Are you wondering how to help a friend through a breakup?
When someone that you love is going through a painful experience, it can feel impossible to ignore their pain, but you also might not know the best ways to help.
When you have a grieving friend going through a romantic breakup, their emotions are going to vary day-to-day, and in some respects even minute to minute.
It is important to understand that they might not have a lot to give towards your friendship during this time, and that is okay. This is your time to rise to the occasion and give your friend the emotional support they need in ways that are both obvious and less so.
How to help a friend through a breakup
1. Identify your role
The closer you are to your friend, the deeper you might feel the compulsion to help them. This is not a bad thing. Being a support system does not always mean you are in charge, though. In these circumstances, identify your role and follow your friends’ lead.
Listen to what they say they need
The negative emotions associated with a breakup can leave your friend feeling defeated and empty. This might mean that they tell you they are fine, but chances are they are not. Listen to what they say they need, even if you think or feel otherwise.
For example, if your good friend says they would like some alone time, give them the physical space they request. You can make it clear that you are only a phone call away if they change their mind, but forcing them to heal in a way that you think is best is not conducive to long-term healing.
Keep their confidence
The intimate and private details of a breakup are deeply personal; if your friend asks you to keep anything he or she tells you private, you need to respect that with no exceptions.
When someone is going through a breakup, their trust has been shaken, and they are coming to you to be a source of consistency. The last thing they need is to find out that their broken heart has become your source of cocktail party fodder.
Give support without bashing their ex
Whoever broke your friend’s heart is, for all intents and purposes, not important. Once the relationship has ended, that person does not live inside your reality anymore.
Regardless of your feelings about them before, during, or after the relationship took place, you should fight the temptation to bad-mouth them to your friend.
It is not uncommon to belittle the ex-partner as part of your strategy to make your friend feel better, but it is not productive. It matters no more than this former love interest was bad with money, so why even bring it up?
Not to mention that if this breakup was unwanted or unexpected by your friend, your negative comments might have an adverse effect and instead lead them to become defensive of their ex and push them further away from you and closer to their former partner.
2. Allow them to have their own process
Give your friend a chance to fully go through their own grieving process. It is important to be aware that this will happen on their timeline, not yours, and that it will consist of just what they feel they need, not what you have decided is best for them.
Be a safe haven
An incredible element of some of the best friendships is that they are a safe place to fall. In the immediate aftermath of a break up your friend’s feelings are going to be highly sensitive and likely erratic.
Be sure that they know that they can fall apart in front of you. That you do not care what they say if they cry, how loud they scream, or if their mascara is smudged all over their sheets.
In many cases, once the initial period of pain subsides, your friend will remember how you were there for them in the eye of the storm and the role you played in their healing process.
When you let a friend process pain on their own and come to you to vent, knowing that all you will do is listen actively, you are providing so much more for them long-term.
Do not judge
Keeping in theme with removing yourself from their process, you must dedicate yourself to remaining judgment-free. We never know everything that goes on behind the closed doors of a relationship, and sometimes post-breakup, all the skeletons come out.
No matter what comes out of your friend’s mouth, take it with a grain of salt. Love has a tricky habit of leading people to behaviors that you might not have assumed for them.
An exception would, of course, be if your friend divulges any behavior that is detrimental to their mental health, puts them or someone else in danger or violates the law. Even in these extreme examples, there is a tactful way to communicate that you cannot ignore something they have told you.
Just because you are dedicated to letting them walk their own path does not mean that you must stand by and be a witness to something tragic.
Mastering the art of being available, but not smothering, offering to help, but not overstepping, and having a physical presence without overshadowing is not easy, but it is attainable and necessary.
As adults, we often feel that when others take care of us, it means we are weak. And the last thing you want to do to help your friend post-breakup is make them feel worse than they do.
Our smartphones and tablets are wonderful tools to help achieve this goal. It might feel unnecessary for your family members to move in with you or for you to go stay with them.
However, phone calls, texting, and video chats are all good options to bridge the gap between your friend feeling like they want to be an adult but also like they need people around them.
3. Know your own limits
Taking yourself out of the equation is important in terms of how you present in front of your friend. However, it is equally as important to be introspective and know your own limits. You do not need to dedicate your entire life and mind to your friend’s tough time.
Take care of yourself in the same ways you previously were, so that you can continue to be the person that your friend knows they can count on.
Maintain your routine
Whatever ways you spent your days before your friend’s heart was broken should still be honored, even if they must be modified to handle a temporary crisis. For example, sleep deprivation is only going to lead to negative side effects.
Staying up all night worrying about someone else’s previous breakup will not serve you or them. On the days you can control it, keep to your usual sleep schedule. This will make the one-off time that you are up all night consoling a friend through a breakup easier to work through.
Loyalty can be tricky because if you are not careful, it can make you feel that any time to yourself is a result of disloyal behavior towards your friend, but that is not true. You can remind loyal by:
- Checking on your friend often
- Keeping their private matters to yourself
- Not playing both sides of the fence by communicating with their ex
As you will notice, none of the above tips require you to go outside your own integrity for the sake of another person.
Give and take space accordingly
It is admirable to drop everything and rush to a loved one’s side in the midst of a breakup. However, as things shake out, give and take space from the chaos accordingly.
If you feel yourself taking on too many of the emotions to the point you are becoming overwhelmed, riddled with anxiety, or experiencing spikes in your mood both up and down, get some space.
You do not need to communicate to your friend that their heartbreak has led you to this point, nor should you, as you do not want to make them feel guilty for relying on you. Instead, use your need for space as encouragement for them to also enjoy some free time to practice self-care.
4. Know what to say and what not to say
Words carry a lot of weight, but that is especially true when you are going through something hyper-sensitive. When long-term relationships come to an end, you should be mindful of the fact that your friend had a past with this person that was not all bad. Be sure that you know what the right thing to say is as well as what the wrong thing to say is.
Productive things to say:
- Feel your feelings – you are allowed to be upset
- One day this pain will only be a distant memory
- Take all the recovery time you need
- Your feelings are valid
- You are strong
Unproductive things to say:
- He/she sucked anyways
- Move on – there are a million people you can date
- What did you do wrong?
- I’m sad too; I loved your ex so much
- Maybe they will take you back?
How to take action
When your friend has made it clear that they are ready to take some action towards piecing their life back together, it is time to offer some practical help.
This is an appropriate time to insert yourself a little bit more since they have given you the initial green light. As with previous suggestions, keep your behaviors within the boundaries that your friend has set.
While they might be excited about going to a baseball game and spending time socializing with friends, that does not automatically mean they are ready for a new relationship and want to have a bunch of single strangers pushed on them.
Follow their lead
When you help a friend through a breakup, the most important thing is still allowing them to be in charge of themselves. When you are in the actionable phase of supporting someone else, stay in the background, some experiences might be new to them and create feelings they do not yet know how to deal with.
Remind them that a fresh start is a good step and encourage them to go their own way. Let them know that you are there for them, as they request you to be. You probably already know your strengths in terms of how you empathize with other people, so lean into them.
If you are known to be the funny friend who is always having a good time, continue to lift your friend up through humor. Or maybe you are known to be a great cook, in which case you can show your love through dropping off dinner or baking their favorite treats.
Encourage and suggest a new hobby
It is not uncommon for people to associate much of their identity with their romantic relationship. So when that is dissolved, they can be left wondering who they really are. If this is the case with your friend, and they are ready to get back out into the world, suggest a new hobby that you believe suits their tastes.
You can also offer to take this up with them or help them get started independently if that is their wish. A good suggestion might be joining a book club or starting one yourself. This will give your friend a goal to focus on and an opportunity to socialize intermittently, and it is an activity with equal parts of solitude and group time.
Help with basic necessities
Sometimes it is the most simple tasks that fall by the wayside when you are having to focus on a major life event. Everyday chores like laundry, mowing the lawn, and grocery shopping all seem too insignificant to care about, but then they pile up.
If you are noticing that your friend has not paid enough attention to one of the basic areas of his or her life, focus your attention there, and pick up the slack as a show of support.
It does not matter how close you are to the wounded party, and this is not your issue to control.
However, being there for someone you love, when they have lost someone they once loved, is a special kinship that they will not soon forget. When someone near and dear to you is going through it, you want to do everything in your power to make it all better.
Be the voice of reason and help them heal in a way that does not sabotage their reputation or future. This journey can result in them getting to know themselves better than they ever thought they could, and part of your role is allowing them to do so.
Try not to compare yourself to them or say things to them in a tone of ‘just do what I did’ or ‘that never happened to me.’
Productive, encouraging, uplifting, and forward-thinking words and actions are your biggest allies. Your friend might not remember that you cleaned their bathroom or that you shoveled their snow, but they will absolutely remember how you made them feel during a time when they thought that all they could feel was pain.
Being as helpful as possible in the moment, listening to what they are, and are not saying, and making your friend feel understood are amazing ways to lessen their grief.