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How even the worst breakups set you up to be a better spouse

Lisa Fogarty

by

Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

There's no such thing as 'damaged goods' — heartache just makes you a better partner

We've all been there. We experience the worst breakup of our lives and think: You couldn't pay me to do this again.

The trouble with getting in deep again after having your heart ripped to shreds is that somewhere, in the back of your mind, you may be thinking: well, shoot, how long before it happens again? Maybe you can't help but focus and even obsess over your "flaws" because you fear it's only a matter of time before your new partner uncovers them all and runs for the hills.

There are even special, totally idiotic words that have been created for people who have been through the wringer in relationships (i.e., nearly everyone). We say so-and-so has baggage. She is damaged goods. She's broken.

Nonsense. Experience — including bad experiences — makes you wiser and more enlightened. Remember the silly girl you were at 15? Any grown man who would sign up for a lifetime of naiveté along those lines needs to do some serious soul-searching.

But don't take it from me. Experts agree that heartache can make you a way better partner, as long as you deal with your issues and pain instead of burying them in the sand (and we all know how alluring it is to grab our shovels and dig).

"I think of a broken heart like a broken bone. If you don't give it proper attention and time to heal it will always be a problem," said dating and relationship coach Christine Baumgartner. "And if you do give it proper attention and time to heal, it can be even stronger than before."

More: 13 Things all happy couples do in their relationships

One of the reasons why many experts agree that a failed relationship can transform you into an even more successful partner is because our past mistakes make it possible for us to appreciate our new love interests even more.

"This may be due to a contrast effect, where we are more grateful and lean-in to the good times when we have experienced the bad times," said sexual psychotherapist and neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Prause. "The trouble comes, perhaps, when we lose that affective contrast. In other words, we get used to having mostly positive emotions and do not recall how bad it once was. It's a difficult challenge to remain appreciative, when the brain does not really work that way!"

Of course, as anyone who has had the misfortune of discovering her boyfriend actually had three kids and a wife she didn't know anything about can tell you, not all breakups are created equal. As you can imagine, a really horrendous split doesn't automatically grant you otherworldly spouse powers, the way an amicable breakup that taught you a great deal about yourself and life might.

"When a relationship ends due to mutual agreement and the ending is well managed, although it is distressing and can be emotional afterwards, research shows that people can form better and stronger relationships with new partners — despite the sadness of leaving the previous relationship," said Alex Hedger, cognitive behavioral therapist and clinical director at London's Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Clinic.

But what about when the guy (or girl, to be fair) was a total jerk?

Hedger says there is a higher risk that the emotional consequences of a bad breakup will impact how we act in a new relationship. For example, we may be more cautious or controlling because we want to protect ourselves from future pain. Sounds logical, right?

More: Divorce is becoming a thing of the past (hooray!)

Don't worry: There's a silver lining to the worst splits, too.

"Even if previous relationships haven't worked out well, they still provide experience and learning," Hedger said. "This can help us become more familiar with our strengths and weaknesses in a relationship. This increased awareness."

Bottom line: You will love again. And, assuming you deal with your breakup instead of having 17 one-night stands in a row before hightailing it to Costa Rica to hide, you will be an even more amazing partner the next time around.

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