Breakups can get ugly, and it’s especially hard to watch when it’s your friend or a loved one going through it.
Here’s how to make someone feel better after a breakup.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Gottman Trained Couples Therapist | Owner, The Miami Therapist
You can’t make someone feel automatically better after a breakup. Recovering, truly recovering, from a breakup takes time and it is a process the person needs to get through at their own pace.
We live in a “thank you, next,” society that gets very uncomfortable with heartache. Heartache is very real and it does not have a specific time frame.
Everyone grieves differently, so we need to be willing to listen to what the person needs.
Research shows us the parallel between drug addiction and romantic love. Falling in love is very much like getting high on your drug of choice because it activates the same areas of the brain. To be more specific, research done by Helen Fisher, shows that the brain on love is incredibly similar to the brain on cocaine.
Breakups are experienced in our bodies similar to detoxing from a drug of choice or cocaine. Our appetite and sleep patterns are altered. We find ourselves having crying spells randomly throughout the day. We can experience physical aches and fatigue. We have a hard time concentrating and making decisions. We might feel furious one minute and the next we are in despair. We feel hopeless and our self-esteem takes a blow.
We wouldn’t expect someone who is addicted to cocaine to just stop using it. We understand that recovery is a complex process that looks different for different people.
Our brain tries to ameliorate the pain by urging us to reach out via text, stalk on social media, or go through old photos. We literally experience high and intense cravings for our ex. Fighting those cravings is not a walk in the park.
Saying things like ”you deserve better,” “let it go,” or “just party it out” can feel very dismissive, even if well-intended. The person enduring the breakup is grieving the end of a relationship as well as all the dreams and hopes they had for their future with that person. Likely, they will lose friends in the process or connection to their ex’s family.
The loss is multi-layered, therefore, it takes time to mourn and adjust. You wouldn’t expect someone who lost their partner through death to go partying the weekend after and moved on the following.
Our hearts would ache for there’s and we would create the space for them to feel their emotions and cope. We need to be doing the same for those who are in the process of recovering from a breakup.
The length of the recovery process is not marked by the duration of the relationship.
It really just depends on the nature of the relationship. You can be in a 7-year relationship and not be in love, and be in a 7-month relationship and be deeply in love. It can be very dismissive to assume that it doesn’t hurt as bad because the relationship was shorter.
Things you can do to hold space for someone enduring a breakup:
- Allow them to vent freely with you by showing compassion and empathy for their pain.
- Help them bring their ex down from their pedestal. Help them see how their ex played a role in the dissolution of the relationship. People tend to put all the blame on themselves and this keeps them stuck and it maximizes their pain.
- Non-judgmentally encourages them to begin to disconnect from their ex by maybe unfollowing them from social media, blocking their number, and not asking mutual friends about them.
- Suggest that they change up their routine to avoid constant daily reminders.
- Motivate them to take on a new project or hobby that they can devote tons of time and energy. That might be photography, yoga, or blogging. The important thing is that it is something fulfilling to them and not at all related to their ex.
- Support them in engaging in mindfulness practices and self-compassion as they fight the obsessive thoughts regarding their ex. Encourage them to write journals, meditate, practice yoga, and use kind language with themselves.
Don’t try to give it a quick fix or push it aside. Let them know that with you they can be free to feel and express whatever is going on for them at any given moment. Don’t make them believe that they need to fake the funk with you.
Related: What to Do After a Breakup
Breakup Coach | Creator, Broken Heart Repair Kit
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely important to simply check-in and ask how a person is doing during this time. It can also be extremely comforting to ask how you might help or what would be supportive. But don’t let it stop there.
Even if it’s not your usual forte, come up with fun and comforting things to do with or for your friend.
Make the suggestions and take a big hand in the execution. Don’t add an extra burden, even if benign, to her right now by asking what he/she wants “to do.”
Not only is your initiative going to provide company when your friend may need it most, but the care that you put into planning some lovely time together is also going to make her feel the love and attention he/she deserves and is probably missing from the ex.
Be willing to take a side (if it will help)
Yes, this one is tricky, but it’s also about being unconditionally there for someone you care about. If at all possible, during the initial days after your friend’s breakup, provide a safe place to come by taking a social break from the ex, particularly if the breakup was an ugly one.
This does not mean that you have to sever ties with the person, but it does mean that you need to let both know that for the time being, you will be taking a break from regular contact to show up most fully for your friend.
The comfort and security that you will be providing to this person during this time by taking this move are priceless. It’s also a touching way to show your loyalty and a way to strengthen your bond.
Whatever you do, don’t try and maintain regular contact with the ex and keep it from your friend.
Just trust me on this one. Also, while this scenario will be different for everyone reading this and while it is meant to be a general rule of thumb, if your friend experienced abuse in the relationship there is no grey area. Take a stand.
Ask them what they need
Just like each relationship is different, so is each break-up. It, therefore, stands to reason that each person will respond differently. Before you jump in to “be there” for your friend, ask what it is that she/he needs.
If they don’t offer anything specific, you may want to ask if there are any practical things that you can help with or provide the company while they get them done.
Life basics such as grocery shopping, cleaning the floors, and getting the car washed can seem daunting after a relationship has ended, especially if a person is used to doing such things with a partner. Maybe ordering a pizza and cleaning the apartment together is just what she needs to lift his/her mood.
Never underestimate the power of getting a bit creative and just doing something to make your friend feel all warm and fuzzy. Random check-in texts, a call when you haven’t heard from him/her, a good morning email, sending flowers, creating and sending a fun Spotify playlist, leaving a handmade card on their windshield.
In this day and age, people don’t take the time for fun thoughtfulness all that often. Your actions will go a long way right now.
Owner and Founder, LUMA Luxury Matchmaking
Ask what they need from you
Sometimes it is best to take the guessing game out of the situation and ask your family or friend what they want or need from you to help them get through the breakup easier.
This will let them know you care and want to be there for them and is the most effective way to actually accomplish just that!
Be there for them
A lot of times, people going through difficult situations just want someone to talk and confide in so they can lay their emotions on the table and out of their heads.
Be there for your family or friend, not to give them advice, not to tell them what to do next, but just to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
The worst thing to do when trying to get over a breakup is to sit down and mope. Although, that is all your friend might want to do, try to encourage them to get out of their funk by leaving the house and experiencing new hobbies, activities, or events with you and other friends!
This might not necessarily help them to get their minds off their ex but it will serve as a distraction and keep them from only thinking about their ex.
Take them out to get pampered
You feel your best when you look your best. Treat your grieving family or friend to a day out in the spa, a shopping session, or even just accompany them to the gym. Anything to help improve their appearance and health will count for a great deal.
Even if they still find themselves moping and grieving their recent ex, they will be taking steps to pamper themselves and improve their appearance and that is a better option than being in bed all day.
Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, Kern Wellness Counseling
It’s tough to see a friend go through a difficult breakup, and many ask how they can show their support. To help ease any anxiety about how you can be there for your friend, there are conventional and practical ways to help alleviate your friend’s pain. But it’s important to get one of the biggest obstacles out of the way before backing up your friend in need.
Don’t worry too much about what you have to say and focus on what they have to say
Most want to say the right thing and worry about saying the wrong thing here because our anxiety may get in the way and fumble our words. Silence, as scary as it can be, is the golden rule here. Silence has the power to move mountains in others as long as we don’t interrupt their flow with our anxious pressured speech.
Of course, if your friend is asking your questions, don’t shut them with this. That’s when they are wanting to hear from you. So by now, you’re probably wondering what the heck do you even say here.
It’s good practice to try and understand what it is they need at the moment
I think it’s fair to say that many think they know what others need at the moment after a bad breakup, but I wouldn’t rely too much on assumptions. Better yet, try and sit near them in silence as they get their words out, and whatever feelings you hear from them, it is helpful to repeat them.
For example, I don’t know what it is you need right now, but it sounds so hard and sad what you’ve been saying to me. This may sound robotic, but often it’s more helpful than trying to fix the problem as soon as possible.
Let your friend have free flow when they share, honor their silence if they are quiet, check-in with them regarding what it is they may need at the moment.
Don’t be afraid of closeness
Proximity is a powerful tool in any relationship. Often when a friend is hurting from an ended relationship, he or she may need closeness from another friend at that moment in order to feel support.
Rather than bombarding them with your words, it might be helpful sitting closer to them than usual. Of course, it’s good to check in with them and ask if it’s okay to move closer as you listen to them due to how vulnerable they may feel at that moment.
According to Harvard’s longest research study (80+ years), it suggests that one of the most powerful factors to human happiness, longevity, and health is close relationships. Just one supportive person is enough to safeguard others’ autonomy and vitality.
So while supporting a friend in need after a tough breakup, just remember: give silence, listen well, support their feelings, and sit close if they are okay with that.
There are many ways to make someone feel better after a breakup, but it can be overwhelming to know what to choose. Here’s a list of five effective actions you can take to make another person feel loved and seen as they grieve.
Listen deeply for emotion, not for an opportunity to give unsolicited advice
The last thing a broken-hearted friend need is an external opinion on their internal experience. Resist the urge to inject your ideas on how they should process their emotions, and instead, create a safe space for them to express how they feel authentically.
Bring them a self-care package with their favorite snacks and smells (think essential oils and candles)
Often the best non-verbal ways to show someone you love that you care about them is through action. A self-care package is a beautiful and personalized way to show your concern. Pro tip: the smell is one of the most powerful human senses connected to emotion, so fill up their package with fresh scents!
Cook for them and let them cry it out
When we’re experiencing the aftermath of a breakup, it’s common to feel depressed and lethargic. Most often, the most basic things like eating get tossed out the window. Cook for your loved one so they can sit with the emotions in their minds but still take care of their bodies.
Take them to a play or a movie
The best way to get someone’s mind off a breakup is to occupy it with other things. Taking out your grieving friend to a play or a movie can help them disrupt the cycle of obsessive thoughts in a healthy and entertaining way. Just try to stay away from the romantic flicks!
Give them long hugs and book them a massage
What we often forget when someone’s just experienced a breakup is the lack of physical affection in their lives. With their romantic partner no longer around, it’s important to help them replace that human touch in healthy ways, such as hugs and massages.
Make the intent to give your friend longer and tighter hugs during this period, and if they’re uncomfortable with touch, then offer to book them a massage. Professional massages are a less personal way to get them the physical touch they may be lacking.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Enlightened Reality | Relationship Expert, Maple Holistics
Encourage them to jump back in love with their own self
When you receive the “we have to talk” text, you already sense a breakup coming. From that moment, you quickly conjure a list of every possible reason why this could be happening to you. As you tend to beat yourself down, pointing out all your flaws, you’re not only left single but also dejected.
Therefore, one of the top methods of boosting someone back up after a breakup is encouraging them to gain back their self-confidence and love for themselves.
Think about your friend’s hobbies, interests, and talents, and invite them to do an activity where they can shine. Not only will this distract them, but it will also re-install the positive vibes in their critical mind, and allow them to regain their self-worth.
“Grieve and get up”
The morning after a breakup can feel like an awful nightmare that’s still ringing. When you get that phone call from your friend, telling you the ‘devastating’ news, you’re suddenly expected to be a relationship therapist! The key to making your friend get through this trying time is through a method I call “grieve and get up.”
Right after the upsetting episode, it’s normal, even encouraged, to talk out your emotions and feel validated in your grief. However, once the sob-session is over, which shouldn’t go beyond 2 days, it’s time to get back up and take control of your life.
Once you and your ex are officially over, you are ultimately only hurting yourself by wallowing in your sadness. As a friend, it’s time to encourage your heartbroken friend to get back in the social scene, doing activities they enjoy and regaining their sense of self.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist |
Owner, Create Your Life Studio
- Remind them that they are loveable.
- Remind them that they have worth and value no matter who sees it or doesn’t see it.
- Validate how painful a break-up feels and then remind them that their pain won’t last forever.
- Remind them that they are not alone.
- Try not to take sides or place blame, just listen non-judgmentally.
- Invite them along but don’t take it personally if they bow out of plans. Just let them know you would like their company when they are ready.
- Don’t badmouth their ex. Stay neutral. Listen without making anyone wrong. Don’t give constant updates on who their ex is seeing now.
- Let them talk. Let them vent. Let them cry.
- Don’t try to set them up on a date too soon.
- Respect that their grief and loss will take as long as it takes. You can’t hurry through grief. Let them process in their own time, allow them space and time they need to heal.
Iris Benrubi M.A., R.P.
Psychotherapist | Marriage Counselor | Dating & Relationship Coach, Forever Love Coaching
I would tell a friend who’s supporting another friend that recently went through a breakup to:
Acknowledge their pain
Acknowledge that person’s pain, their lost hopes, the difficulty being alone without the other person and the stress and anguish of having to start all over again dating maybe someday or maybe even saying that they’ll never date.
Reinforce that they’ve been through difficult things before and that they’ll get through this too
That they are stronger than they give themselves credit for and as hard as this is, that there will find a better relationship in the future, even though they can’t see it right now.
Emphasize learning from experience
If they are strong enough, I would counsel them to ask: “I know that this has been difficult and I’m wondering, if there was something, what you learned from this experience.”
When we learn from experience, like how there were red flags along the way that they should have heeded, should have questioned or addressed and going forward that they will address them, then this is part of the human journey. Learning from our actions to create a better future.
Holistic Marriage & Family Therapist | Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling
Going through a break up can feel like the worst situation of your life. You can feel hopeless, depressed, and not even want to get out of bed to go to work.
- If your friend is going through a breakup, do not show them pictures of their ex on Instagram or Facebook. Do not let your friend stock their ex on social media.
- Try to distract your friend with healthy activities that require full concentration such as going to a hot yoga class together, learning how to paint or do pottery, or even going for a hike outside in nature.
- Don’t recommend that your friend drink too much or use drugs to numb out the feelings of loss.
- Feeling the loss might be difficult and uncomfortable, but seeking professional therapy, crying, and learning about why they break up happened with counseling can help someone prevent it and gain self-awareness.
- Also, being a good friend is sometimes all the heartbroken person needs. You could bring over a freshly cooked meal, and just watch a funny Netflix show together like “The office,” and get some good laughs.
Being a good friend just means knowing that all emotions are OK to show.
Founder, Beyond Words Co.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to make someone feel better and it can provoke frustration and angst for those who are trying to provide support. Sometimes there are just no words.
- Let sadness be; don’t pressure positivity or try to fix it.
- Don’t assume that providing a fun distraction is what’s needed. Allowing the space for sadness, pain, anger, or other complicated emotions that come along with grief can be both healing and healthy.
- Be present and patient for your loved one.
It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect words. Simply admitting you are uncertain of what to say opens a door for conversation. Potential awkwardness is better than silence.
This time of year, instead of trying to push tidings of joy, it is helpful when those around emphasize comfort and provide time and space to experience that – over the joy – that one would otherwise expect during the holidays.
One of the best gifts you can likely give is being present with them in their feelings and listen for signals of what they might find to be comforting.
By taking their cue, you support them. They may not be up for a lot of crowds, activities, or events. Conversely, keeping busy or visiting family and friends can be helpful for coping through hard times. So, take the cue from your loved one to understand what will be helpful on a day-by-day basis. Be prepared for last-minute plan changes as moods shift, and try to be gentle and flexible to accommodate if that’s the case.