TV shows often glamorize our abilities to give relationship advice to close friends. Pithy rounds of ex-bashing over brunch, one-line quips that put the relationship to rest, and it’s all solved by the time they cut to commercial.
The reality, of course, is less straightforward. In real life, it’s hard to know what to say when you see your friend’s heart breaks. Maybe you’ve never seen them feel so emotionally low; maybe you never liked their ex anyway. Maybe you’re a smotherer and they just need some space.
The most important thing is that you’re there for your friend; the simple presence of a loved one is often comforting for someone who's grieving a relationship. But for additional comfort advice, here are four practical tips for helping your friend through a break-up – plus three things to avoid doing while they’re still hurting.
1. Ask what you can do to help, rather than assume you know what they need
Every relationship is different – which means every breakup is, too. While you can absolutely share what was helpful for you during your own previous breakup (redecorating? rebounding?), it’s important not to assume the same will be true for your friend.
In short, the most helpful thing you can do right off the bat is to ask what you can do to help. If you're not sure how, try hitting a balance between practicality and compassion with one of these phrasings:
- “I’m sorry you’re going through this. Is there anything you’d like to talk about, or do together?”
- “In the past, when you were in a similar emotional spot, what was helpful in feeling better?”
- "How can I best support you today or any other time in the near future?"
Sometimes, what’s best in the moment may be to leave the offer open. That way, even if your friend has no idea what they need right now, they know they can approach you when something comes up. You could even come up with a safe word (or emoji – whether it's the heartbreak or the pizza icon), so they can text you when they do need your support.
2. Help them take care of chores and tasks
The emotional weight of a break-up can be all-consuming. In addition to any reminiscing and weighing of “what-ifs,” there’s also often sleepless nights in an empty bed and having to share the news with family members, friends, and coworkers.
In all this uncomfortable transition, a minor detail or two is bound to slip through the cracks. To the degree you're comfortable with, you can step in and go the extra mile for your friend in these ways:
- Sending them a weeks' worth of meal kits, especially if they’re feeling unappetized or too sad to cook for themselves
- Scheduling appointments, whether that’s with a doctor or even at a hair salon for a post-breakup new look
- Sending them new bedding. After all, there’s nothing like clean sheets after a break-up!
- Canceling old plans they had with their ex, especially if it means you can make new ones together
With these tasks taken care of, your broken-hearted friend can channel their energy towards healing.
Not sure what your friend needs right now? You can always just offer to sit with them on a weekend, and support them through their sadness.
3. Be around to help them “reinvent themselves”
It typically takes about three months to recover from a breakup. So when your friend is ready, encourage them to embrace any positivity and growth they're feeling.
In fact, once the clouds have lifted from the heartbreak, remind them they have a great opportunity for a fresh start. Encourage your friend to pursue an impactful self-development path, like:
- Taking up a new hobby or class: Has your friend always wanted to learn Spanish? Run a half-marathon? Encourage them to take advantage of their new free time by helping them find opportunities. You could even join, if you’re so inclined.
- Try out a new look: Again, breakups present a pure opportunity for a fresh start. Whether your friend wants to try out a bold new haircut or go shopping, offer to serve as a stylist consultant.
Remind them that they’re investing in themselves purely for their own sake, which is a great and empowering feeling.
4. Take care of yourself throughout the process
Given all the love you're showering on your friend, make sure to save some for yourself, too! To avoid overextending yourself with breakup caregiving, set some personal limits, like:
- Making sure you have designated self-care time, like weekly therapy
- Giving yourself permission to say no if your friend wants immediate support but you aren't up to it, or have prior commitments
- Asking others in your friend group to step in and support your friend if you feel over-extended
As much as you may want to be there for your friend, keeping tabs on unhealthy patterns will prevent you from becoming codependent.
5. Minimize their emotions with trivializing statements
Some statements that are meant to be comforting can come across as invalidating, and minimize your friend’s emotions.
Avoid trivializing statements like “Good thing you weren’t together too long,” or even joking remarks like “You’re way cuter than them anyway!” These can seem frivolous or careless in light of the tremendous hurt they may be feeling.
Instead, let them share how they're feeling and then validate it. To set a non-judgmental tone, use open questions and exploratory statements, like:
- Can I help relieve your sadness in any way?
- What is it that's bothering you the most about [the breakup/being single/etc.] right now?
- Help me understand why you feel so sad about [the text you got from your ex/the picture they posted on social/etc].
Even if you secretly feel like your friend is over-reacting, remember that everyone experiences the grief of losing a relationship in different ways. All emotional reactions are valid.
6. Cut straight to the “silver lining”
As a third party, it might be easy for you to see the potential of the previously-mentioned opportunity for growth. But your friend might not be ready to think about the future without their partner.
Emphasizing things like “Now you’re single!” or “You can finally date someone who is better!” not only invalidates your friend’s feelings of hurt, but shows that you aren’t listening to their pain in the present.
Your friend will come around eventually. Until they get to that point, it's far more helpful to validate their emotions than to rush them.
Note that if it's been a number of months, and you're concerned about your friend not moving on, you may want to suggest their seeing a therapist.
7. Speak poorly about their ex
Break-ups are a time for processing and for fostering positivity; badmouthing is rarely productive.
Even if you’re furious at your friend’s ex for whatever happened, or never trusted them in the first place, it's wise to keep your opinions to yourself until things have settled down. Making negative comments will only make your friend feel like they can’t express sentiments about missing or still loving their ex.
Whether your friend is crying on the floor after the break-up or just a bit more quiet at breakfast than usual, being intentional about the way you approach their healing process goes a long way. And above all else, remember that your support can be a source of positivity in an otherwise gloomy period of their life.