5 Ways to Open the Closed Heart

Unrequited love—we’ve all read countless books and watched tear-stained, “chick flick” movies on the topic.

He loves her and misses her, but she won’t give him the time of day. She wants her man and family reunited, yet he will have nothing to do with her. Their pain is palpable. Crushing longing for another, yet that other person walks steadfastly away. No amount of yearning, pleading or promises will open their closed heart.

More than just sappy love scenes, these situations are breaking hearts every day. They tear more than hearts—they tear at the very fabric on one’s being. They cause the love-lost to question the very meaning of life.

“How can I go on when everything I believed in is gone?” Stephen asked me sadly. “She is my life. Without her I have nothing.”

Stephen sat alone in his lovely home, alone. A home once filled with laughter—and pain—now sat eerily quiet. His marriage of thirty years was now a shell of existence.

While his words are exaggerated—Stephen does have more than his marriage to give him meaning—his marriage, which spans the majority of his adult life, provided the ballast for the stability he enjoyed as an adult man. He had spent countless hours, days, weeks and months building something he now saw disintegrating before his eyes.

The end came as suddenly as his wife had burst into his life so many years earlier at college. He had been smitten those many years earlier—they had married, raised three wonderful daughters, been active in their church and community, been successful financially, but ultimately had lost their way. The fabric of their marriage had been fraying, outside Stephen’s awareness.

Sandy, still beautiful at mid-life, had been divorcing Stephen one wound at a time. Divorce by a thousand cuts! She tried to tell him about his dominance, how she felt lost in his shadow, but to no avail. Had she been loud enough? Had she been forceful enough to be heard? Her head was spinning now as to how to grasp for her life.

Sandy silently prepared to leave Stephen for at least a year before doing so. She talked to only a few people, knowing she would hear disapproval. But, her life was shrinking. Her thoughts, goals, dreams all paled in comparison to the largeness of Stephen’s life. This could not be the way her life was supposed to be. And so, she planned how she would leave.

She finally did leave, and once she did so she refused to talk to Stephen. She had not been able to share her heart with him for thirty years—how could she do so now? He would only offer seemingly empty promises. She had not felt safe to dream out loud before, how could she now? Her heart had closed one wound at a time.

Sandy had pushed away every time he pushed his agenda on the family. She had pushed away every time he insisted on a venture that made her feel insecure. She pushed away every time he was impatient with her. She pushed away when he laughed at her small, vulnerable dreams. Her heart grew colder toward him. Her heart became small and closed.

Your situation may be similar to Stephen’s and Sandy’s life. Maybe the man was the one to leave, experiencing divorce from a thousand cuts. Perhaps both have drifted apart from each other, unable to see each other on the path.

Regardless of the similarities or differences of the story, the distance and detachment are what lingers. Utterly alone, you search for hope. Unable to find a way to each other, feeling the hardness of your mate’s heart, you wonder what can be done now?

Here are several ideas for opening the closed heart:  

One, reflect. This is indeed a crisis, and a crisis is a time for reflection. It is a time to take stock of your life and make sense out of what’s happening. Reflection and prayer will bring insight and light for the path ahead. Spend time alone, in quiet, pondering how it is you have gotten here. Why did he/ she leave? What was your contribution to the matter at hand?

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).  

Two, remember. As you reflect, remember where you have been. You didn’t get to this place overnight, and as you reflect you will gain perspective. You will, with accurate appraisal, be able to see the patterns and understand the truths that are so necessary to grasp. As you see the patterns, and own your part in your painful situation, you will know what appropriate steps to take that might open your mate’s heart.

Three, remind. The truths of your current situation may be fleeting. Just as quickly as you grasp a truth, it may leave you. As quickly as you understand what is happening and why it is happening, you may again become confused. So many feelings, so little clarity. Remind yourself of the truth—the truth will point you in the right direction.

Four, return. You have done the right thing before; do it again. Return to the insights and wisdom that helped you in the past. There was a time when your love for each other was strong; return to ‘the best version of you’ and function from that perspective. Cling to the truth and ‘the right thing to do.’ Return to healthy ways of relating, knowing that as you are healthy your mate will likely be once again attracted to you.

Finally, respond, don’t react. This is no time for knee-jerk reactions, but is rather a time for careful response. Impulsive reactions will push you in the wrong direction, while thoughtful responses will point you in the right direction. Healthy responding will open his/ her heart if you will be patient.  

If you would like to learn more about healthy relating, please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this topic, watching my video series, 30 Days to Relational Fitness. Pay close attention to the article Therapeutic Healing Session, a useful tool for saving your marriage. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. 

Publication date: January 19, 2015

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Nata Bene


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