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Things Not To Say To A Friend Going Through A Breakup

Your intentions to help someone going through a breakup may be in the right place, but the wrong response can result in more grief, anger, or resentment for that person. 

Your friend is going through a breakup and is taking things pretty hard. You want to be encouraging because you’re a good person but you keep saying the wrong things. Navigating this sensitive topic can be really tricky so it might be tempting to pull away from that person while they are so needy.

The problem with that, of course, is that they really do need a shoulder to cry on. If you pull away from them, they might feel completely alone in their misery.

I encourage empathy and thoughtfulness when providing much-needed support. Here are some suggestions for things to avoid saying and what to say to a friend during their breakup.

If you really want to help your friend move on from their ex, say any of these things instead:

Bad statement: “You guys seemed so happy. What happened?” 
Better statement: “How are you feeling?” 

The fact that your friend’s breakup comes as a complete shock to you is irrelevant; this is about them and not you. Plus, sharing that point of view can make them feel more confused about why the relationship ended. Instead, focus on understanding your friend’s emotions rather than the details of the story. “You don’t know how the two of them were as a couple, and you don’t need to figure it out,” she says. Stick to how your friend is feeling and what you can do to lift their spirits. 

Bad statement: “I know exactly how you feel.”
Better statement: “I can only imagine how you’re feeling”

Perhaps your friend broke up with her fiancé of 11 months on vacation in May at age 28 just like you did. Seemingly identical situations may be drastically different experiences. Be cautious not to assume that these situations are the same despite similarities. Glazing over a friend’s experience to examine your past may minimize what your friend is going through. Remember that you are not the center of attention; your friend is.

Bad statement: “Have some perspective. There are people who are going through worse breakups.” 
Better statement: “What you’re feeling now is totally OK. You’re allowed to be sad.” 

Someone’s pain is not measurable and it definitely should not be compared to what arises out of other breakups. Bringing up situations you deem to be worse than your friend’s is dismissive of their feelings. “It’s like when people say, ‘There are starving children in the world,’” “You can feel sad about starving children and your breakup — both things can be true.” A good friend validates those sad feelings and truly believes that someone’s pain is real. 

Bad statement: “Don’t take any of his calls.”
Better statement: “Take things one day at a time” 

Avoiding communication with your ex after a breakup may have worked well. Be cautious not to assume that your blueprint will work well for someone else. Some of us heal through remaining friends. Some situations heal best with no further contact. Still others find closure in accepting an apology never received. Reminding the individual to take the process gradually may lessen feelings of being overwhelmed.

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Bad statement: “I got over my ex pretty quickly. You should definitely be over it by now.” 
Better statement: “I know this hurts, because I’ve been through it before. But I know you’re going to make it through, and I’m going to be here to help you through it in whatever way you need.” 

Repeat after us: Everyone processes feelings differently. Just because you moved on from your breakup in two weeks doesn’t mean you should expect your friend to do the same. It’s important to be compassionate. They’re already dealing with one person they care about hurting them — they don’t need a good friend adding insult to injury.

You’ve heard your friend tell the same stories and poured over their ex’s texts together 17 times. You have been given every update on their former partner’s social media, and you’ve been asked countless times if you understand why they broke up.

It’s going to be so tempting, at some point, to turn around and say “oh my gosh, please get over it!” but the only thing this will accomplish is hurting your friend’s feelings. Unless they seem to be heading down a particularly unhealthy path, things will improve soon enough. Hang in there.

Pro tip: If your friend really is obsessing and is in a dark place, it wouldn’t hurt to encourage them to speak to a professional. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help when we are struggling.

Bad statement: “You can’t find love until you love yourself.” 
Better statement: “Hey, why don’t you come to this comedy show with me?” 

Has anyone ever truly felt better after hearing a love cliché? Besides being annoying and useless, what does “love yourself first” even mean? Instead of uttering a platitude, give actionable ideas for activities, like seeing a show or signing up for a spin class together, that might just make your friend happy.

Bad statement: “You’re handling this better than I thought” 
Better statement: “It’s OK to have good days and bad days” 

Has anyone ever truly felt better after hearing a love cliché? Besides being annoying and useless, what does “love yourself first” even mean? Instead of uttering a platitude, give actionable ideas for activities, like seeing a show or signing up for a spin class together, that might just make your friend happy.

Bad statement: “Everything happens for a reason” 
Better statement: “I’ll keep you in my thoughts”

The tendency to rationalize may be natural, but avoid this inclination. Rationalization slams the door to the question of why. Sometimes our healing lies on the other side of exploring that why a bit further. Insight should take a backseat to consideration. Let kindness take the wheel.

Bad statement: “You never know…I have a friend whose boyfriend broke up with them once, but now they’re married.”
Better statement: “It’s OK to miss them.” 

As “He’s Just Not That Into You” taught us, a person falls into one of two categories: the rule and the exception. Whatever story you have about two friends who have broken up and gotten back together is the exception. Instead of hedging bets on what their ex may or may not do, help your friend accept their current reality by reminding them it’s OK to miss their partner while also trying to move on.

Bad statement: “I’ve been hearing this for months now. You should move on.” 
Better statement: “I really believe you’re going to get through this, but I don’t think talking about it with me is really helping. I’m happy to plan things that will help take your mind off of it, though.”

When it comes to the tough-love approach, you might think you’re being the honest and realistic friend someone needs to move forward, but you actually end up being an insensitive asshole. Since people get defensive when they feel attacked, going this route will most likely damage your friendship. If you’re tired of hearing about the situation over and over again, work to set the tone. Try changing the subject or answering with a “oh” and “uh-huh” to hint you don’t want to elaborate. Hopefully, they pick up on your cues. If not, gently tell them that they have your support, but you don’t think continuing to talk about the breakup is helpful.

Bad statement: “I never liked that person anyway”. 
Instead, don’t say anything. Just be there to listen listen 

Prioritize their shared experience over your opinions, especially when unwarranted. Acknowledging you harbored very strong opinions you never shared with that person may also create a barrier to trust.

Sometimes people get back together. Your opinion may linger long after that person has moved on from the loss. Saying nothing and just showing up to listen allows space and comfort at the same time.

This one really varies widely from person to person. I can remember a breakup I had when I wanted to hear every awful thing someone could say about my ex so that I would feel better. Usually, though, this is probably not a good idea.

Even though a breakup is happening, your friend probably still has strong feelings for their ex. While they are in this transition, the last thing they want (or need) is to have to defend them against your attacks.

Pro tip: If they ask for your opinion of their former partner, go ahead and share your thoughts but try to keep them as neutral as possible.

Bad statement: “They sucked anyway.”
Better statement: “I’m so sorry they did this to you.” 

Bashing the ex makes the situation about them rather than about your friend who is hurting. “When you’re heartbroken, you just want to be supported and consoled,” says Elle Huerta, CEO and founder of self-care app Mend. “You don’t need someone else’s opinion of your ex, especially if you’re still in love with them.” You also risk alienating yourself from your friend with your unfiltered opinion about their ex — not to mention that it will make things super awkward if they end up getting back together. So as tempting as it is to call the ex a jerk who deserves to die, bite your tongue.

Bad statement: “You shouldn’t sit and wallow. That’s weak.”
Better statement: “I understand why you feel sad.” 

Sometimes we forget that feelings exist on a spectrum. You can feel sad, hurt, and/or mad about a situation without it consuming your life. There’s a misconception that feeling sad means you’re devastated. You can be bummed but still go to work the next day. Also, not allowing someone to feel sad does more harm than good. One way or another, those feelings are going to come out, whether it be snapping at a tourist on the subway or at a barista getting their caramel macchiato order wrong. Help your friend save themselves — and innocent bystanders — from these unwarranted outbursts and encourage them to just feel all the feels. 

Bad statement: “I hope you’re almost all over this.”
Better statement: “I’m here for as long as you need me.” 

Putting our own timeline on someone else’s loss is not helpful to that individual. The path of healing is unique for each person. Encouraging that person to adhere to your recovery timeline can feel condescending. It may imply that you think you know what is better for that person than they do. When in doubt, listen more; offer less advice. Being present in itself can be powerful.

Bad statement: “It was bound to happen.”
Better statement: “I wish I knew what to say. If you’d like to join me at the gym or the movies or dinner, I’d like that.” 

The idea that this person had to see the end of this relationship coming may be an insult to their sense of judgment. Acknowledging that there is no easy response to the situation honors the complexity of the loss and shows authenticity.

Bad statement: “You’re still so young!”
Better statement: “I’m always a phone call away.” 

Avoid phrases that pressure a person to conform to a timeline or deadline.This adds another layer of stress and judgment.

Bad statement: “It’s for the best!”
Better statement: “I’m sorry you have to go through this.” 

The end of a relationship, whether sudden or gradual, can feel irrational to that person. It can still feel problematic even if that person is the one who ended the relationship. Acknowledging a person’s sorrow or pain can be comforting.

Bad statement: “Stay strong!
Better statement: “II’ll be available if you need anything.” 

Statements like “stay positive” or “cheer up” can encourage the individual to mimic feelings that are not authentic to their process of experiencing loss. Avoiding one’s true emotional response can delay healing. These messages also send a signal to that person that you may be uncomfortable with his or her genuine feelings. Allow space for their authentic self to show up.

Bad statement: “There’s more fish in the sea”

Chances are, your friend is very well aware of the fact that they could meet someone new. In this moment, however, they are grieving over the loss of one particular person. Every person is unique and their connection to their ex is too.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your friend to get back into the dating pool but definitely don’t suggest that right away. Give them time and, really, you should let them broach the subject first.

Say this instead: “I know you are feeling alone and sad right now. Remember that you are amazing and have so much to offer.” Validate their feelings and keep the focus on them as a person rather than on them finding someone new.

Bad statement: “I know how you feel”

Most of us really have been through a breakup (or two…or several, but who’s counting?) so it might be tempting to commiserate by saying “I know how you feel.”

The problem is, though, that regardless of your history, you will never know exactly how your friend is feeling. Everyone is unique and they might feel like you’re minimizing their experience by comparing it to your own.

Say this instead: “You seem to be really hurting. Tell me what you’re feeling.” Then, listen without jumping in with your own stories. This is all about your friend — not you.

Bad statement: “I saw your ex with someone new”

If you have ever been through a breakup, you know that one of the worst things imaginable is the idea that your ex has moved on while you are still licking your wounds. Don’t be the person who confirms this nightmare for your friend.

Your blood might be boiling after seeing their former partner with someone new but do not share that information with your friend. You might be angry or disappointed but they will be crushed and heartbroken. Spare their feelings for now, if you can.

Pro tip: If you think your friend is going to find out, and that it would be best if they heard the news from you, do it in the gentlest way possible — and be ready to give the best hugs ever.

Bad statement: “You didn’t even date that long”

After dating a mere three weeks, your friend’s relationship comes to an end and you are shocked by how badly they are taking the breakup. It happens and, despite how eye roll-worthy it seems, resist the urge to point out how briefly they were dating.

It is not up to us to decide how quickly someone forms a bond. We can’t dictate when deep feelings develop. Keeping this in mind, never give in to the temptation to say “you didn’t even date that long, how are you this upset?”

Pro tip: Remember that this kind of statement implies judgment. You never want to make your friend feel foolish or silly for feeling pain. Instead, focus on being supportive and loving.

In the end, the best advice to give is no advice. All anyone is really looking for after a breakup is a sounding board for their anger, confusion, and sadness. If that means just sitting there and listening, do it. Who knows when you’ll need the same from your friends?

ALSO READ: 23 Unexpected Signs of Attraction According to Experts
                    Are you ready for a relationship? 35 signs you are and 10 signs you aren’t

                    The 20 Best Times To Be Single
                    20 Solid Reasons Why You don’t Get A Second Date
                    7 Reasons Why it’s a Good Idea to Stay Single

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