Short of going through a breakup yourself, there are few things as distressing as watching one of your best friends suffering after their relationship has ended.
Breakups are never fun, but it’s particularly tough if they weren’t the instigator of the breakup, it’s taken them by surprise, it’s ended due to betrayal, or the relationship was toxic in any way.
You hate seeing them in such a bad state, but you’re not sure how to go about helping them work through it.
Unfortunately, it’s the people we care about most that we can sometimes be most insensitive towards in these situations.
We think they’re absolutely amazing, and if their ex has behaved at all badly during the relationship or breakup, we can’t help but hate them.
We struggle to understand why our friend is hurting so much over such a loser.
We’ve no idea what someone as amazing as our friend was doing with a guy or girl like that in the first place.
We never liked them anyway!
We just want our friend to be happy again already, and be back to their old, wonderful self.
Although no two breakups are equal, they’re never easy for anyone involved, and this is a time when you need to show up for your friend and put yourself in their shoes, just like they would if the same thing was happening to you.
Everyone will react to a breakup differently and need different kinds of support from the people around them, but what follows is a rough guide to helping someone who’s important to you through this tough time.
We’ll look at both what you can actually do to help and what you can say that might offer some solace…
…as well as what not to do and what to avoid saying, as much as it might seem to you that it might soothe their breakup pain.
What To Do When A Friend Goes Through A Breakup
Let’s start with what you, as a good friend, can do to help someone get past the worst of the emotional turmoil.
Just be there.
After a breakup, there’s a really big hole in your life.
Most of us do our best not to become codependent with our partners, but it’s still inevitable that a partner is going to take up a lot of your time and energy.
A breakup can leave you feeling really lonely, lost, and insecure.
So, as a friend, you need to try to make sure you ease some of that loneliness.
Just keep them company so they can’t spend too long alone with their thoughts, endlessly obsessing over what went wrong.
Back when I was at university, a good friend of mine rang me in tears on a Friday, having just been broken up with completely out of the blue.
I hopped on a four-hour train journey the next morning and spent the weekend with her, eating, taking long walks, and just being.
Get the ice cream in.
Sure, it’s a cliché, but I think we all know that a tub of Ben and Jerry’s is an excellent way to start soothing a broken heart.
Don’t wait to be asked. If you live nearby, then in the immediate aftermath of a breakup – unless they’ve made it really clear that they want to be alone – hit the shops and buy all their favorite treats, and then high-tail it to their house.
They might not have much of an appetite, as some people entirely lose interest in food when they’re going through a hard time, but hopefully your knowledge of their favorite snacks will mean you’ll have something to tempt them with.
Even if they don’t eat any of it right away, they’ll have it for later on when the cravings hit, and they’ll appreciate the gesture.
Immediately after the breakup, they might well not want to go anywhere or do anything, but you can still suggest plans and try to encourage them to get out and about.
Don’t invite them out in a way that makes them feel like you’re only doing it because you feel sorry for them.
Just invite them along to things you’re already doing or look for fun events that you know they’d enjoy.
If there’s an evening class that you’ve been wanting to start or a sport you think you’d enjoy and you reckon your friend would like it too, then suggest it as something you could do together.
Be prepared for ups and downs.
Your friend is grieving the relationship, and grief is unpredictable.
They might seem fine the next day but break down the following month.
Be prepared to go and pick up the pieces whenever you’re needed, and don’t just assume that because X time has passed, they must be over it.
It could take months, or it could even take years.
Plan a getaway.
If your friend is surrounded by reminders of their ex in their day-to-day life, a getaway might be just what they need.
Book a last-minute city break, or just go on a day trip to the next city or to the coast.
Getting physical distance can be a real lifesaver, even if it’s just for a day.
Coordinate your friends.
If the two of you are part of a larger friendship group, then it’s time for that powerhouse to swing into action.
You can’t give up your entire life because of your friend’s breakup, so this is where teamwork comes in.
Organize yourselves however works best, but try to make sure that, between you, you’re all doing your bit and keeping your friend nice and busy.
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What NOT To Do When A Friend’s Relationship Ends
As much as you might think you’re being helpful, it’s important not to take things too far. So don’t do any of these things for or to your friend.
Whilst it’s important to make sure they don’t have huge amounts of free time to dwell, don’t take it too far the other way, either.
Keep them company, but don’t feel the need to constantly be talking to them about the breakup or asking them how they’re feeling every five seconds.
Just your presence is enough.
Force them into things.
It’s good to be proactive and make suggestions, but don’t make them feel obliged to do anything that they don’t feel like doing.
Set them up.
It’s probably going to be quite a while before your friend is actually ready to meet someone new.
If they ask for a set-up in the early days, don’t do it. It’s best for them to find a rebound relationship all by themselves.
If you do have someone in mind for them, wait until you’re sure that they’re truly ready to move on before introducing the two of them.
Assume you know what’s best.
You’ve got their best interests at heart, but you don’t really know what’s going on in their mind…
…and you’ll never understand every tiny detail of the relationship.
It’s great to offer an opinion, but don’t be surprised if they do the complete opposite to what you advise.
What To Say To Your Friend
Aside from doing things for them, here are some things you can say to your friend to help them heal from the breakup.
Let them know you’re always there.
Your friend needs to know that, partner or no partner, they’re not alone in the world.
Reassure them that you’ve got their back and aren’t going anywhere.
Let them know you love them.
They might be feeling more than a bit unlovable right about now.
Granted, it’s not the same kind of love, but love between friends can be just as strong and is just as important.
Don’t be afraid to tell them that you love them and let them know how important they are to you.
Remind them how amazing they are.
They’re probably in dire need of a confidence and self-esteem boost.
Tell them how amazing they are. Remind them of their skills and their strengths. Tell them why you love them.
What NOT To Say To Your Friend
Much like there are things you should not do when your friend experiences a breakup, there are some things that you should not say either.
Don’t call out your friend’s poor judgement.
He or she is feeling bad enough right now.
They don’t need to be told that you never liked their partner, or that you always had a bad feeling about them, or thought their eyes were too close together.
They don’t need to be made to feel like an idiot for believing the lies or thinking their ex would change.
Don’t say anything you’ll regret if they get back together.
If the relationship has broken up over something serious, like abuse of any shape or form, then hopefully your friend will be strong enough not to go back there.
But the fact is that people often break up over all kinds of things, and they don’t always stay that way.
Bear in mind that there’s always the danger that your friend could get back with the person who’s currently their ex.
And if that happens, you don’t want to have called them anything too nasty or revealed the fact that you always hated them anyway.
If you do, you might not be getting invited round for dinner at their place when they move back in together…
…and your friend definitely won’t feel like they can confide in you about the relationship in future.
Don’t say too much.
You’re never going to solve all your friend’s problems with your words, so make your focus listening to what they have to say instead.
Don’t dominate the conversation. Just listen. Really listen.
Let them work things through, verbalizing their feelings and coming to their own conclusions.
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
There’s a chance that you are going to mess this up. You might say or do the wrong thing even though you have good intentions.
And that’s okay.
Your friend will forgive any faux pas, grateful that you’re there for them and you’re doing your best.
If you’re not sure what the right thing to do or say is, just take a second and try to put yourself in their shoes and consider what you’d need from your friends if you were in their situation.
And, if in doubt, just remember to be there for them and to listen.