The Difference Between Heartache and Heartbreak
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.

We all hate being dumped by a romantic interest, and the reason we hate it is that there is pain involved, at least for awhile.

Years ago I noted that some periods of grief I experienced after a relationship ended lasted only a month or two, while other times it lasted six months, a year, or more. One thing that was always true, however, was that during the time I was grieving I thought a great remedy would be to meet someone else, but would always find that I was totally worthless when it came to connecting with potential partners, no matter how promising the person wooing me was. In the end, I came to understand that I had no business going out with anyone while in such a state.

So, in January 1997 I was trying to grasp and understand all of this, and decided to interview an expert who understood the process, Michael Berler, Ph.D., a San Antonio psychologist. Looking back, what Berler said still has great value.

He explained that the reason the pain lasts for different periods of time has to do with the length of the relationship and how serious it was. The type of relationship that ends and leaves light bruises causes the phenomenon of heartache, and when you feel as if you were run over by a bus, it’s  called heartbreak.

“Heartache is a milder form of heartbreak, and (that) usually means you’re mildly deflated,” says Berler.

Mildly deflated, but hurting just the same. Berler explained that the average person recovers from heartache within about 30 days, but that a long-term or extremely intense relationship will knock a person down for a much longer time.

“A person can be extremely dysfunctional for one year to 18 months afterward, and it can take two years to recuperate fully,” he says. “There is an acute phase of heartbreak, and then there is a chronic stage that you manage. But there’s a part of me that says you never get over it.”

Don’t remind me. Still, this is why Berler recommends that individuals stay away from dating people who are recovering from something like this … the motivation is to avoid becoming a heartache casualty yourself. So if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t date someone who is.

“The person in the throes of heartbreak is probably obsessive about the past relationship, and one’s ability to connect with someone is temporarily diminished,” he says. “There’s a tendency to become self-absorbed. They become less supportive, less able to be a friend, a mother or a father.”

Oh great. But Berler assures us that the fact that the person is mourning, grieving, and thinking about himself most of the time is a good thing.

“A lack of an emotional response would be worrisome,” he says. “The misery reflects something healthy. If you didn’t have that, you’d either be in massive denial or you couldn’t have those feelings.”
So when is it safe to step back into the dating ring with someone who recently got dumped? And more importantly, if you’re the one who is in recovery, when is it safe to say you’re over it so you can present yourself back into the dating arena?

“You’re over it when your thinking is not as obsessional and intense, and when your anger and sadness are more tolerable,” says Berler. “It’s when your negative thoughts become more manageable. Also, the need for attachment is a healthy sign.”

And as far as when is it safe to date the dating wounded, my answer is – for the heartachers I’d give it a couple of months, but for the heartbreakers it’s best to wait a year, and even then, I’d stand by as a friend all the way and allow the person to take the lead as far as romance goes. You’ll know when the coast is clearing because all of a sudden he won’t talk about it as much, and when he smiles you’ll see all of his teeth, instead of some of his teeth.

So, for those of you in recovery, when is it safe to reemerge into the dating world? The answer is, when you think you can date and not superimpose your former love’s face on top of your date’s face, and keep focused on what she’s saying instead of what your former girlfriend once told you, you may be ready. With any luck, it’ll be sooner than later, but the good news is, that day will come.

Copyright 2007, Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.


Writing a book: Easier Said than Done
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.

It is true that I have been writing a book for the last 16 months, and the process has been long, lonely, and arduous, but I’m determined to see it through because I believe strongly that the information in it has the potential to change society in a positive way … from preventing marriages that should not take place to saving marriages that might otherwise not have been saved. It contains information I wish I had known when I was married, and am thankful to know now.

The title of the book is: Heal Your Marriage: Diagnosing and Recovering From Your Marital Illness. It’s about a phenomenon similar to the five stages of grief we all know about … and it’s this: every unhappy marriage becomes ill, and then deteriorates in four predictable stages. If nothing is done to stop the progress of the illness, the marriage will die.

Marital illness is that like many cancers, if a couple can detect and deal with it early, it can be relatively easily returned to health. If found late, it may be dealt with as a chronic problem that may or not be easily managed, or it may continue its deterioration and die.

My book describes this process in detail, and also prescribes a plan for stopping the illness. The beauty of understanding how ill a marriage is, is that once a person understands that his or her marriage will die if nothing is done, it often serves as motivation to jump out apathy and do the work necessary to save the relationship. I can tell you as a marriage therapist that one of the most frequent problems I see is couples who wait too late to work on saving their relationship. My book underlines the importance of early detection and treatment of marital discord!

I learned about this process while researching my dissertation at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. I was studying what happens between the time a couple decides to marry, and then years later, decides to divorce. Past research described the phenomenon of the stages in which a marriage dies, and my own research backed it up. In addition, I learned some new insight and aspects to the process that I describe in my book.

So the question is, when will the book be published? Unfortunately the answer is: I don’t know. What I do know is that when I started writing the book, I had no idea how complicated and difficult it is to write and sell a book idea to a publisher. I had thought that all a budding author needed was a great idea, credentials, and the ability to write. I knew I had all three, but  now I know that it’s not that simple.

Most nonfiction writers such as myself must spend many months, and sometimes years, writing and preparing a detailed and professionally researched book proposal. There are books written about how to do this, and it is absolutely necessary to understand the process and to do it right, otherwise when you send your project around to potential agents, you’ll be ignored, and being ignored means that most likely you will never sell your book.

I have spent 16 months writing a proposal, and this includes the first three chapters of the book. Even though I have experience as a professional writer, I found that to make it the best it could be I needed to hire a professional writing coach who has experience with proposals and book writing. I have found her editing and suggestions expensive, but a necessary Godsend that may make the difference of ultimately getting the book sold.

If you’re writing a nonfiction self-help book like I am, all an author needs to sell it is the proposal and the first two or three chapters. I say “all you need,” like it’s no big deal, but the point is, the book doesn’t have to be completed. Fiction writers, for example, must have a finished manuscript in order to sell a project. My proposal and the chapters is 60-typed pages long and contains an overview, a detailed outline of the book, an analysis of competing books, a biography about me and why I am the one to write the book, a marketing plan, and more. Now that the proposal is complete, I spend any time I can find to  email and writing query letters to literary agents, who I hope will agree to represent me and my project. The agent’s job is to  pitch it to publishers.

If an agent is interested after reading my query letter containing a description of my book and my qualifications, he or she will often request to see the proposal. Some want this emailed, and others want me to send a hard copy. Each time a hard copy proposal is requested it costs me at least $30 for postage, copies of the proposal, and all the other promotional items I include in the packet. This weekend I sent out four, and in the past I have sent out dozens more, so you can see that the cost of finding an agent can add up fast.

If I do get an agent who believes in my book, and he or she sells it to a publisher, then we’ll get a monetary advance, and I will be given a certain amount of time to write the rest of it – usually about a year. Once published, it will be up to me to market and promote the book. If I want it to be a best seller, it will mean traveling the nation doing speeches, workshops, print, radio and television promotion, all at my own expense. (This is how the Chicken Soup books caught on – the two authors stopped what they were doing and went around the nation promoting it everywhere they could).

Now that I’ve learned all I have about writing and selling a book, I have true admiration for every title I see on a bookstore shelf for I know what an author went through to get it there. It is truly an admirable feat that could only be done by someone who feels passionate about what he or she is doing.

Now, when I hear a person say, “Oh, I’m going to write a book about that,” I think, “Good luck!” Having a book published by a bona fide publisher (not self-published) is easier said than done. So, wish me luck and good wishes – I promise to work hard to make it happen … it’ll be fascinating to see how it all unfolds.

Copyright 2007, Becky Whetstone, Ph.D. 

Dating With a Brain
By Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.

We know the world is full of unhappily married couples, but guess what – it’s also full of unhappily dating couples. That’s right – I’m talking about unmarried men and women in committed relationship who are hopelessly incompatible and remain together even though they don’t have to. The question, of course, is why?

Well, the answer is complicated, but some of the most common reasons people continue to date someone they don’t like or get along with are: the fear to be alone, fear of the unknown, and hatred of the dating scene. Also, many times a person either enjoys unhappiness and turmoil, or has never experienced peacefulness and contentment and thinks it’s normal to be unhappy with another person. Any way you look at it, it’s sad.

But one thing I’ve been seeing lately is that some single couples who knew there was trouble almost from the start ignore the obvious and start amassing material things such as houses, puppies, and furniture … things that quickly complicate the relationship and become an anchor that weighs down two people who otherwise might walk away.

That is why I am calling today for singles to take drastic action and to begin a new and different process of dating and getting to know one another. It’s a process I call, “Dating With a Brain.” Yes, instead of acting on instinct like animals, singles will now engage the cerebellum and use  thoughtfulness, mindfulness, and self discipline when it comes to dating and love-related decision-making.

Once this occurs, we will see the end of unhappiness as we know it. There will be no more road rage or divorce. Flowers will bloom, kindness will rule, and we all will live life the way it was meant to be lived – joyfully and peacefully.

Hey, I know what you’re thinking – that using the brain to make wise relationship decisions is extraordinarily difficult, and almost no one can – or will – do it. Call me a dreamer, but I think it’s possible. I know, because I do it myself.

Here are the guidelines I suggest that singles use to begin the process:

1.    Be happy with yourself. This is important, because you won’t make a great partner if you don’t like and respect you. Self esteem forms the foundation for the healthy relationship that you will eventually have, and if you start with this, you will accept nothing less than decent and respectful behavior from others.
2.    Be able to be alone. If you can be alone, then it means you can wait for a relationship that is healthy for you, and that is worth waiting for. Too many people feel that they cannot be without a relationship, and this sets them up for one mess after another. Example: Bob dates Sue, who he doesn’t like that much, and then dumps her to upgrade to Debbie, who he does. What Bob doesn’t know is that Debbie doesn’t like him that much … and, well, you get the idea.

3.    Stay busy and interested in life. One of the chief reasons people rush into unhealthy relationships is due to loneliness. If you stay connected to friends and activities, then you’ll be less likely to leap into something that isn’t right.

4.    Give people a chance you normally wouldn’t. Guess what – the person who is a great fit for you may not look like you imagined, have the sense of fashion you’d hoped for, or live as close as you’d like. But if the person is kind, decent, and has integrity, give him or her the benefit of the doubt, and see what unfolds.

.    Date. Too many singles soar from one or two dates to love and going steady. I’ve even had singles tell me they don’t know how to “date.” Well, here’s how: If you are interested in a person, go out, then continue going out, and go out some more. You don’t have to narrow it down to a one-person commitment right away. Keep your options open as long as you can … see what’s out there, and even if you do decide to date only one person, it doesn’t mean you have to declare he or she’s The One. Spend time getting to know one another, be patient, let the closeness progress or … or not.

6.    Believe people when they show you who they are. If you go out once or a few times and your date is late to pick you up (or isn’t ready when you get there), drinks too much, talks about or does things that cause you to feel uncomfortable, tries to push you farther than you want to go, doesn’t do what he or she says she will, expresses beliefs and values that are wildly opposed to how you believe, comes on strong — and soon pulls back, shows a lack of honesty or integrity … then save yourself  weeks, months or years of misery, and end it.

7.    Hold on to your heart. Don’t give your heart away – allow a person to earn it. In a healthy relationship, friendship, compatibility, and companionship come first, romance comes second. If a person wants to rush it, then assume he or she doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

8.    Ease into commitment. Commitment is an important decision. It means: I’m off the market and I want to go out with you and ONLY you. Think about it.

9.    Commit, but take it easy. OK, you want to be exclusive. Date, enjoy, love the person. But don’t move in, buy a house, puppy, or anything else together that will make it difficult to break up should issues come up that make it unworkable.

10.  After time, get serious. A couple needs to see one another in many situations over time. Do that, and if after a year or more things go well and the person continues to be decent, kind, honest, then take it to a serious, committed level – still, don’t buy things together unless you’re willing and able to get stuck with all of the financial commitment.

The things I mention here sound difficult, but they are doable and will ensure that you don’t end up in relationships that ultimately cause you to feel miserable and trapped. Your brain is ready and willing to do the work, if you’ll let it.

Copyright 2007, Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.