Relationships: Heartbreak or Heartache?


broken heart candy shattered love

“He broke my heart”. Phrases like this are thrown around a little too casually. I’m guilty of it. When commenting on T’s ’30 before 30′ bucket list article, I mentioned having my heart busted wide open by 3 people.

When it comes to matters of the heart, i.e. Relationships. Love. Trust: These are the words that are commonly linked. When you’re in love you should be able to trust the person you’re in a relationship with to be honest with you. To not betray you by sleeping with your friend. To have the decency to not violate your body and mind with abuse that renders you ‘heart-broken’.

My track record is not superb; oh, my cynical tone didn’t give it away? I haven’t always been blameless, though I’ve never cheated or lied, been abusive or lowered myself to blackmail. But I will admit to taking baggage into relationships that didn’t belong there and, for that, I must be responsible.

I’ve listened to The Cure’s album ‘Wish’ so much I had to buy the CD 3 times. I wore it out. ‘Tidal’ by Fiona Apple got the same treatment. I have wallowed in self-pity and built a wall of suspicion with a pinch of cynicism around me. I refuse to watch ‘chick flicks’ because they lead you to believe that the average girl next door can find herself a Ryan Gosling who doesn’t care that she’s a ball of neurosis.  I’m not buying it.  Yes, I’m jaded. Has my heart been broken? I thought so. But maybe, maybe it’s just been damaged. Scarred.

I have 5 friends under the age of 40 who are widows. 2 of these women have children. Only one widow knew her husband had limited time on this earth and was able to prepare herself as best she could for what was coming. The other 4 lost husbands in freak medical situations, car/bike/drowning accidents, and such tragic circumstances.

When they got married, they gave their hearts to each other and became ONE. I nearly got married once and when I called it off, I spent months trying to deal with the pain of what felt like losing a limb and the ‘phantom pain’ that went with it. But my heart? It didn’t break. It was stretched, torn, twisted, put through the proverbial wringer. But did it break? No.

The 5 widows I mentioned didn’t lose their partners because their partners treated them badly. They didn’t lose them by choice. No, these women were robbed of the other half of their heart. When you say, “I do”, you also say “till death do us part.” I just don’t think these women ever expected that death would come so swiftly and so stealthily.

That is what I class as ‘heartbreak’. My painful relationships should be described as heartache. Can you imagine being widowed before you turn 30? It’s unthinkable.

So from now on, when people ask about my relationships and what I think, I will be using the term ‘heartache’ when I explain the feelings that I was left with. ‘Heart break’ applies to those who grieve the loss of a loved one, whether it be a spouse, a child, a sibling. I choose to reserve something as intense as  ‘heartbreak’ for situations where I genuinely believe that the heart may break in little pieces due to the heaviness of grief and the burden of burying the man you planned on growing old with or the baby that only took a few breaths. I think I may be guilty of being flippant with the term and overly dramatic. My heart is bruised: not broken.

Do you think there needs to be clarification between the terms ‘heartache’ and ‘heartbreak’? Should they be used more carefully?


  • Melissa Savage

    I don’t know. I feel like people should be able to identify their experiences in the way that feels right to them. There’s no hierarchy of heartbreak, it all depends on what you’ve experienced in your life and how you feel at a particular moment and the level of resilience you have built up.

    • John James

      I was unsure about this post… I think you just nailed it in that comment Mel.

      But Maree, I don’t want you to think that doesn’t make your point of view valid – of course it’s valid, but It doesn’t feel as true for me as it might for you…

      Still, an interesting post – made me think. :)

      • Maree Talidu

        That’s ok, I’m unsure of how to reply to that comment! 😉

    • Maree Talidu

      I agree. Like I said to Sonja, a person’s emotional pain is a very individual thing and I wasn’t speaking for others. I was speaking about MY experiences and my choice to reserve a term as strong as ‘heart-break’ for something that really did tear me in half.

      I’m curious about the ‘no hierarchy of heartbreak’ (I partly agree). If a student says to me, “Miss, he dumped me and is going out with my friend and he broke my heart” and then a couple of weeks later the teen has moved on, is her ‘heartache’ equal to that of a peer who has grieved the loss of a sibling? It’s not a competition to see who has been hurt the most, but my point is that what some class as ‘heartache’ really may be fleeting emotions that resolve themselves quickly as opposed to someone who has suffered a traumatic experience and really is broken by what they’ve experienced.

      Also, totally agree re resilience. Some people handle tough situations with strength, some people fall apart very easily.

  • iamevilcupcake

    I actually agree, having become a widow at 32. My husband’s death was a surprise. Despite the fact that I was miserable in my marriage, you are just never prepared to bury a spouse, let alone actually watch them die like I did.

    Then there’s all the crap after. The funeral. Having to deal with their family. Being alone in an empty house. Having to sort through their stuff. Having to finalise their accounts. Finding things you didn’t know were there. Having to get a solicitor. Having to tick the widow box on forms. And then of course there are the emotions involved. The sadness, the hurt, and the anger. Don’t know about the others, but I had the nightmares, being reminded over and over again how he died.

    Regardless of the state of the marriage, it was hearbreaking. But I’ve come through it as I’m sure the widows mentioned in the post have too.

    • Maree Talidu

      Mandi that’s awful, just awful. You are strong! And yes the widows I mentioned are moving on with life as much as possible, it’s different for the ones with small kids though. I can’t imagine committing my life to someone forever, and then the next thing, they’re gone. I am genuinely sorry for what you have experienced.

  • Tamsin Howse

    I can’t imagine burying a spouse, or a child. It would be truly heartbreaking.

  • SonjaLouise

    Maybe it’s because I put too much into my emotions, or maybe it’s because I have different definitions of heart brake and heart ache, but I believe my heart has broken three times.

    The first was hearing the sound my mum made when we went to go an view my grandfather’s body hours after he died.

    The second was when my sexually abusive boyfriend broke up with me and started dating my best friend.

    The third was when I realised that the ex-fiancé was never going to recover from his addictions.

    Now, I’ve never had to bury my husband (and I hope I never will) but these three experiences have broken me. They have made me question so much about life and death and hopes and dreams and reality. My spirit, my heart had been broken and it’s being mended to form something new and different to who I was before. I wrote about it a bit here: (though, to be honest, it’s a jumble of slightly incoherent thoughts).

    My point is that I think we all see this a different way, because we’ve all had different life experiences. What is heart breaking for someone might be better defined as a heart ache for someone else, and vica verca.

    • Maree Talidu

      Absolutely, I agree that emotional pain is a very individual thing and how you choose to phrase it is a personal thing also, for me I have those moments that have broken me somewhat but also made me stronger. And hey! I enjoyed your ‘jumble of slightly incoherent thoughts’, you’re way too hard on yourself!

  • Psych Babbler

    I agree with you…there should be a distinction between heart break and heart ache. I’ve had relationships that have ended in heartache. Perhaps for both parties. And yes, I’m a bit jaded too. But I cannot even begin to comprehend the heartbreak involved in burying a loved one. It’s similar I think to how people describe an event as ‘traumatic’ versus something horrible or difficult.

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