2019-02-20
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When your friend is suffering through a breakup, you probably feel like you are walking on eggshells all the time. You are aware that your friend is hurt emotionally, and you want to help, but it can be exhausting trying to find the right thing to say. Anything and everything causes your friend to become morose or angry over their ex who, really, is not worth this amount of energy given that they were stupid enough to break it off with your friend. You want to help your friend heal and get over the person who, clearly, was never good enough for them anyway, but you do not know how to do that. You are worried that everything you say or do is only making things worse. 

“They were a jerk anyway.”

Congratulations. You have either made yourself the target of all your friend’s rage or convinced them that they are such a terrible judge of people’s character that they should never interact with anything more complex than a gecko again. It can be tempting, but cursing the person who hurt your friend helps nothing. Even if your friend is the one who starts the game of bash-the-ex, resist the urge to give voice to all things you thought were wrong with your friend’s b.a.e. throughout their relationship. If your friend ends up getting back together with their ex, your friend is going to be angry that you badmouthed their beau, regardless of the fact that they themselves were in the middle of insulting every member of their no-good ex’s family. Otherwise, your friend is going to want to know why you never said anything if it was so abundantly clear that the relationship was bad news. Either way, you lose.

“You’ll get over them soon enough.”

The anger and misery that comes from a breakup is a form of grieving. Grief does not follow any sort of time table, and this comment implies that your friend needs to hurry their grieving process. It also minimizes their suffering. Even if it seems impossible that your friend would be hung up on their ex who was as neurotic as they were obnoxious, your friend had invested time, energy and effort into the relationship. They are not going to simply get over their ex overnight. Frankly, if they do, you probably have bigger problems since your friend is likely a psychopath in disguise. 

“You’re handling this so well.”

People are experts at putting on a brave face for the world. They may not want everyone to see how much the breakup is hurting them. So, they act like everything is fine. This may work for short bursts when a person has no choice but to suppress their emotions or set them aside, such as a job interview or big presentation. Those instances, however, should be few and far between. Otherwise, all a person does is become a powder keg and end up exploding at the wrong moment. When this happens, they shout for 20 minutes at their terrified and baffled coworker who honestly just wanted to know if the other person was done using the microwave in the break room. 

Praising a person for how they appear to be handling the breakup tells them that they need to keep up whatever mask they are wearing. If how they are acting now is “good,” then being torn up is “bad.” This causes problems because grieving, whether a loved one’s death or the end of a relationship, is not a moral question, but people end up bending over backwards to avoid being “bad” when a good crying session might be exactly what they need. 

“It was bound to happen.”

Implying that the relationship was doomed from the start is a quick way to get a pint of beer or a carton of melted ice cream dumped over your head. This comment causes many of the same problems that come with badmouthing the ex. You either look like a terrible person who could not be bothered to warn their friend of impending heartbreak, or you imply that your friend was incapable of maintaining the relationship. Even if the writing was on the wall from day one and you were all but shouting from the rooftops that this was a terrible idea, keep it to yourself. You can remind your friend that you were right once they are completely over their ex.

“Don’t let them get you down.”

This is almost always meant to be encouraging, but instead it tends to tell your friend that they are wrong to be upset. It implies that if they are hurt or miserable by the loss of the relationship they are somehow weak. This, of course, is the farthest thing from the truth, and it likely is not even close to what you meant. Still, save this for when your friend runs into their ex months down the line when your friend is mostly over the relationship or two years from now when your friend’s ex is trying to be a jerk. The immediate aftermath of the breakup is going to be messy in some way. You are better off offering a shoulder to cry on than a pep talk.

“It’s better this way.”

You have just earned the award of worst friend ever. No one wants to hear that they are better off hurt and miserable. Even if the relationship was toxic and abusive, this is not a phrase that someone who is in emotional or physical pain needs or wants to hear. Be sympathetic for now. Once your friend has begun to calm down a little bit or to start the healing process, you can help them see why the relationship was toxic. For now, avoid phrases that make it seem like you are happy that your friend is hurting. 

“You’re making too big a deal out of this.”

Your friend is now looking to either throw you out of their house or planning on trying to walk 12 miles home instead of staying with you a minute longer. Even if the relationship was only a few days long and your friend is in floods of tears, be sympathetic. Everyone has different tolerances for pain, and that is no different with emotional pain than physical. What may seem minor to you may feel like the end of the world for your friend. For now, focus on being there for your friend and helping them heal. If they fall too hard, too fast, you can work on that with them when they are not convinced their heart has been ripped out of their chest like some ancient Aztec sacrifice.

Breakups are never easy regardless of whether you are one of the parties involved or the unfortunate outsider who is stuck trying to put the pieces back together. As a friend, however, your first and primary job is to be a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. Help your friend hold it together during their initial grief. Then, once they start healing, you can work on teaching them to stop choosing significant others who are bad news.