Christian comedian Mark Lowry once asked his audience how many of them had ever had a broken heart. Seeing that a few hands weren’t raised he replied, “The rest of you haven’t hit puberty yet, I guess.” Unfortunately, heartaches are a part of life. Few people are exempt. Some heartaches come suddenly with the news of a lost loved one. Some heartaches linger while we wait for our desires to be fulfilled. And some heartaches happen as the result of rejection and broken promises.
At some time or another, most of us experience the pain of a break up – and, most of us will experience the pain of watching a close friend or family member go through a break up. As we watch our girlfriends drown in a puddle of tears or our guy friends slam their fists against the wall, our first instinct is to make the pain stop! Good friends are always there with just the right phrase to make all the hurt melt away, right? That would be ideal, but at times like these even the best friends in the world can’t take the pain away. This is when being supportive, even if that means saying nothing, is so important. Breakups cause real pain so when we talk to a grieving person about his or her breakup, we should season our words just as we would if we were talking to someone who had lost a loved one. Below are a few examples of what we should not say when approaching someone who’s going through a breakup.
- “What happened?!?!? I thought…” This is the natural reaction to have when your friend comes to you and tells you that his or her sweetheart broke off their relationship. “What happened? I thought you guys were doing so great!” or “What happened? I thought you guys would get married?” Instead you may want to say something like, “I am so sorry. If you want to talk about it, I’m here for you!” This is a tricky one because by asking for the story you are showing that you are interested in what happened, but it can also cause someone with a battered heart to keep reliving painful details. Here’s a rule of thumb. If your friend comes to you almost immediately after it happens, you may want to ask, “Do you want to tell me what happened?” or “Do you want to talk about it?” If you happen to bump into someone randomly and find out that he or she is no longer with a previous love interest, it’s probably best to let him or her know that you care and that you’re available if he or she needs to talk (or “blow off steam” for you fellas). Don’t push for details.
- I knew he or she was a jerk! How many of us have said some version of this to someone we care about when he or she had a broken heart? Maybe it’s true. He or she may have been a jerk, but the person sitting next to you in a puddle of tears really cares about that jerk. Someday your friend may come to the same conclusion, but in the meantime remember that those lovin’ feelings can come in and cloud the most intelligent person’s judgment. Even though it seems fitting to put someone down who just hurt your dear friend, try listening, hugging, and being the official tissue supplier. Be supportive and let him or her express feelings and frustrations. Don’t pile new feelings or stress on your friend when he or she is desperately trying to relieve pain and emotional pressure.
- Don’t you think it’s time to get over this? There is something deeply insulting about having a person tell you to get over something when he or she clearly has no idea what you’re going through. Have you experienced this? If a nurse came into your room two days after heart bypass surgery and said, “Seriously, you’re still in bed? Get up and make yourself useful!” you would probably have a few colorful labels for her. If you broke your leg and your basketball coach said “Shake it off! We have a playoff game this Saturday!” you’d likely stare at him in disbelief. It’s not our place to tell others when to get over something, especially when we haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. With that being said, there are times when breakups leave people bitter, cynical, ineffective in their jobs or ministries, and perpetually depressed. If you believe your friend has fallen into that trap, you may want to prayerfully consider having a talk with him or her. Be sure he or she knows you’re approaching the subject out of care and concern. Even if he or she doesn’t want to listen at first, he or she will know (even if it takes a while) that your intentions were honorable. There is a huge difference between, “Seriously, stop crying and get over it.” and “I know you are hurting deeply, and I’m concerned for you because….”
- What did you do wrong? If you can’t even fathom saying this to someone with a broken heart, then GOOD! Someone actually asked one of my friends this question after her boyfriend broke up with her (or should I say after he fell off the face of the earth and wouldn’t let her know what was going on). So here she is trying to come to terms with what has happened and some thoughtless person has the audacity (or complete lack of common sense) to assume it was her fault and to ask her to admit what she did to drive him away. As you can probably tell, this example evokes some emotion in me. We shouldn’t kick others when they’re down. We need to remember to treat them the way we want to be treated. When you find yourself consoling a hurting friend, take a minute and try to put yourself in his or her shoes. What would you want others to say to you? What would you not want to hear?
- Pretty soon you’ll be so in love with someone else and you’ll barely remember his or her name. When I was twelve, I had my first broken heart. You might be thinking, “Awww… how sweet. Her first broken heart,” but it wasn’t cute or sweet. The pain was unrelenting. My mind was consumed with it. I would burst out crying the kind of tears that starts at your toes and comes all the way up to your eyes. One night, my grandmother woke up to find me on the bathroom floor wailing. At that point in my life, I literally could not imagine being with anyone else. If people had told me (and they probably did) that I’d be over him and in love with someone else soon, I wouldn’t have believed them. When someone is grieving the end of a relationship (and it is real grief), he or she doesn’t want to think about loving someone else. Thinking about future relationships is admitting that there is no hope for this relationship and there’s usually a level of denial one feels immediately after a breakup. Even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient, it’s important that we let our hurting friends work through Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
- This reminds me of the time I was dumped by __________…. Don’t make your friend’s breakup about you. He or she needs your support in this moment. That includes listening, maybe hugging, or perhaps just sitting together in silence. What your friend doesn’t need is to hear about how someone hurt you even worse three years ago. If you have been through a similar situation, use your experience to support him or her (e.g., I went through something similar and I remember it hurting so badly, so you just feel free to cry all you need to cry. I’m here for you, etc.).
- As long as you have God, you don’t need a boyfriend or girlfriend. It is true that God is all we ultimately need, but God himself said that it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He is the author of relationships and though He hasn’t ordained every relationship to move from dating to marriage, that doesn’t mean He wants your friend to give up on the idea of love and marriage. Maybe a better approach is: “I’m praying for you and asking God to give you peace and direction. He promised not to leave or forsake His children. He’s there when you think you’re completely alone.” When someone is in anguish, it’s not the time to lecture. Just be there to support and encourage. If your statement wouldn’t encourage you, don’t expect it to encourage someone else.
- Don’t air your dirty laundry on Facebook. It’s starting to get on people’s nerves. We’ve all seen Facebook posts written by heartbroken persons detailing their break ups, sharing the depths of their unquenchable love for the one who got away, and telling tales of their insatiable anger. Is it good for people to share so many details on social media? No, probably not. Should we chastise them for doing so? No, probably not. It never ceases to amaze me when people comment on someone else’s status, “Seriously, you’ve got to move on. Enough already. Stop whining. Your posts are getting annoying.” One of the joys of freedom is having the ability to keep scrolling, block someone, or even delete a friend from Facebook. Problem solved. If we don’t want to keep reading someone’s statuses, we don’t have to! Yay!!! What’s worse than posting too much personal information on Facebook is assuming that you have the right to tell someone what they can and cannot say about their own lives on Facebook. If they are using Facebook immorally (e.g., posting foul language or being vulgar), you can let them know that it offends you (preferably in private and without a chip on your shoulder), but if they don’t change you can choose to drop them. It’s all about personal responsibility. On the other hand, if you see your friend lamenting day after day and you know others are beginning to lose patience and respect for him or her, it’s a good idea to recommend that he or she take a break from Facebook for a while. You can gently explain how his or her messages are being received by others and that you care too much not to mention it.
- Someday he or she is going to be sorry for breaking up with you! Maybe he will. Maybe she won’t. We don’t know how someone else is going to feel years down the road so why make empty promises? It’s all in an attempt to soften the blow and rub emotional Neosporin on the wound, but we know when our friends are just trying to make us feel better. It’s a nice attempt, but instead say something you can be sure of such as, “It will get easier as time goes by. You’re not alone. You are an amazing person.”
- Well, I didn’t feel like I could say anything before, but I’ll say it now… I knew it wouldn’t work. My first instinct is to stick my tongue out or make faces at this person. Mature, I know. Another way of saying this is “I knew you were being an idiot by dating this person and that the relationship was completely doomed from the start. How come you didn’t see it? I would’ve said something before, but I assumed you would be too foolish to listen to me.” My response to this fictional character (whom I assume is a bitter, haughty, self-righteous woman) is “mind your own business!” Coming to someone after the fact and saying “I knew this would happen” or “I told you so” does nothing to solve problems or ease pain. It’s simply a way of declaring yourself wise. Believe me; you don’t want to make such statements around heartbroken persons as they will occasionally lash out. When someone has a painful sore and you insist on rubbing salt in it, eventually you’re going to get clobbered, either verbally or physically. Save a life. Bite your tongue!!! ~smile~
On the other side, if your friends say the wrong words to you when you’re hurting, try to have grace. Chances are they really are trying to help. Sometimes when we scramble to make a situation better we accidently make it worse. And if you see someone else going through a rough time, use your experiences to your advantage. Tap back into that emotional place in your memory and remember what you wanted and needed from others when you were suffering. And when you have no words just sit down beside your friend and say “I’m here for you.”
What comforted you most when you were going through a break up or a rough season?