Women who have experienced the pain of childbirth may say they’ll never do it again. Some people (more women than men) who divorce resolve never to marry again. Pet owners who experience the anguish of their pet’s death may grieve as intensely as losing a close family member. They may be hesitant to make another lifelong commitment to a furry being. But more often than not, love wins over heartache. In spite of the pain and heartache we allow ourselves to love again.
Do we forget the pain of our previous losses? Some people believe that time heals all wounds and that our memories of pain soften with time. Not necessarily so. Time alone doesn’t always heal your psychological wounds. Time is not medicine.
It is a myth that women are biologically programmed to forget the pain of childbirth. It hasn’t been forgotten, but the happiness and burst of oxytocin of cradling a baby colors the memory of the preceding pain. This is known as the halo effect. Over time, many women report labor and birth pain as less severe than they originally thought. But women who reported they had “the worst pain imaginable” continue to report that five years later. It could be that no matter how painful childbirth is, some women feel that the unconditional love and wonderful experiences with their child make childbirth worth the hours of pain.
If you have experienced the pain of divorce, you know how devastating it is to lose your best friend and see your future hopes and dreams disappear. Yet, many people try it again. Sixty-four percent of men had remarried in 2013, compared with 52 percent of women. Optimism alone doesn’t make for a happy remarriage. Sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce. Seventy-three percent of third marriages end in divorce. Professional counseling in the first marriage may save later heartache.
My husband and I lost Bingo, our eight-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, this week. Bingo had struggled with congestive heart failure and a respiratory illness until we made the difficult decision to facilitate his passing. As you can imagine, we are devastated to lose the company of this sweet, although neurotically anxious, boy. Would we do it again? It is too soon to tell, but if our past is an indicator of the future, we will open our hearts and adopt again.
Rather than throw in the towel and declare that we’ll never face heartache again, we need to heal, then assess whether the risk outweighs the costs.
How do we heal? Social support is critical to healing. Rely on your friends for comfort. Friends offered hugs and invitations to talk. I posted news of Bingo’s death on Facebook and received countless acknowledgments of my grief. Each hug and gesture of support made me feel warm and fuzzy. In fact, hugs ward off stress and protect the immune system. This makes me less susceptible to depression and anxiety. One study of hugs found that both perceived social support and more frequent hugs reduced the risk of infection and less severe illness symptoms. Hugs also lower blood pressure, alleviate fears around death and dying, improve heart health and decrease feelings of loneliness. One friend emailed me a group of photos of human/animal hugs that also gave me warm and fuzzy feelings, prompting a healing effect.
Once sufficiently, but not perfectly, healed, assess whether you are ready to take the risk of love again. Love is all about taking risks. Peter McWilliams said: “It is a risk to love. What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does?” It’s your choice.