“When he breaks your heart, do not come crying to me!” I can remember my mom uttering these words when I was determined to stay in a relationship with a guy she knew was bad news. Not only that, she knew he would hurt me in one way or another. No big surprise, she was right.
After not hearing from him for an entire weekend, he finally called to break up with me. Interestingly, I dreamed he broke up with me the night before and the actual breakup was basically identical to the dream. I made a few immature comments about how he did not know what love was all about (did I mention I was fourteen at the time? ~smile~) and hung up the phone.
I emerged from my room, the weight of what had just happened sinking in, and saw my mom. Our gazes locked. She saw the tears in my eyes and immediately reached out to comfort me. I guess when it came down to it, she could not ignore my pain even if I did bring it on myself. We would have several more moments like this over the next four years, but I am glad we did not know that at the time!
The next day, I hopped on my bike to let off some steam. It is amazing how therapeutic speeding through puddles and getting yourself covered in mud can be. I just needed to roar. I was hurt. I was mad. If all I needed to get my emotions out was a muddy bike ride, so be it!
Other breakups were much harder than this one and left me in greater need of support. I have not seen or heard from this particular guy in almost twenty years and now can only hope he has put his life together. It has been some time since I experienced the pain, awkwardness, confusion, and helplessness following a breakup first-hand, but I think I remember the emotions pretty clearly.
With that in mind, here are seven supportive gestures I would have appreciated after a breakup and ways you may consider blessing your friends who are grieving the loss of a relationship:
- Scream Together. This may take on different forms between men and women, but there is nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned scream. In the middle of a big field… into a pillow… at a loud concert… at a sporting event. Grief is not pretty and sometimes it needs to come out like a flood and not in polite bursts. Obviously, there are better and worse places to express our grief, but encourage your friend to cry, scream, write, beat pillows, or whatever he or she needs to do to get the emotions out safely.
- Go Out on the Town. Even though spending time with friends did not make the world completely better, it gave me a sense that everything was going to be alright (not today, not tomorrow, but eventually). Sharing some laughs and telling old stories with friends was just the ticket for those raw days. Just being available for some dinner is a major show of support.
- Have a Picture Cutting Party. In college, some friends joined me in my room for a picture cutting party. This was in the days when we primarily had our film developed and weren’t on our phones. (Deleting pictures off of one’s phone is not nearly as satisfying as cutting them or ripping them apart.) We sat around, cut up pictures of my ex, and had a high time of it. Being able to get rid of pictures and mementos from an ex is a good sign your friend is on the mend (unless he or she does it hastily as an emotional reaction to the pain).
- Take a Day Off and Go for a Long Drive. This is something my mom did for me after my first broken heart. Your friend or buddy may need nothing more than a long drive to nowhere and a lot of talking. There is not much else to do on a drive than talk and sitting side by side with the road ahead makes it easier to let your thoughts and feelings flow. A dear friend of mine and I used to get food at Sonic and then drive all over the place, sometimes for hours, and just talk. We had some amazing conversations during those drives.
- Move In. In extreme circumstances, your friend may need you to pack a bag and move in for a few nights. Some breakups are more devastating than others and, in some cases, your friend may need constant companionship. If you have concerns that he or she could do personal harm, please stay nearby and get him or her help, if necessary.
- Listen. Listen. When your friend has something to say, hold back the urge to talk and just listen; listen with all of your willpower. If you have something special to say, hold onto it and wait for the right time. It is wonderful to have a loyal sounding board when you are hurting. To know you have someone who will let you process your emotions without judging you. That is what your friend needs after a breakup. Soon enough he or she will need your encouragement to re-enter normal life, but when the wound is new, your listening ears are the best medicine.
- Keep the Hugs to a Maximum and the Advice to a Minimum. When someone we love is hurting, we want to fix it. We want to make the pain go away. Watching our loved ones hurt is a helpless feeling. In those moments, we want to think of the silver lining. We want to tell them what to do to make life joyful again. It is hard to withhold recommendations, but unless they are requested, keep them tucked in a while longer. Your affection and quiet support are most appreciated.
Phrases to Avoid?
- I told you so. It is un-empathetic, shows a lack of concern, and is, quite frankly, arrogant. If you want to lose a friend, make this claim.
- He or she is a <insert derogatory term here>. It may feel good to put his or her ex down, but it does not help anything in the long run. “She should not have treated you that way,” and “How he treated you was uncalled for” are supportive and mature alternatives.
- At least... Almost anything that follows the phrase at least lacks empathy. “At least you only dated three months.” “At least he broke up with you in person instead of over the phone.” “At least she gave you back your stuff.” “At least you had someone who thought you were attractive.”
There are so many ways to show your support to friends when they experience a broken heart. This list is just for starters. How else can you apply balm to your friend’s soul?
Those years of breakups would have been far more devastating without the support of loyal, funny, supportive friends. If you have friends who are there for you come what may, you are blessed indeed. If you are that kind of friend to someone else, you are an immeasurable blessing.
How can you best support your friends when they experience broken hearts? [Comment below!]