Relationships

How to Help a Friend Going Through a Breakup

It’s hard to know what to say or do when your friend is going through a tough heartbreak.

Most of us know the “standard” things to do, like to go over to their house with a pint of ice cream in hand and listen while they cry their feelings out. But sometimes, really awful breakups can take a toll on them. So, what’s a friend to do?

Here’s how to help a friend going through a breakup, as advised by experts.

Kendra Allen

Kendra Allen

Founder, Break Up Bestie | Host, Heal Your Heartbreak Podcast

Having friends and a support system is one of the most important ways for someone to heal through a breakup. Below, I’ve listed my top advice on how to help a friend going through a breakup, both what NOT to do and what to do.

What not to do or say:

Don’t say, “Aw that’s too bad I really loved your ex”

I’m sure they really loved their ex too and likely still do. By saying this you’re just going to make them miss their ex more and feel even worse about the relationship having to end.

Don’t say, “I never thought it would work anyway”

I understand that some might think this is helpful trying to make their friend feel better about it ending, but that’s not what this does. It makes them feel out of the loop like everyone saw the break up coming except for them, it can cause shame, confusion, and mistrust.

Don’t trash their ex

Again, I know most do this to be helpful but they might not be to the anger phase yet where they’re even capable of doing this. I remember after one of my own breakups, a friend asked me to list off all of the things I didn’t like about my ex and I couldn’t think of one thing. It made me feel worse that I got dumped by someone I couldn’t speak badly about.

Also, you never know when a friend is going to get back together with their ex so trashing them could cause problems in the future.

Don’t minimize their feelings

When a friend is sad, all we want to do is make them feel better and to take away the pain. But by trying to distract your friend from their feelings, or telling them “your ex wasn’t worth this much pain”, and things along those lines- all you’re doing is minimizing their feelings.

In order to actually work through a breakup, the person needs to go through their feelings and to actually feel them. You can still try to make them feel better but allow them to have all of their cries and sadness too.

Don’t rush them into dating

Many people think the answer to breakups is to hop into a new relationship so friends will often encourage each other to “get back out there”.

But when someone isn’t ready to start dating again, they likely won’t have a good experience dating and ultimately it will make them feel worse about the breakup since dating didn’t work. If they start talking about wanting to date, you can always be their cheerleader but don’t force it.

What to do or say:

One thing to keep in mind is that here are no magic words you can say, there’s no exact right thing to say. Many of us put pressure on ourselves to say the thing that’s going to make them instantly feel better or take away their pain.

Sometimes the pressure is so strong that we actually avoid the friend going through a break up because we don’t want to say the wrong thing.

In reality, there is no magical sentence you can say, and most of the time what someone wants is just to have someone there supporting them.

Just be there to listen

When people are in pain often times they just want to feel like they’re seen, heard, and validated.

Even if there is no talking having a friend just sitting next to you is so much better than going through the pain of heartbreak alone. You have no idea how much impact just listening to someone cry can have on them.

Check-in on them, especially if you’re not hearing from them

When someone is going through a break up they’re feeling very sad and low which can cause them to isolate, which will ultimately make the breakup pain so much worse. When someone is feeling that down, they’re also less likely to ask for help so they won’t reach out.

I also hear from people all the time that they don’t want to be a burden on other people so they won’t ask their friends for support. Just a text saying “I’m thinking about you, how are you?” can mean the world. By opening up that channel of communication you can remind a person that you do care and want to help.

When in doubt, ask!

Everyone goes through breakups differently and everyone needs different things to feel supported and loved. If you don’t know how to best support your friend, ask!

Saying something like, “I really want to be there for you and help how I can, how can I best support you?” It could be a hug, coming over, listening to them, or doing something fun to distract them.

I think we believe we should know how to best be there for our friends, but it never hurts to ask and will make the person feel loved that you would care enough to ask.

Vindy Teja, B.A. LL.B.

Vindy Teja

Professional Life & Divorce Coach | TEDx Speaker

You’ve probably heard the proverb, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” It refers to someone who helps out during a difficult time as being a reliable friend. One of the times you can be a beacon of hope is when a friend is navigating a breakup. Breakups, especially after long or serious relationships, can be devastating on many levels.

How can you be a help during this difficult time? Here are three ways to be “a friend indeed”:

Commit to serving on their board of directors

What does a Board of Directors have to do with breakups? I use this term to refer to a close support network. Breakups can be a time of stress, loss, and uncertainty. Your friend may need a connection, information, and advice.

In fact, they may need help rebuilding their entire personal Board of Directors, especially if they lost relationships as a result of the breakup.

If your friend is navigating a divorce or uncoupling from a common-law relationship, appropriate referrals could be invaluable at this time. They might be to other professionals, such as lawyers, financial advisors, realtors, counselors, coaches, or health care providers.

If you can provide credible information in these areas, you may save your friend a ton of time, energy…and money.

Steer them clear of the drama and endless pity parties

Breakups are hard enough on their own, without the drama that sometimes accompanies them. While it’s important to listen empathetically and let your friend express the host of emotions that naturally follow a breakup – pain, hurt, sadness, confusion, anger – it’s also important to protect them from needless drama!

You may have an important watchdog function here. Certain friends, family, and colleagues – no matter how well-intentioned they might seem to be – feed off this drama.

They might be more interested in hearing about the breakup drama or throwing an endless pity party, than in helping your friend process and move past their pain. Whether they’re alleviating their boredom or just trying to (consciously or unconsciously) feel better about their lives, your friend will benefit by not being around them too much…or at least being aware of their effect.

When I was going through my difficult divorce, two of my closest friends pulled me aside when they noticed others drawing me into the drama. They helped me “wake up” and recommit to the positive new goals I had set for myself and was working towards. Their intervention was a lifesaver.

Encourage and help your friend to practice self-care

Breakups can be stressful, especially after long-term relationships. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is ranked as the second most stressful event out of ten that can happen to you as an adult, with the first being the death of a spouse or child. If you’ve ever been through it or helped someone who has, I don’t need to tell you… it is hard.

While it’s important for all of us to practice good self-care, it’s especially important for those experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. Self-care is also not a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing thing.

To avoid overwhelm, I usually recommend my clients to keep things simple, at least in the beginning. Help your friend step back and consider their self-care regime and their power over it. Add or tweak items, integrating more practices over time. When their needs, health, and priorities change, adjust accordingly.

Simple things are often the best to start with: adequate sleep, healthy foods, hydration, exercise, journaling, connecting with loved ones. Offer to set up, accompany, or help them with self-care practices.

Related: What to Do After a Breakup

I did a lot of soul-searching during and after divorce, all the while juggling one change or challenge after another. One of the practices I found the most helpful was to download some hymns that my grandmother used to sing during my childhood and listen to them while I rollerbladed. The combination of hymns, nature, and physical exercise was my solace. It brought me much needed clarity and peace.

Related: What to Say to a Friend Going Through a Divorce?

Pam Mirehouse

Pam Mirehouse

Certified Divorce Coach, The Separation Project

Here are my thoughts on helping a friend going through a breakup:

  • Show up and be there. The best thing you can do is simply be present. If they don’t seem to want anyone around, respect that, but don’t forget them. Call and check in on them and give them time to work through things on their own if this is what they want.
  • Listen if they want to talk. Listen with empathy and compassion. Walking and talking is a great activity.
  • Be kind.
  • Do not judge. Try and remain open and understand their perspective.
  • Before you start offering suggestions or solutions, clarify if they are welcome. Sometimes people do not want advice. They just want to be heard and are not ready to listen.
  • Include them in fun activities. Take them out and find distractions to ease off some of the stress and negative energy. Activities with other people are great at taking the focus off the situation and creating some much needed positive energy and relaxation.
  • Keep a sense of humor!
  • Pitch in if you see things need doing. Do the dishes. Cut the lawn. Babysit or take the kids out for, or with, them.
  • Allow them time to grieve and gain perspective.
  • Ask how you can help. They usually know what they need from you.
  • Remain honest and voice your thoughts and concerns with respect and compassion as suggestions. Do not tell them what to do.
  • Respect their choices even if you do not agree with them. It is their life, not yours, and the decisions are theirs to make.

Dr. Carla Marie Manly

Carla Marie Manly

Clinical Psychologist | Author, “Joy from Fear”

Be present in a kind, compassionate way

When a friend is going through a breakup, it’s truly important to be present in a kind, compassionate way. Although it’s difficult to watch a friend going through the anguish of a breakup, strive to give your friend the time needed for thorough emotional healing. Always avoid trying to rush the healing process by pressing a friend to get back into dating or to “get over it.”

Listen fully and mindfully

Although it’s common to want to give advice, listening fully and mindfully is often the best post-breakup gift a friend can give. And, although it might be tempting to criticize the ex-partner or even point out the “red flags” a friend ignored, it’s wise to avoid these sensitive areas.

If, however, your friend asks for your opinion, it’s important, to be honest–yet thoughtful and sensitive–when responding.

Offer practical help

As a physical move is often required as a result of a breakup, showing your support by offering to pack, clean, or sort through items is often tremendously helpful. Not only is the physical support often much-appreciated, but the bonding action of helping a friend move can feel truly uplifting.

If a friend is struggling deeply and you feel at a loss, offering the names of a few good psychotherapists.

Amalia Miralrio, LCSW, LMSW, M.Ed

Amalia Miralrio

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Amity Detroit Counseling, LLC

Remember that a lot more of your friend’s past might be triggered right now than what meets the eye

It might seem from the outside that your friend is responding to the fallout of the relationship — and of course, they are. But breakups also commonly stir up pain from previous relationships with other ex-partners, friends, or even painful experiences with family members. Your friend might express feeling confused or ashamed of how they are reacting to the breakup, and you might even be having a hard time not passing judgment on they are reacting.

Gently share with your friend that it’s normal for the end of one relationship to bring up pain from previous relationships. Keep in mind that some of what’s coming up might be completely rooted in subconscious or unconscious dynamics.

For example, your friend might not be thinking that their reaction to the breakup is connected to how rejected they felt by their classmates in middle school… but connections like this are completely common.

The good news is that by showing up with support through this time, you are helping your friend heal from the previous hurt, even if it doesn’t feel like you are doing enough.

You can honor their anger without taking sides

It’s likely that you’re friends or acquaintances with your friend’s ex. It might feel really messy to navigate your role in supporting potentially two friends through a difficult ending. If you find yourself feeling caught in the middle, let them know that you’re all about supporting both of them, but you won’t join in speaking poorly of either of them and stick to it.

You do not need to compromise your values or integrity as a friend in order to be caring and supportive. This is one example of how setting a boundary does not mean you love someone any less.

Refresh your memory on the stages of grief, and keep in mind that they are in no way linear

Here is your refresher: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When we spell them out like this, they can feel very neatly packaged and linear. In reality, a person grieving a major loss will more likely experience this process in waves, with feelings overlapping and flowing unpredictably.

This is especially true for navigating bigger questions around identity, body image, and past traumas that so commonly arise during a breakup. There may be multiple grieving processes happening simultaneously as they navigate everything from self-esteem to existential questions about love and even the timeline of their entire life!

Dr. Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D.

Dr. Tricia Wolanin

Clinical Psychologist | Author | Yoga Instructor

We can commiserate when our friends are going through a breakup, as we know getting over a breakup can be one of the most painful tasks we must undertake as humans again. For many of us, regardless of how many times we have been through a breakup, it always stings.

Be there in each state of grief

Know your friends will go through all of the stages of grief post-breakup. Try to be there for them during each one, which may require different aspects of your friendship. The stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

For example, denial: sit with their shock of the breakup versus when they are going through anger. If your friend is calling their ex names, go with it. They want you to be in this process with them, regardless of what emotion arises. To jump straight to acceptance won’t work while they are still angry.

Encourage them to take care of themselves

Taking care of themselves could be to opt for therapy, get a haircut, try out a new hobby, take a trip, rearrange their bedroom, and get new sheets. Keep checking in on them to see where they are at and what they need, if you are unsure, ask. Your presence is the strongest gift you can give them.

Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D.

Mark B. Borg

Clinical/Community Psychologist | Psychoanalyst | Co-Author, Relationship Sanity

Be open and empathize

The most effective way to help a friend who is going through a breakup is also the most costly—emotionally: To open ourselves up and deeply empathize with what that friend is experiencing as they are mourning a loss that might, at times along the way, feel unbearable.

Why this is costly is that for us to genuinely be there for and with our friend while they are going through the breakup, we must open up to our own—often repressed and dissociated, generally—experience of loss.

To do this, we must somehow get in touch with—and re-experience—the loss (or losses) in our lives that open us up to a sincere and realistic (often painful and overwhelming) way of connecting with and being with our friend as they are going through theirs: extreme loss. And whether we are consciously aware of it or not, what this means that we, too, will suffer with our friend.

There are no quick or easy solutions for heartache, but when we are willing to open ourselves up to being present with those we care about when they are hurting, we convey to them our willingness to walk with them through dark and seemingly hopeless times.

When we do so with empathy, we also once to them—through deep sharing of our own experiences—that such experiences can be survived and that, most importantly, they are not alone in the hurt they are experiencing.

S. Anil Kumar, Ph.D.

Anil Kumar

Founder and CEO, Jodi365

Listen to your gut

Relationships require constant nurturing, but in the right ones, it won’t feel like work all the time. When something’s not working, it’s natural to try to get them back or do all that one can to make it work, given how emotionally invested we can be in a relationship.

Yet, despite your best intentions and efforts, if you believe that a relationship just isn’t working – and you are the one in the relationship and know it better than others around you do – then understand and accept that.

It’s okay not to feel okay

If you see the relationship’s ending as inevitable, make peace with it. Know that it’s okay to feel sad for a while. Human as we are, one of the instinctive ways in which we deal with heartbreak is to seek to fill the sudden gaping hole in our hearts and to feel loved again. Resist the urge to do that.

When the right person comes along, fall in love because of what you see in them (as it should be), not because of your need for reciprocal love. Besides, if a new relationship were to materialize quickly, it may be a rebound, and rebound relationships aren’t built on a strong foundation.

Take your time to heal

Don’t force yourself to just get over it. Feel the feelings and be kind to yourself.

There is probably no adult out there who hasn’t known heartbreak. If they were able to get over it, so will you. Believe that this too shall pass. Be positive. Be patient.

Grow from this

You don’t need to take a fatalistic view that things happen for a reason or for the better. Rather, look at it this way: There may be something good or useful to extract from even a bad situation.

Reflect on your failed relationship and strive to grow, continually, into a better, wiser person. After all, success isn’t not falling; it is the act of getting back up after a fall.

Don’t neglect self-care

Don’t bottle up your emotions. Talk to people you trust and who care about you. Steer clear, though, of those who are wounded themselves and may influence you with unhealthy, biased views.

Do yourself a favor and avoid posting your relationship details on social media. Better yet, do a social media detox.

Take care of yourself. Live in the moment, rather than lose yourself in thought trains of the past. Exercise. Eat right. Sleep well. Spend a lot of time outside. Fresh air can clear the mind.

Rediscover yourself

While being in a relationship you might have had to compromise and negotiate what you ate, where you went, what you watched, and who you socialized with. Make the most of your new-found single status, by investing more into yourself and your personal growth.

Get involved in new activities, but not merely to distract yourself. Be active.

Related: How to Start Over in Life and Reinvent Yourself

Be willing to be hurt again

Being in love, giving your heart to someone is a wonderful feeling. However, it means that you have to be prepared to be vulnerable again, despite the possibility of knowing heartbreak again.

You may well surprise yourself by how open you are, when the time is right, to loving and to be loved again. Until then, be at peace.

Trish McDermott

Trish McDermott

Dating and Relationship Coach | Co-founder, Meetopolis

Going through a breakup is an unfortunate part of life and can be a reality for those in pursuit of the right partner. Being there for your friend who is transitioning through this heartache will definitely lessen the blow. We’ve all been there, so do your best to be empathic, patient and available.

Be empathic

Make sure you are kind and gracious and offer a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear as well as a heart of compassion. Heartache and the frustration and agony of a relationship ending can be a difficult pill to swallow and it takes time to get through it.

Be patient

Be patient with your friend and let them vent but try not to sow into the angst they are feeling by bad-mouthing their ex and by heaping on the insults. Just be patient with them as they work through their emotions and encourage them to take time to heal, to find new hobbies, and to the journal. Journaling can be very cathartic!

Be available

If it’s a late-night run for ice cream or if it’s an early morning cup of coffee after a sleepless night, try to be there for your friend as they transition from having a partner to singleness again.

Tamie Wilson

Tamie Wilson

Certified Life Coach | Inspirational Speaker, Ideal Love Doctor

Listen

The most important thing you can do to help a friend is to listen with an empathetic ear. Just say, “I hear you.” You can’t give advice because your friend could be hurting or confused to hear anything you have to say, so just let your friend vent until they get it all out.

Resist the urge to bash the ex

It can be hard to not bash the ex especially when you see your friend hurting, but you have to resist the urge for the simple fact that if they get back together you could lose your friend. I’ve seen it so many times.

A friend will break up, but then they get back together, and then they’ll ghost or drop the people who talked crap about their mate. A lot of times the person is too embarrassed to admit they went back after they themselves talked so much crap about their mate….

It’s like, “I can say it, but you can’t” type of scenarios, so it’s just best not to bash the ex directly unless it is an abusive situation and even then you have to be careful. It’s best to talk about or direct your anger to the situation vs the person.

Have them list down what their ideal relationship would be like

Once your friend has calmed down and gotten all their anger out, have your friend write down their list of what an ideal relationship would be like. This exercise will give your friend a deer in the headlights kind of awareness. It’s important to urge your friend to think beyond their ex.

Encourage professional help

Let your friend know you’re there when they need support, and encourage them to seek professional help. Unfortunately, most people don’t get professional help after a breakup so then they end up carrying that baggage into their next relationship.

Have fun!

Take your friend out for a personal care day at the spa, go to a comedy club to laugh, or a movie. Just get your friend out to have fun.

Related: What to Do After a Breakup

Katie Grimes

Katie Grimes

International Sober Dating Coach | Podcast Host, Anything for Love

When a friend is going through a breakup, they are so focused on how they are not good enough, and “Now, my life will be nothing like I envisioned” that it can be hard to offer true support and comfort.

Give them space to explore what it is they are actually going to miss about their ex

When I am working with a friend or a client, I go through an exercise with them so they can see the qualities and characteristics that they have identified as the things they will miss the most about their ex. These are super important because these are the qualities and characteristics that your friend values in a relationship.

Related: How to Stop Missing Your Ex

When someone is going through a breakup, they feel like they are never going to find anyone with those characteristics in a partner again. But, in reality, they will. The next time they are in a relationship, it will be even better because the person is now so clear and aware of the qualities they value they will not settle for anything less.

This exercise – Fantasy vs. Reality – compares what they thought life was going to be like with the ex, and these are jotted down in one column. In another column, have them write down the reality of what life was really like with the ex. This exercise offers great insight into what the friend can take into the next relationship, the things they value. Not necessarily the things they lost.

The stories we tell ourselves have to be broken down so we can see the truth behind the fantasy of a great relationship and the reality of a great relationship. Growth comes from reflection and a breakup is oftentimes part of the journey.

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