Breakups, even the most amicable ones are messy things, even if they’re happening to a friend and not to you. How to help a friend through a breakup can be a tricky question. You want to be there, but you don’t want to smother them. You really, really want to call their former paramour the worst names you can think of, but now might not be the time.
Also, the breakup grieving process is unique to each individual – what works for you may or may not work for a friend. In fact, what works for one friend may not work for another. Supposing you have to help a long-distance friend through a breakup. The comfort of your physical presence isn’t available to them so then the question becomes how to help a friend through a breakup over text or video calls.
These are all tough things to deal with when all you really want to do is be there for your friend. A study has shown that 26.8% of people suffer from mild, moderate or severe depression after a romantic relationship ends. We turned to Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, for expert insight into how to help a friend through a breakup. Read on to know how to be the best possible friend you can during this tough time.
11 Expert-Backed Ways To Help A Friend Through A Breakup
It’s all very well to say “help a friend through a toxic breakup” or a toxic relationship, but let’s get specific. There are things you do and things you absolutely, definitely do not do when wondering how to help a friend through a breakup. We’ve rounded up some expert-backed points to help you be a good friend during a breakup without being smothering, overbearing or distant.
1. Hear them out without judgment
Ah, judgment, that alluring and pesky sentiment that raises its head at the best and the worst of times. How easy it would be to march up to your friend who is going through a breakup and go, “Well, I told you so, didn’t I! You were too invested/did too little/weren’t strong enough…”
Think about it. Is that what you would want to hear when you’re trying to deal with heartbreak, and your heart is cracked and sore? Why dish out the judgment when your friend is already low and sad? (You can always do it in private with another friend later on).
“When someone is not at their best, when they’re emotionally strained, sad or confused, as people usually are after a breakup, it’s important to hear them out without judgment,” says Shazia. “Be very neutral and non-judgmental while hearing them out. Don’t dismiss or interrupt while they are talking.”
When helping your best friend through a breakup, you ideally shouldn’t have to wonder how to help a friend through a breakup. After all, you’re so close and you’ve probably known each other for years. But, human nature is not consistent, and judgment can come up in the best of relationships. Practice listening better, and let your friend vent.
2. Offer practical help like doing their chores and errands
“I’m fairly awkward with emotional excess and offering comfort,” confesses Julie, “A friend was going through a bad breakup, and while I tried to be her rock and shoulder to cry on, I wasn’t very good at it. But, I realized, there were other ways to be there and help a female friend through a breakup, or a male friend going through a breakup.”
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Julie started bringing over food to her friend a few times a week to make sure she was eating. She did the dishes, shopped for groceries, and ran other small errands for her. “I’m good at being hands-on, and this way, my friend could wallow and sit with her feelings without being surrounded by a messy house and a list of chores,” she says.
However, Shazia also warns that this kind of help needs to be offered and done only with consent (Yes, consent is important in friendship as well). “Offer practical help with the friend’s consent, let them lead as normal a life as possible. It’s important to remember that breakups are a part of life. Offer practical help, but also allow them to be independent. Just be there for them if required or needed,” she says.
3. Create a safe space for them to vent
How to help a friend through a breakup? Make sure they have space and a place to vent. It could be a physical space, away from the scene of the breakup or a place they shared with their ex-partner. It could also just be an emotional space where they know they can talk to you without fear or embarrassment.
“Be an active listener, help them vent out everything without commenting on whether it’s right or wrong. Don’t offer any suggestions, or try to justify anything they say or don’t say. Just allow them time and space to accept the situation,” says Shazia. After all, you don’t want to have to get over a friendship breakup next.
When you’re trying to help a friend through a toxic breakup, it’s important that they feel safe with you. We’ve already spoken about being as non-judgmental as possible when listening to them, but it’s also nice to be warm and encouraging. Bring them snacks, tuck them into a corner of the sofa or join them in a ball on the floor if that’s where they are.
When you help a long-distance friend with a breakup, stay on an audio or video call as long as they need. That way, they have your voice and/or your face and will feel less alone. Stay on the call till they fall asleep if you can. The whole point is to assure them they’re not alone.
4. Don’t speak badly of their ex
We know, we know. You never really liked the person they were dating and isn’t this just the best opportunity to haul the ex over the coals of your intense dislike. A word of caution: This isn’t the time.
Sure, when you think of how to help a friend through a breakup, you imagine the breakup grieving process to be full of rage against their former partner. But, they may not be ready to give up on their ex, or rant against them just yet. And your doing it might put you in a bad light even as you help a friend through a toxic breakup. So even if your friend is wondering, ‘should I text my ex‘, just distract them or firmly say no.
“Don’t speak badly about the ex; respecting the time and the bond they shared is very important. Again, remind them that it’s okay to break up. Try to normalize it and help them move ahead in life. Bad mouthing the ex-partner isn’t going to make the situation any better,” Shazia warns.
It’s possible as you help a female friend through a breakup, or help a male friend going through a breakup, that they will eventually come to a place where they’re ready to let go of the ex and call them a snot-faced toad. But until they get there, it’s prudent to hold back on your rage, else you’ll find yourself in anger management classes.
5. Help them seek professional help if needed
“A close friend was going through a really bad breakup. I was there for him as much as I could be, but I soon realized it wasn’t enough. He was depressed, barely functional and his work started suffering. I started hinting that maybe he needed to talk to a professional. He didn’t take it too well at first, but eventually, he relented. It was the best decision he made,” says Mick.
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Friends, family, loved ones rallying around you is amazing. But, there are times when a trained therapist is who you need. An impartial ear, active listening, and someone who won’t hesitate to call you out could be just what your heart and brain need.
“Try to identify whether your friend needs professional help at that particular point of time. If yes, guide and support them to seek help and get out of the emotional turbulence,” Shazia advises.
Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help or helping a friend seek a professional therapist. In fact, in some cases, it could be the best thing to do when helping a best friend through a breakup. If you think they need therapy, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists are always on hand to help.
6. Don’t rush the process
Everyone has their own timeline, especially when it comes to grieving and recovering. So, it’s never a good idea to slap someone on the back and cheerily tell them to “get over it”. Even things like “you’ll soon find someone better” or “they weren’t worth it anyway” are better left unsaid, whether you’re trying to help a female friend through a breakup or help a male friend going through a breakup.
Everyone’s breakup grieving process is different and the stages of grief after a breakup may vary. Some may get over it quicker, some may put on a brave face while nursing a broken heart underneath. And some may simply take longer to move on, and won’t try to hide it.
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So, what do you do when you’re wondering how to help a friend through a breakup but they don’t even seem to want or accept help and continue to wallow? It’s simple: You give them time. No matter how much you want them to move on and be happy again, you can’t make them grieve at a faster pace, nor should you.
Let your friend be, let them grieve on their own time. Know that if the breakup was particularly toxic, or if the relationship was long or intense, recovery will be slow, and in fact, there could be scars that last forever. Being there for them with patience is all you need to do.
7. Encourage small pockets of happiness
Maybe you’re wondering how to help a friend through a breakup over text, or trying to help a best friend through a breakup. Whatever the situation is, while it’s important to give them time and let them sit with their grief and whatever feelings they’re having, it’s also vital to encourage little moments of joy and some semblance of ‘normality’. Emotional integrity during breakups is as important as emotional integrity in relationships.
“I was trying to help a long-distance friend with a breakup,” says David. “He was taking it really hard, and I wanted to make sure he came up for air sometimes, just moments where he emerged from his grief cocoon. I’d send him little jokes once every few days, I had a hamper of his favorite snacks delivered to him, and even sent him voice notes of me singing terrible songs.”
David knew his friend needed to grieve and was willing to provide that space and time, albeit long distance. But he also realized that if his friend shrouded himself only in negativity, it would be a longer, slower path to healing.
There’s a fine line between encouraging a friend to yield to joy and pushing them out of a grieving zone they’re not ready to leave yet. Make sure you toe that line. Be subtle, be patient, find little ways to cheer them up without smothering them.
8. Help them with self-care
Whether it’s treating them to a spa day or helping them with a work project, helping with self-care is a major part of how to help a friend through a breakup. When we’re deeply enmeshed in any kind of trauma, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Even the basics, like eating well, sleeping enough and bathing can seem like onerous tasks when battling a breakup, especially if depression sets in.
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“I was about two weeks into a breakup, and looking back, it was possibly one of the lowest times of my life,” remembers Kristen. “I skipped meals, barely changed out of my pajamas – all I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry.”
Kristen’s close circle of friends rallied around her. They made sure she ate at least two meals a day. They dragged her out for a manicure and haircut and she was surprised at how much it helped. They also encouraged her to take on extra responsibilities at work and join a pottery class.
In some cases, it might not be as simple as pretty nails and a new hobby. We’re still very much in favor of encouraging your friend to seek professional help if you think it’s needed. But self-love and self-care go a long way in making us feel good about ourselves again and tells us we’re worth it even with a broken heart.
9. Remember, it’s about them, not you
It’s tempting to put yourself at the center of a situation, even as you help a friend through a breakup. But let’s remember this is their breakup, their relationship and their feelings, not yours. As much as you want to break into their narrative with, “Let me tell you what happened with me,” try and hold back.
The thing is, you might think you’re comforting them and reassuring them that they’re not alone in their feelings. But it’s far too easy to cross that line dividing empathy and self-centeredness, between selfish love and selfless love.
Imagine, for instance, they’re telling you about how their former partner used to cook their favorite meal, or never did the cooking at all, as the case may be. And you cut in with, “Oh my god, that’s exactly what happened in my last relationship” and then continue to talk about your woes and your ex and your favorite meal and how you can never forget how it made you feel.
No matter how high your level of empathy is, you will never know exactly how another person is feeling even if you’re very close to them. And telling your own stories and sharing your similarities puts you in the center of things. This isn’t your time or space. Let your friend’s breakup take center stage for now. And hopefully, they’ll do the same when it’s your turn to vent.
10. Validate their feelings
Listen, your friend going through a breakup is going to have all kinds of feelings, and it’s entirely possible that they won’t make sense to you. There’ll be anger, sadness, resentment, wistfulness, self-flagellation, denial… you get the idea. And there will probably also be a time when they will insist on either driving past their ex-es house 12 times a day or slashing their tires.
We’re not saying you give in to every single one of their whims, but it doesn’t hurt to smile and nod when they say, “God, I HATE him”, one second and, “I can’t live without her!”, in tears the next.
Related Reading: 13 Signs A Relationship Is Ending
When wondering how to help a friend through a breakup, tell them it’s okay to be furious at their ex, rave and rant about them, while still missing them and occasionally even have loving feelings about them. Love doesn’t conveniently shut off when we want it to, and the breakup grieving process is a messy, complex one.
Don’t condescend to your friend and make them feel like their feelings aren’t valid just because they don’t make sense and seem utterly irrational to you. Intimate relationships don’t always make sense, certainly not when they’re ending.
11. Be prepared for ups and downs
Just when you think they might be healing or at least taking concrete steps toward doing better, your friend going through a breakup calls you in the middle of the night sobbing their heart out, unable to sleep and determined to get back together with their former partner.
Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if the breakup grieving process was nice, simple, and linear. Your friend would keep moving forward, take all your well-meant, solid advice, get a makeover and eventually find a wonderful new partner and be with them forever. You could then move on to telling about the dos and don’ts of new relationships, rather than dishing out breakup advice.
We’ve got news for you. Grief doesn’t work that way. Love doesn’t work that way. Even a casual relationship doesn’t work that way when it’s ending, especially if it’s a less than amicable parting of the ways. There’ll be moving two steps forward and one step back and you’ll just have to deal with it.
Don’t play the ‘but you were okay just yesterday’ card. It’s not helpful at this point. That’s not to say you let your friend slide back into the deeper recesses of breakup grief. Guide them gently back to a better space without making it sound like they’re a fool for regressing. No one said grieving was easy.
When working out how to help a friend through a breakup, remember that this is a proper mourning process. A breakup is the death of a relationship, and a major piece of your friend’s hopes and dreams have just been shattered. Even if it was a no-strings-attached relationship, possibly they were hoping it would become a committed love affair.
Don’t assume that because it didn’t seem like the kind of relationship that was ‘serious’, it hurts any less when it ends. When you’re wondering how to help a friend through a breakup, it’s all about setting judgment aside and being there for them in whatever way they need.
We all heal eventually, but it’s neither a quick nor an easy process. As a friend, you might need to be there long-term and walk your friend through things over and over again. It sounds tedious, but as we said, breakups, relationships, friendship, all of it can be tough. So show some tough love when needed, show some patience, keep an endless supply of snacks, and hopefully, they’ll emerge stronger and happier. As Shazia puts it, “Just be there as a friend, don’t try to overdo things.” Good luck!