Does a Broken Heart Lead to a Great Marriage?

Back in 2006, Arthur C. Brooks, an economist who focuses on the intersection of economics, culture, and politics, wrote a book based on the results of studies he conducted. Today, in 2024, what he did sounds outrageously courageous. When the results of the study did not align with what he expected (and hoped) to find, he did not hide or falsify his conclusions, but instead publicized them. His book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, admitted that despite liberalism broadcasting itself using the language of caring and kindness, conservatives were more likely to give charitably their time, resources, and money.

That book put Professor Brooks on my radar screen, which explains why I read his recent column in The Atlantic magazine, titled What to Do If the Course of True Love Is Not Running Smoothly. In it, he likens romance to business start-ups, recommending that we think of romance as we would think of a new business venture. We should acknowledge, he claims, that the likelihood of success the first time around is low, but that, utilized correctly, lessons learned from failure can lead to future positive outcomes.


Professor Brooks carefully uses the language of romance; he is not arguing that we should enter marriage for the first time with the idea that the marriage will most likely fail but that we can learn from it. Rather, he is saying that if we use the opportunity correctly, having our hearts broken can teach us important lessons that will give us greater odds in our next romantic relationship, perhaps the one that leads to marriage. As he writes,

“Indeed, one 2018 study involving 160 daters in their early 20s showed that among those who broke up around age 22 and felt they understood the reasons for the breakup, subsequent relationship satisfaction (from ages 23 to 25) was higher and relationship conflict was lower. Those who didn’t understand their breakup at that age—and thus didn’t learn—did not realize as large a benefit in the next relationship.”

He provides three lessons to be learned from a failed relationship, one of which is studying the failure with the laser beam of an honest scientist. Simply dismissing the relationship from memory, demonizing the other party, or not analyzing your own mistakes, does no good. Growth in knowing oneself, in taking responsibility and changing oneself on the other hand, makes the plausibility of future success more achievable. The author ends his piece with the admonishment that we can only move on to a new and better relationship if we exit the first, encouraging us not to cling to failure.

I hear what Dr. Brooks’ is saying, yet it doesn’t sit well with me. In today’s day and age, romantic relationships often do not include marriage for many years. However, they may include much of what used to be confined to within marriage, including shared living arrangements. In effect, they are marriages without sacredness or technical legalities. Perhaps, in this case, the comparison between business and marriage breaks down. Studies even show that, unlike business start-ups, second marriage attempts (and third and fourth ones) have a greater chance of breaking up than first ones. I’m fine with a start-up business that leads to more start-ups. I’m not so fine with start-up marriages that lead to more marriages and with viewing broken hearts as necessary and beneficial.

One doesn’t need to have had a failed romantic relationship to have had friendships that ended, family relationships that went through bumpy times, or dreams that were shattered. Perhaps Dr. Brooks’ analytical and scientific approach could be applied to those areas in gauging whether one is realistically ready to enter into marriage. By definition, marrying a human being means that there will be disagreements, disappointments, and difficulties. An honest assessment of past distress and how one coped could be helpful in preparing one for the future or kick-starting one to admit where growth is needed before moving ahead.

This Musing is dedicated in memory of Shahar Gindi, age 25, murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova music festival on October 7, 2023.

And with gratitude to HaShem (God) and the Israeli soldiers He armed with success in retrieving from Hamas captivity Luis Har, age 70, and Fernando Simon Marman, age 61, after 129 days in captivity. We had featured Fernando in January 28th’s Ask the Rabbi column.


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