger and disappointment, so that you can return to a more positive relationship.

Take personal responsibility. Recognize that your own behavior can contribute to relational health or injury. Blaming your partner when you are unhappy in a relationship is the 'common cold' of relational conflict. Such blame becomes contagious and keeps relationships stuck. We have no direct control over the other person's choices and behavior, which is why we become vulnerable in love. We do have control over our own choices and behaviors that can improve the emotional environment of the relationship and keep our mental health in balance.

• Stay Focused. Good mental health, just like fitness and physical health, requires a conscious effort and putting healthy habits into practice. Together, physical and mental wellness can add to greater enjoyment of life for us and our loved ones.

Is it possible to avoid a broken heart? There is no guarantee. But you can use the above tips to help keep your relationship healthy or to manage your disappointments, and to prevent the hurt from devastating your life.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

Ohio State University Harding Hospital