“Are we good for each other if we just had a big fight?” Despite the romanticization of relationships on social media, even well-matched couples do get into arguments with each other. Love hurts in both good and bad relationships at times, though in healthy relationships, that pain creates a catalyst for discussion and change. 

Read on for more about why love can hurt sometimes, and how to cope with the pain.

Love Can Hurt, No Matter How Healthy Your Relationship Is

Sometimes it’s easier to pinpoint a toxic relationship than it is a healthy one. You know the big warning signs, even if you may not always realize when they apply to you.

But what makes a healthy relationship? Is it okay if you argue sometimes? Even if you find yourself crying, or even hurting?

Turns out yes, it’s normal for love to hurt. And you don’t have to be in an abusive relationship for this to happen. In fact, even good relationships can bring some aching discomfort at times.

Caring deeply about someone else is enough to transform emotional pain into physical pain — the science says so.

Why Love Hurts, Literally

So how does love turn into physical pain that literally hurts you? How are those sad emotions translated into feeling physical distress? A few studies on love, heartbreak and tylenol help us understand the close connection between physical and emotional pain.

Rejection and Lost Love

Turns out the sadness you feel from rejection isn’t just “in your head,” but in the pain centers of your brain too. 

A study at the University of California, Los Angeles used fMRI imaging to show that explicit exclusion, or rejection, from a computer game can activate the same brain areas as physical pain. So when you feel rejected by your significant other or someone else you love, you feel literal pain.

Another study at the University of Michigan took this exclusion study one step further and showed participants pictures of former partners who had broken up with them. They found a similar trend — that thinking of an ex can cause activity similar to physical pain in the brain.

A Pint of Ice Cream… Or Maybe Tylenol?

Sometimes heartbreak may take a little more than a pint of ice cream to fix. Researchers at the University of Kentucky found that administering Tylenol, a physical pain reliever, actually lessened the brain’s response to heartache. This was a sign that Tylenol was effective at relieving social pain, just like it typically relieves physical pain.

Now that heartbreak is backed by science, we may wonder if love is worth the pain. Here’s the silver lining: love hurts but it also heals!

Love Hurts, But It Also Heals

We may be tempted to dismiss love-induced pain as a burden, instead of seeing it as functional. In an evolutionary sense, humans have survived so well because we feel real pain in social situations – this pain drove our ancestors to stick together and solve social problems, rather than just leaving and setting out on our own (where our survival chances were much lower).

Love hurts, yes, but in modern times, love-induced pain can also bring healing. Listening to our body when love hurts can motivate us to talk to our partner, reach compromises, and know that we really are invested in the relationship.

When love hurts so much that we feel we may die, we’re also prompted to adjust our perspectives. How much weight are we placing in the relationship, on this person, and on our love for ourselves?

Resources For When Love Hurts

Love can hurt in different ways. Whether its breakup pains, common relationship struggles, or abuse, here are some articles that may act as soothing medicine for your aching heart.

Pains from Abuse and Cheating:

Learn about common relationship red flags, and ways to get out safely.

When To End A Relationship: Signs You Might Want To Leave
Gaslighting: Signs, Situations, and Tips
Toxic Relationships: How You Got In and How To Get Out

Pains from Common Issues:

Understand how common relationship fights happen, and how to stay calm.

Common Relationship Issues and How To Handle Them
How To Have A Difficult Conversation In Your Relationship

Pains from Breakups:

Heal from lost love and work to regain control of your own heart.

Still Love Your Ex? It’s Normal But You Can Still Stop The Pain
How To Stop Thinking About Someone: 10 Steps

Remember, love shouldn’t always hurt! If you might feel better with some support through the pains of love, consider reaching out to peers who get it, anonymously.