Break His Heart to Save Him

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"You're a great actress, Satine. Hurt him. Hurt him to save him."
Harold Zidler, Moulin Rouge

So you've got someone you deeply care about, and who cares just as much about you. However, you know the two of you cannot stay together: being near you, or just the fact that he loves you is putting him at risk. You tried telling him, "It's Not You, It's My Enemies", but it didn't work—he's willing to face the odds.

But you're not. So, you lie to him. You pretend to be mean, callous, and completely disrespectful of his feelings. You say you never loved him. You do everything you can to make him hate you, because you know that's the only way he'll stay away from you and, in turn, from danger: you have to break his heart to save him.

The human version of Shoo the Dog, quite possibly the most extreme manifestation of I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy; this is when a character does ostensibly hurtful things to their beloved because they know it's the only way to protect them from some sort of even greater harm. Cruel to Be Kind is the supertrope.

Unsurprisingly, while it usually works temporarily, in many cases it doesn't hold up for very long.

Examples of Break His Heart to Save Him include:

Anime and Manga

  • Code Geass: Lelouch does this a couple of times to Kallen in R2. In the first instance, he pretends that he was merely using Kallen as a pawn to drive her away, when in reality he was trying to save her from being killed by the rebelling Black Knights. He betrays his intentions with a soft, barely audible, "Live on, Kallen." In the second instance, when Kallen confronts the newly-crowned Emperor Lelouch about his parting sentence and kisses him, he feigns a lack of emotion to again drive her away and make sure that when he dies as part of his planned Zero Requiem, Kallen will not die with him.
    • Ironically she caught on as she saw the Requiem in action, but by that point there was nothing she could do except watch and let it unfold.
    • C. C. abandoned Mao with this in mind when she felt he was becoming too obsessed with her. It ended up backfiring big time, when Mao went insane due to his geass incontinence.
  • Miaka tries doing this to Tamahome in Fushigi Yuugi because, as she found out, as the priestess of Suzaku she cannot be involved with her bodyguard.
  • In the shoujo manga The One, the male lead seems to attempt rape on the female lead, who's explicitly told him that she has a crush on him, in order to protect her from being followed and perhaps harmed, either physically or in terms of her career as a model being ruined, by the minions of a very powerful person who is out to get his brother and him, by misleading the stalkers into thinking that he has no feelings at all for the female lead. Yes, it's convoluted.
  • Ace attempts to do this for Luffy in One Piece as Luffy plunges headfirst into the battle at Marineford and is attacked on all sides by the Seven Warlords of the Sea and Marine officers in an attempt to rescue Ace from his execution. Ace shouts for Luffy to go away, stating that they have their own crews and Luffy is under no obligation to rescue him. He even states that it would be "humiliating" to be saved by a "weakling" like Luffy, all the while silently begging for Luffy not to involve himself in Ace's mistake. Luffy of course just ignores this and shouts that he's Ace's little brother and promises to save Ace even if it killed him. Awww.
    • There are earlier instances of this before that, such as when Nami had returned to Arlong Park, trying to act coldly to the then forming Straw Hats in order to keep them from Arlong's wrath. (Going as far as pretending to stabu Usopp in front of Arlong). It doesn't work of course and in fact, against all odds, they end up beating Arlong and his crew.
    • Nami was also treated as a pariah[1] by her village[2] so she could escape Arlong without feeling the guilt of abandoning them, even though they knew they were Arlong's hostages and if Nami chose this course of action it could cost them their lives.
    • In Chopper's flashback, his father figure Hiriluk does this to spare Chopper from seeing him slowly die from an incurable disease.
    • And later in the series during Robin's flashback, her mother Olvia tries to do this to spare her from the World Government, but she can't deny Robin's pleas to her and breaks down. In that same arc, Robin does this herself to the Straw Hats to protect them from the World Government.
  • In season 2 of Sailor Moon, when Mamoru starts to have horrifying images through Chibi-usa about the future where Usagi is in grave danger, so he decides to break up with her to protect her. Usagi doesn't take it so well at first since Mamoru refuses to give her at least an explanation as to why they shouldn't stay together, and Mamoru can barely keep up the facade of not liking her since he can still assist her and the other Senshi in fights against Droids.
  • In a particularly extreme example, Chikane's rape of Himeko in Kannazuki no Miko.
  • Rukia pulls this on Ichigo in Bleach when her brother and her Forgotten Childhood Friend comes to collect her for the crime of giving Ichigo her powers; it's obvious Ichigo isn't strong enough to beat either of them (and specially her brother) and will mostly be killed if he continues further, which she knew he would. This lays the groundwork for the Soul Society Arc.
  • This is partially how It Got Worse in Ai no Kusabi. Guy has just "saved" Riki by kidnapping him back from Iason whom had been keeping Riki as a Sex Slave. He now wants Riki to confess his true feelings about him. Instead Riki tells Guy they can't ever be together again because of Iason's Pet Ring on him to deter Guy away since Iason had threatened to Brainwash Guy beforehand. Guy completely misunderstands and makes matters even worse...
  • Oniisama e...: While Kaoru isn't a jerk to begin with, she does this to Takehiko after she shows him her scars from her mastectomy as a result of breast cancer because she doesn't want him to suffer for her illness. They make it up years later and they eventually got married.
  • This is what Sakura from Naruto truly meant when she gave the infamous false Love Confession to Naruto, hoping that he wouldn't keep hurting himself for her and Sasuke. To say it didn't work is an Understatement.

Comic Books

  • The Mall Rats in the Gold Digger miniseries Throne of Shadows. Lydia McKracken sends away her friends Moisha Rich and Romeo Ellis by insulting them. She knows that as Gothwrain's heir she's the target of every criminal overlord on the planet, and that her friends are as doomed as she is if they stay with her.
  • When Raven turned down Beast Boy, he asked if she was doing this. She denied it. He... took it well.
  • An odd variation from John Byrne's run on the Fantastic Four; when Sue Richards was being mind-controlled by Psycho-Man into becoming the murderous Malice, Reed was able to free her from Psycho-Man's control by berating her (and even slapping her across the face) in order to make her hate him, however briefly.
  • In 52 Renee Montoya has gone to an ex-girlfriend, Katherine "Kate" Kane, for information on an abandoned property that her family might own. When Kate reveals that her family does own the property, and gives Renee the name of its last occupant, she demands to know what this is about and why Renee needs this information, explaining that Renee at least owes her an explanation. Renee, however, explains that this situation has nothing to do with her and she does not owe Kate anything. Kate is visibly crushed, but Renee's narration reveals that, if The Question's theories are correct and Intergang is behind everything, it is not just themselves who are in trouble, but all their friends and loved ones as well. Renee does not want to drag Kate into this. However, unknown to Renee, Kate has her interests in the game.
  • In the Ninja High School: Shidoshi series, Tetsuo goes against his grandfather in hopes of becoming the clan leader and getting out of an arranged marriage so he can marry his true sweethear, Nanashi. However his grandfather is too strong and, realizing that he'll kill Nanashi if he continues to defy him, Tetsuo puts on a jerkass performance in order to drive Nanashi away and keep her safe.

Fan Works


  • The title comes from Moulin Rouge, when Zidler tells Satine she has to drive Christian away so that the Duke won't kill him out of jealousy.
  • In Dangerous Liaisons, The Vicomte does this to Madame De'Tourvel, but not to protect her—he did it at the order of the Marquise.
  • In the Film of the Book Day Of The Dolphin, Dr. Terrell has taught several dolphins to speak English, and has come to love them as if they were his own children. At the end of the movie the evil government representatives are coming to take them away. He has to tell the dolphins that he doesn't love them any more to get them to leave him, so they can be safe. A real Tear Jerker moment.
  • Seen in Harry and the Hendersons when John Lithgow not only says mean things to their Sasquatch friend, but also punches him.
  • Will Ferrell's character does this to his love interest in Land of the Lost.
  • In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More is in serious trouble with the King, and his friend the Duke of Norfolk is feeling the heat. More can't convince Norfolk to break off their friendship, so instead, he attacks him verbally until Norfolk actually lashes out. It pains More terribly to do this, but it works: his friend stays away from him after that and is spared the King's wrath. Of course, Norfolk is no dog (he's just fond of water spaniels), but the scene hits all the same beats as the examples above.
  • Hartigan does this indirectly to Nancy at the end of That Yellow Bastard—he doesn't break her heart upfront, but lies to her and kills himself afterward. If he had stayed with her, Senator Roark would have most likely attacked Nancy to get revenge on him.
  • Harry Osborne forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter to save him in Spider-Man 3.
  • There was an interesting variation in Ever After. Danielle attempts to explain her true identity to Henry, but he doesn't really give her the chance. Later, his mother explains that "Nicole" is engaged to a Belgian, which is what Danielle's stepmother has told her, and he thinks that what she was really trying to tell him was goodbye.
  • In the third Shrek film, Shrek tells Artie that he was only pretending to like a loser like him, so he'll stomp off in a huff rather than be killed by Charming as one of the ogre's allies.
  • Long Jone Silver claims he was trying to do this to save Jim in Treasure Planet when his crew start questioning his loyalty.


  • Robin Hobb has a variation in her Farseer trilogy: it's not an active lie, but the protagonist decides not to reveal the fact that he is still alive.
  • Vanyel does it to Stefan in the Last Herald Mage series by Mercedes Lackey, believing (rightfully) that Stefan will be targeted by Vanyel's powerful Mage enemies. It doesn't work.
  • Richard and Kahlan from The Sword of Truth series when Kahlan tells him she doesn't love him in order to save his life by forcing him to leave with a priestess of the light, Verna. Later on, Richard breaks out of his depression when he does the same thing to his pet Gratch and realizes Kahlan was doing the whole thing for Richard's sake.
  • Edward attempts this in New Moon, because he feels that he's put Bella in too much danger. Bella responds by having a Heroic BSOD for four months.
    • Bella also does this to her father to some extent, shouting at him and basically calling him a loser in every way. She does it so she can justify her flight from the "evil" vampires and in order to protect him. To twist the knife further, she uses the same words her mother used when she left him.
  • Done by Ella to Charmont in Ella Enchanted (book only) so that Hattie and Mum Olga won't be able to take advantage of the marriage. Of course, once she breaks the curse she unbreaks his heart by proposing to him instead.
  • In the first Mary Russell book, Holmes and Russel agree to have a violent falling-out to cover their butts; Russell takes it a bit too much to heart.
  • This trope shows up a number of times throughout J.R.Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Example: Rehvenge revealing his life as a coldblooded drug-dealer/pimp to his Love Interest Ehlena in order to drive her away so she wouldn't find out he's half sympath and, worse still, marked for torture and certain death. Thankfully she saw through the act eventually and helped to save him.
    • Another example occurs in Lover Enshrined wherein Qhuinn is basically marked for death after cutting open his cousin, Lash's, throat so he plans to go underground. On the way he's caught by his best friend Blay, who says he'll never abandon Qhuinn. Qhuinn resorts to outing his buddy and confronting Blay about watching him, making it sound as though he's disgusted by his friend. A Tear Jerker moment, to say the least. Like Rehv's ploy, this is thankfully seen through and at least partially resolved after awhile, leaving the two on friendly terms again, albeit Nothing Is the Same Anymore thanks to newfound UST.
  • In Mistborn, Elend does this with Vin, and then she promptly saves him from an assassination team
  • Sweet Valley High: Steven's girlfriend Tricia begins acting distant towards him. He concludes that she's seeing someone else and confronts her with this. When she doesn't deny it, he dumps her. Little did he know that she was dying of leukemia and of course, was pushing him away so as to spare him the pain of watching her suffer.

Live Action TV

  • Parodied in an episode of Thirty Rock when Jack does this to Frank to prevent him from becoming a lawyer (and subsequently killed by the Mafia). Notable for being a direct reference to Harry and the Hendersons.
  • Parodied in an episode of Arrested Development with GOB driving away George Michael for similar reasons, and again in Rita's first appearance, where Michael utterly misinterprets her statement "I'll make you blue."
  • Happens to Rose Tyler in the new series of Doctor Who.
    • Also done with Ace and the Seventh Doctor, in "The Curse of Fenric".
    • The Eleventh Doctor does it to Amy Pond.

I can't save you from this. There's nothing I can do to stop it… I've stolen your childhood and now I've led you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is, I knew. I knew this would happen; this is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored… I'm not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it's time we saw each other as we really are.

  • Colin attempts this with Amy in Everwood.
  • Done in Wonderfalls, when Jaye basically treats Eric like crap and breaks up with him because the animals told her to and she thinks there will be grave consequences if she doesn't.
  • Gunn does this to Fred in an episode of Angel - she immediately realizes that something's wrong and figures out a way to help him.
  • Angel does this on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Interestingly, he is more concerned about the long-term implications of their relationship, rather than the immediate danger they face on a daily basis.
    • Likewise Giles in Season 6 (in a platonic love version of this trope) leaves Buffy to force her to become independent.
  • Clark does this to Lana in Season 5 of Smallville.
  • In the original Twilight Zone episode "The Trouble With Templeton", the title character's obsession with his dead wife propels him back to a speakeasy in the 1920's when they were first in love. However, her shrewish, callous treatment of him there forces him to flee back to his present time. After he's gone back, his wife drops the act and breaks down in tears; it was all to make him let go of his obsession with her memory and continue to live his life. He figures it out, too, when he finds her acting script in his hand, back in the present day.
  • On Lost Pierre Chang does this to his wife, because pretending to turn into a total asshole to drive her away from the island is the only way to persuade her to leave in time before everyone's lives become endangered by The Incident.
  • Seen in the Cold Case episode Sandhogs. The victim of the week was an avid union activist, but this had made him very unpopular. When his opponents began to make threats against his girlfriend, he abruptly told her he was going to reconcile with his wife and that their racial difference (he was white, she was black) would have doomed the relationship anyway. The woman spent DECADES believing that he had never loved her and was using her, taking comfort only in the existence of the son conceived during the affair until the detectives told her the real reason he had pushed her away.
  • Frequently seen on soap operas, of course. Mostly played straight, but there have been a few subversions in which the shunned partner DID move on with his/her life, leaving little hope of reconciliation upon finding out the truth.
  • A non-romantic (unless you prefer it that way) version happens in the back story of Chuck. Bryce Larkin, the title character's best friend during his university days, apparently betrayed Chuck and got him expelled from Stanford after framing him for cheating. Only later does he learn that Bryce did it so that he would not get recruited by the CIA (which was looking for exceptionally-talented students in the university) and have his innocence shattered.
  • In a way, in "Merlin", 2x09. Freya tries to leave Camelot without telling Merlin so that he won´t leave the good life he has there, and to prevent him from finding out she´s a Bastet.
  • In Sherlock's "The Reichenbach Fall", Sherlock tells John that his entire life was a lie, that he made up Moriarty to look clever, that he researched John before their meeting to impress him, before faking his suicide so that John, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade won't get shot by snipers. John doesn't believe a word of it, of course.
    • Sherlock's earlier attempt to do this was, sadly, a lot more successful. John receives a phone-call telling him that Mrs. Hudson has been shot. Sherlock refuses to go with him to see her and acts as if he doesn't care about her when previous events have clearly shown otherwise. Throughout the episode, people have been slowly turning against Sherlock, all except John who has been fighting his corner all the way until this moment which causes him to snap and call Sherlock a 'machine' before abandoning him as well. It turns out Mrs Hudson was fine all along and the whole thing was a ruse set-up by Sherlock to get John to leave him so he could face Moriarty alone.
  • A staged version in Farscape. Crichton blows Aeryn off and then asks Pilot to check the comm system, which will take them offline for a minute or so. He then explains that Scorpius is eavesdropping using the comms, and if they rekindle their relationship, Scorpius will use both Aeryn and the baby she's carrying as leverage. Aeryn dismisses him as paranoid until Scorpius is heard asking about the comms. They then continue what sounds like a breakup and end it by kissing. Unfortunately, the Scarrens kidnap Aeryn two episodes later, forcing Crichton to offer Scorpius wormhole tech in return for his assistance in rescuing her, making the whole thing completely pointless.
  • In the third series finale of Being Human (UK), Mitchell insults George and tells him their friendship was simply emotional manipulatio to try and convince George to kill him. George figures out what he's doing and tells him as much.


  • Hate Me by Blue October, is from the viewpoint of an alcoholic/drug addict singing to his mother.

An ounce of peace is all I want for you, will you never call again?
So I'll drive so fucking far away that I never cross your mind.
And do whatever it takes in your heart to leave me behind.
Hate me today. Hate me tomorrow.
Hate me so you can finally see what's good for you.

  • "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" by Marvin Gaye (later covered by Paul Young) plays with this trope; the song is about a guy essentially telling a girl that he's a philandering jerk and that the best thing she can do is just walk away from him and forget all about him. However, where Gaye's version is more upbeat in tempo and style, as if the guy's tone is casually along the lines of "hey, baby, that's just the way I roll", Young's version is a lot more melancholy, as if the guy has actually fallen deeply in love with the girl but is trying to push her away because he ultimately knows he's no good for her.


  • In La Boheme by Puccini, Rodolfo leaves a distraught Mimì, ostensibly because she flirts with other men and he is jealous, but the true reason is that Mimì is suffering from lung disease and Rodolfo is too poor to afford medication or even firewood, so he sets her free hoping that she will fall into more capable hands.

Video Games

  • Viconia tries this in Baldur's Gate II. (several times, at least once citing her enemies as an excuse, the other times it seems to just be her Tsundere tendencies)
  • A meek variation can happen in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. If you romanced Gann, were unable to completely get rid of the curse and chose to remain in the City of Justice for all eternity as a vessel for the Spirit Eater, Gann chooses to stay with you. You can try to convince him not to by lying that you don't want him there, but when he realizes you're trying to deceive him for his own good he only becomes even more determined to stay with you.
  • Done rather well in the end of Metal Gear Solid 4. Rose told Raiden that their child had died before birth and pretended to have married Roy Campbell, so the Patriots could not use her and the child as leverage against him. Being somewhat unstable before, he didn't take it well at all, but he's very quick to forgive her when she explains her motives and he meets his son for the first time.
  • Morrigan of Dragon Age tries to drive away a Warden who completes her romance path, partly out of fear of such unfamiliar feelings and partly because a real relationship complicates her own plans. At one point she flat out begs him to say he doesn't love her.
    • Anders of Dragon Age II repeatedly warns Hawke not to get involved with him because he's too dangerous and has too many enemies, but he doesn't try to drive him/her away by being a jerk.
      • One could make an argument for his final companion quest though, considering he practically blackmails Hawke into helping, and the ending dialogue (as well as some dialogue that didn't make it into the final product) indicates that he leaves him/her soon after.

Web Comics

  • In Fans, when the rare disease that she had lived with for much of her life was progressing rapidly, Rikk's wife Allysin seduced Meighan and bragged about it to Rikk, hoping that he wouldn't waste any time mourning her. The team was able to find a cure for her, and she and Rikk had a nice long talk afterwards...
    • While devastated, Rikk was also Genre Savvy enough to peg exactly what she was up to. Which hardly made things easier.

Western Animation

  • In The Animated Hulk, Bruce was dying from poison and his only chance to survive was to become angry enough to hulk out. Because fighting with Doctor Samson and Ghost Rider wasn't enough, Rick and Betty, the two closest people in Hulk's life, were forced to yell at him that they hate him, he destroyed their lives and he should have never been born. It worked. And hurt Hulk, hard. Ghost Rider even invokes the trope by name.

Ghost Rider: Break his heart in order to save him. I don't know if I would be able to do such a thing.

Macbeth: Frankly, you're not worth the effort.

  • You could consider Robin's assault on the other Titans in Teen Titans this. Considering Slade had a way to kill them all with a push of a button, his only viable response was to do as Slade asked for their sake...including not holding back against them when he commits crimes for Slade.
  • In Danny Phantom, Sam does this to Danny after he is brainwashed by Ember into being so in love with her he can't think of doing anything else, including save them. She kisses Dash (something she found disgusting) in front of Danny to finally snap him out of it. Luckily he could take out his rage on Ember.
  1. on the grounds of allegedly being a traitor even though they secretly knew she wasn't.
  2. except her sister, as demonstrated by her sister getting a tattoo to comfort Nami.