Your friend is going through a breakup and is taking things pretty hard. You want to be encouraging because you’re a good person but you keep saying the wrong things. Navigating this sensitive topic can be really tricky so it might be tempting to pull away from that person while they are so needy.
The problem with that, of course, is that they really do need a shoulder to cry on. If you pull away from them, they might feel completely alone in their misery. With my counseling clients and social science students, I encourage empathy and thoughtfulness when providing much-needed support. Here are some suggestions for things to avoid saying to a friend during their breakup.
”I know how you feel”
Most of us really have been through a breakup (or two…or several, but who’s counting?) so it might be tempting to commiserate by saying “I know how you feel.”
The problem is, though, that regardless of your history, you will never know exactly how your friend is feeling. Everyone is unique and they might feel like you’re minimizing their experience by comparing it to your own.
Say this instead: “You seem to be really hurting. Tell me what you’re feeling.” Then, listen without jumping in with your own stories. This is all about your friend — not you.
”Get over it”
You’ve heard your friend tell the same stories and poured over their ex’s texts together 17 times. You have been given every update on their former partner’s social media, and you’ve been asked countless times if you understand why they broke up.
It’s going to be so tempting, at some point, to turn around and say “oh my gosh, please get over it!” but the only thing this will accomplish is hurting your friend’s feelings. Unless they seem to be heading down a particularly unhealthy path, things will improve soon enough. Hang in there.
Pro tip: If your friend really is obsessing and is in a dark place, it wouldn’t hurt to encourage them to speak to a professional. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help when we are struggling.
”There’s more fish in the sea”
Chances are, your friend is very well aware of the fact that they could meet someone new. In this moment, however, they are grieving over the loss of one particular person. Every person is unique and their connection to their ex is too.
There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your friend to get back into the dating pool but definitely don’t suggest that right away. Give them time and, really, you should let them broach the subject first.
Say this instead: “I know you are feeling alone and sad right now. Remember that you are amazing and have so much to offer.” Validate their feelings and keep the focus on them as a person rather than on them finding someone new.
”I never liked them anyway”
This one really varies widely from person to person. I can remember a breakup I had when I wanted to hear every awful thing someone could say about my ex so that I would feel better. Usually, though, this is probably not a good idea.
Even though a breakup is happening, your friend probably still has strong feelings for their ex. While they are in this transition, the last thing they want (or need) is to have to defend them against your attacks.
Pro tip: If they ask for your opinion of their former partner, go ahead and share your thoughts but try to keep them as neutral as possible.
”Aw man, I really liked them”
On the flip side, it’s in such poor taste to go on about how much you liked your friend’s ex while they are going through a breakup. Talk about rubbing salt in someone’s wounds!
If they were in a relationship, there’s a good chance that your friend is well aware of their former partner’s positive qualities but doesn’t need to be reminded of this while things are coming to an end. Use some tact.
Pro tip: If your friend brings up the good things about their ex, you can say something like “the positive thing is that now you know the traits you want in a partner.”
”You didn’t even date that long”
After dating a mere three weeks, your friend’s relationship comes to an end and you are shocked by how badly they are taking the breakup. It happens and, despite how eye roll-worthy it seems, resist the urge to point out how briefly they were dating.
It is not up to us to decide how quickly someone forms a bond. We can’t dictate when deep feelings develop. Keeping this in mind, never give in to the temptation to say “you didn’t even date that long, how are you this upset?”
Pro tip: Remember that this kind of statement implies judgment. You never want to make your friend feel foolish or silly for feeling pain. Instead, focus on being supportive and loving.
”They’ll come crawling back – you’ll see”
If your friend is really struggling during a breakup, they probably would love nothing more than to get back together with their ex — and maybe it will happen. It’s also possible, though, that it won’t.
It’s better to err on the side of caution in these situations so, while you might be well-intentioned when you predict a reconciliation, you could be setting your friend up for an even bigger letdown.
Say this instead: “Don’t worry about what could happen in the future. Let’s just take things one day at a time.”
There are times when we have to dig deep and grit our teeth. Usually, it’s in short-lived situations that are unavoidable where it’s inappropriate or unproductive to become emotional (a crisis or emergency, for example).
The opposite is true of a breakup. While we shouldn’t go out of our way to be miserable, it’s important that we feel safe to express our true feelings so that we work through them in a healthy way so that we can find closure. Burying our emotions will not help anything.
Say this instead: “I am here to listen when you need it. Don’t bottle anything up.”
”I saw your ex with someone new”
If you have ever been through a breakup, you know that one of the worst things imaginable is the idea that your ex has moved on while you are still licking your wounds. Don’t be the person who confirms this nightmare for your friend.
Your blood might be boiling after seeing their former partner with someone new but do not share that information with your friend. You might be angry or disappointed but they will be crushed and heartbroken. Spare their feelings for now, if you can.
Pro tip: If you think your friend is going to find out, and that it would be best if they heard the news from you, do it in the gentlest way possible — and be ready to give the best hugs ever.
”The best way to get over someone…”
There’s this saying: “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone.” Basically, the implication is that we can speed up the healing process by jumping into bed with a new partner. This is pretty terrible advice.
I won’t deny that, in a very small number of cases, this can actually work, but for the most part, it’s better to encourage your friend to fully work through their feelings for their ex before starting anything new. That way, they won’t bring any old baggage into their fresh start.
Say this instead: “Heal at your own pace. You will know when you are ready to start dating again.”
Be a pillar of support
You might be feeling pretty helpless as you watch your friend deal with a breakup. Think back to when you were going through something similar and treat them the way that you would want to be treated.
Respect their emotions while trying to be a source of positivity and support. Go for walks together, plan a movie night (no romantic comedies!), or try something completely new. The point is to help take their mind off the pain whenever possible without trying to rush them through the healing process.
It can be a frustrating process for everyone involved but with a little love, empathy, and tenderness, things will improve one day at a time.