The end of a relationship can be painful and isolating. If your friend is going through a breakup, they might need your support.
The majority of folks deal with a breakup at some point in life. But even if you’ve experienced the loss of a relationship yourself, it can be difficult to know how to help a friend through the same experience.
Your friend might need practical support as well as emotional support. Sometimes, your person may know what they need, and other times, you may have to come ready with options.
“It’s best to understand that recovering from a breakup has many phases,” says Dr. Alexandra Stockwell, a relationship and intimacy coach in Benicia, California.
“The first one can be intense, and after that, it may come in waves, at surprising times. A good friend has room for it all, and also makes sure to take space to nourish herself when it gets overwhelming.”
Common ways to support someone through a breakup include:
- giving them space to talk or vent
- reminding them of their strengths and qualities
- doing fun, rejuvinating activities together
- offering practical help
- in time, helping them look toward, and plan for the future
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to supporting a friend after a breakup. Rather, their needs will be determined by their circumstances.
Types of relationship breakups and targeted tips
The words you use and the type of support you offer your friend might vary depending on the nature of their relationship, the way it ends, who ends it, and what collateral damage is left behind.
You might only consider using the below tips and advice if your close friend has opened up about their breakup.
If you try to help without being asked, you may overstep their boundaries, and your help might have the opposite effect of what you intended.
It can be especially difficult to get closure at the end of a long-distance relationship.
Your friend might need space to mourn the plans they made with their ex-partner, whether that be moving closer to one another or traveling together.
It may help to validate their grief and keep in mind the distance didn’t negate their:
- degree of intimacy
- investment in their partner
- hopeful intentions for the relationship
The end of a long-term relationship can be painful, especially if their lives are closely intertwined.
If your friend relied on their partner functionally — for example, if they lived together or traveled to work together — they might need practical help. Could you offer them a lift? Do they need help opening their own bank account? Could you help them move?
They might also need support in adjusting to life without their partner. You can help your friend:
- rediscover their values
- try to make new friends
- adopt new hobbies and activities
“Most people, when cheated on, internalize it as rejection and related to them not being attractive or interesting or smart enough when that is not in fact what motivates cheating much of the time,” explains Stockwell.
If your friend’s partner cheated on them, your friend might need you to assure them of their value or remind them there’s life beyond what was done.
Since infidelity is often jarring, your person might also need space to process and express self-doubt, anger, or regret.
Toxic or abusive
Ending a toxic relationship or leaving an abusive one can be emotionally taxing.
If your friend is afraid to leave, you can help them come up with a safety plan.
Remember that it’s common for people to return to abusive partners for many reasons. Financial difficulties, safety concerns, and feelings of shame can all make it difficult for someone to leave.
Consistent, compassionate support goes a long way in helping your friend leave for good.
“Supporting a codependent friend can be very challenging because they often run a narrative of self-blame and unfounded hope in what might have been,” Stockwell explains.
Your friend might feel they need affirmation of their self-worth and turn to you to validate them. In this case, it may be a better principle to “teach them how to fish” versus “give them a fish” — that is, support them in discovering this affirmation within themselves.
With the parent of their child
Your friend might need pragmatic and emotional support as they transition from being a part of a couple to co-parenting with their ex-partner.
For example, they might need support in:
- having someone to vent to
- ironing out the legal implications of their breakup, such as establishing a parenting plan
- practical help as they transition to being a single parent — for example, babysitting, picking up dinner, or carpools
It isn’t easy to know what to say when your friend is in pain. Simply listening to them and affirming that you care for them is a good place to start. They’ll probably need time to process their emotions after the loss.
1. Sitting with their emotions
The loss of a relationship is a loss like any other. Imagining a world apart from the future they envisioned for themself can be painful for your friend.
“Sometimes people feel they have to move through their grief quickly, or put on a happy face, to make other people feel comfortable,” Stockwell says. “But the best way to get over a breakup is to feel the authentic feelings and not override them.”
Sitting with their pain means not counteracting their sadness or rushing to fix the difficulties they’re facing, Stockwell says. Here’s how:
- practicing active listening, without “shoulds” or suggestions
- avoiding mentioning yourself or comparing to another’s experience — keep the focus on them
- embracing silence by just sharing space and time
2. Asking them what they want
Every individual has unique needs and boundaries, and some people might need more support than others.
It’s important to understand what your friend needs, even if they’re finding it challenging to communicate.
You can check in with your friend candidly to ensure you’re not overwhelming them or leaving them feeling neglected.
3. Spending time together
At times, your friend might want your company more than your conversation.
You can suggest, or together enjoy activities they might find rejuvenating and entertaining, whether it’s a trip to the beach, a game night, or the gym.
4. Suggesting therapy
“It is normal to feel sad after a breakup, but if it’s too hard to go to work or take care of oneself after a few days, then it’s time to seek professional help,” Stockwell says.
Short- or long-term talk therapy can be helpful for healing after a breakup.
There are many ways to comfort and support a friend through a breakup, whether emotionally or practically.
You might want to remember not to overstep boundaries and to respect your friend’s wishes if they don’t want to discuss their relationship.
You can keep in mind that it’s not your job to fix every difficulty your friend faces after a breakup, nor is it possible to cushion them from feeling any pain.
Instead, you could sit with their pain, listen to them vent, and check in on their needs, candidly. Therapy can also help to explore behavioral patterns, mental distress, and trauma.