How to Heal a Broken Heart After Divorce

By Thursday, April 9, 2015

Did you know that suffering from a broken heart isn’t just an emotional metaphor? According to the American Heart Association, “broken heart syndrome” is a real, physical response to a surge of stress hormones.

The symptoms – chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat – occur more frequently in women than men. It is typically brought on by an extremely stressful life event like the death of a loved one, illness or job loss.

Even more stressful than these events is the end of a marriage. In fact, divorce and marital separation rank numbers two and three respectively on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

Not only can this profound life change bring about physical illness, it can also result in depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation.

Luckily, there are ways to heal a broken heart (both figuratively and literally), and your pets can help!

The physical, mental and emotional benefits of pets are well documented. Studies show that having a pet lowers your risk for heart attack, reduces blood pressure and stress, and can lead to less medications and trips to the doctor.

In addition, animal companions help us feel safe, give us something to care for, and encourage interaction with others (after all, who doesn’t pounce at a chance to talk about their dog or cat?).

Beth Noska of Dallas, Texas recently experienced many of these benefits firsthand. Just shy of their two-year wedding anniversary, her husband moved out. “I threw a huge pity party in my honor,” she says, “but I only had two others show up: my dogs, Big Bubba and Little Ernie.”

Their companionship helped her get through the initial shock and, as the months went by, they gave her something else to focus on and care for. “They let me hang on to my desire to be needed and wanted. They taught me how to play harder and relax better. And they continue to help me be more whole again each day.” (See Beth’s entire letter below).

Candace Canty, owner of Dogaholics in Chicago, Illinois understands all too well. When her marriage dissolved, she didn’t tell anyone until the ink was dry. So her two dogs, Clover and Guinness, “were the only ‘people’ with me. Without them, it would’ve been very lonely,” she says.

“They’ve helped make the transition easier,” says Candace. “We get out. We walk. There are activities to go to. You meet so many more people when you have a dog.”

But what if the circumstances surrounding your divorce don’t allow you to have a pet? This was the case for Jackie Walker, author, speaker and “closetologist”, in Tampa, Florida. Although she and her ex-husband agreed it would be best for their two dogs to stay with him, it was a difficult decision. There were so many things she missed about them, she says. “The greeting at the door, the unconditional love, talking baby talk to them, just the whole essence of the dog.”

Although she couldn’t have a dog at that time, “I needed to smell dogs, just be around them,” she recounts. So she came up with a creative way to get her four-legged fix by going to a local pet store and visiting the pups there. Eventually, Jackie was able to adopt two new companions but this temporary work-around helped her get through.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, follow Jackie’s lead and explore other ways to get in some creature cuddles, like volunteering for a rescue or pet sitting for a friend. Even just a few minutes each week can offer terrific physical and mental benefits and help heal your broken heart.

Did a pet help heal your broken heart after divorce? I’d love to hear your story. Please share your experience in the comments.

Beth’s Letter

My Divorce & My “Boys”

Just shy of our 2-year anniversary, my husband moved out. He’d “had enough” of being married to me. It was devastating. I threw a huge pity party in my honor, but I only had 2 ‘shows’…Big Bubba and Little Ernie…my “Boys”…my dogs.


Well, they didn’t actually ‘show up’ because they were already here, but one thing was perfectly clear. It was just the 3 of us now and we were all alone.


Divorce is stressful, no matter how ‘friendly’ thing go. Stress causes emotional and physical symptoms of our mind and body. Some people gain weight; I lost a lot. Some become social butterflies; I could barely go to work. Some people can manage a smile; mine was gone.


Fortunately for me, there was not much ‘picking up’ required after the party was over. Yes, I picked up a few toys and a little poop, but the boys picked up me. One day at a time. As the months went by, (and the rules about staying off the couch became more and more lax) I started to manage a new smile.


First of all, they began to snuggle with me more. All I had to do was create a lap and they were both in it. This took away much of my loneliness. We were spending much more time together. This gave me the ability to help them with their manners and social skills, which in turn made them much more joyful to be around.


Secondly, they taught me how to play harder and relax better. Bubba is the Fetch-Master and Ernie is the expert at Hide-and-Seek. They love the games, and then they crash; all while being completely drama-free.


Most importantly, they let me hang on to my desire to be needed. And not only needed, but wanted. I love to cook. But for a while there, I felt like there was no point. I would just open a can or grab some cheese and crackers, fill the ‘hungry’ bowl up with some kibble, and make a pot of coffee. But yesterday Bubba (well, his gas) reminded me that I used to cook for my Boys. If I made meatloaf, I would make an extra for them for the week. Their favorite is chicken pot pie. I am making it from scratch as I type.


So, for now, I am okay with being the only human here. Through more snuggling, awesome play- and nap-times, and keeping me wanted for my cooking, Big Bubba and Little Ernie continue to help me through my divorce and be more whole again each and every day.
My advice on helping to deal with the stress of divorce: If you do not have a pet…rescue one!


-Beth Noska

 Image: © Cindy Hughes/Shutterstock