Breakups will always suck. It doesn’t matter if the relationship ended with a dramatic fight or a carefully navigated and loving conversation—the aftermath can convince someone that she will never know happiness or find love again. (False on both counts.) This can be especially hard to watch when it is your friend going through a breakup: You know she’s awesome and she’ll find love again, but she’s still crying into a glass of pinot grigio and deleting pictures of her ex off her Instagram every night. It’s often painful and confusing to adjust to life as a single person, but everyone gets by with a little help from their friends, right? Here’s what to say to a friend going through a breakup—and what not to say, too.
The Best Things To Say
1. “You’re allowed to be sad.”
Sometimes people feel ashamed by the depth of their sadness post-breakup, especially if it was a short, intense fling or someone they know they’re better off without. Validating your friend’s feelings gives her permission to work through them and get closer to moving on. After you tell her it’s completely fine to be upset, explain that you’re always available to listen. “The best thing is just having someone listen to you as you talk your way through the sadness,” says Marie L., 26.
2. “I promise, you’re so much better off.”
The trick to making her believe this one is coming prepared with proof—otherwise it can seem generically insincere. “List concrete reasons they’re better off without the ex, like now they can move to the new city they’ve always wanted to try,” says Alana R., 26. It doesn’t even have to be something that monumental—anything that helps her realize there’s exciting potential in being single will do.
3. “You won’t always feel this way.”
It can be hard to remember the thrill of a new love when you’re mourning the loss of a previous one. “It’s helpful when a friend puts it in perspective,” says Cindy H., 25. “Heartbreak doesn’t last forever. You feel it, accept it, and eventually meet someone better.” Just be sure to say this one in an I’m-cheering-you-on way, because with the wrong tone, it can accidentally seem like you’re minimizing their feelings.
4. “It’s OK to have a bad day.”
“One day at a time” is a staple of 12-step programs, but the concept behind it works for heartbreak, too. Remind your friend of positive accomplishments and experiences happening in the here and now. Giving someone permission and space to grieve can help them find the energy to make the next day a little bit easier. “For me, having a declared one day ‘grieving’ process is just what I need,” says Genevieve S., 24. “I get it out of my system knowing that tomorrow, it’ll be much better.” Of course, most breakups require more than one day of mourning, which is why this is a better approach than trying to ignore negative emotions.
5. “Rebounds are great (but only when you’re ready)!”
There’s no one-size-fits-all time limit for getting over a breakup, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful to be reminded that dating and hookups can be a lot of fun. Lilli P., 32, says she got this advice from her mother, but in slightly more ribald language: “My mother has literally told me, ‘The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.’” Good friends will encourage you to enjoy life, whether that means dancing with a stranger, swiping like a maniac on Tinder, or taking time away from dating—whatever it takes to affirm that you were special and whole when you were single before and you still are now.
The Worst Things To Say
1. “There are plenty of fish in the sea!”
Genevieve S. nominated this response because it’s “just plain terrible” to hear in the midst of heartbreak. “In that moment, it trivializes the relationship that ended,” she says. “It makes it seem like you can move on quickly because it was nothing, and that’s not fair.”
2. “You’ll find someone else.”
Very similar to the above, but it’s worth noting that two women think this type of response is the absolute worst. Marie L.’s reason for hating this one: “Ugh. It’s so unhelpful. It’s the last thing I want to hear when I’m still in the stages of mourning the person I lost.” According to her, it’s basically the same as saying ‘Oh, sure, you can’t have the person you want, but you can have someone else.” Also, your distraught friend might look at you with tears in her eyes and be, like, ‘But how do you know?’ Then you’ll be heartbroken right along with her.
3. “He was a dick anyway.”
Sure, it may be true, but your opinion might come as a surprise to your friend. “It’s, like, ‘Wow, how long have you thought I was stupid for liking him?” says Alana R. Instead, try reflecting some of her complaints about her ex back to her in a constructive way (and only on the days she actually wants advice, not when she just wants to cry/eat her feelings/generally indulge her sadness). Something like, “You’d always mentioned how mean he could be during fights. I know it hurts now, but you won’t ever have to deal with that again, and that’s beautiful.”
4. “You’re so much cuter than her.”
There’s no need to commit girl-on-girl crime when cheering up your bud. “Superficial things like who’s hotter or who’s dating more attractive people after don’t matter,” says Cindy H. “All that matters is that I was attracted to my ex, which is why I dated them in the first place.” Rather than focusing on how your friend stacks up to her ex’s new boo, explain how amazing she is all on her own. Tell her that even though you know she’s strong enough to get through this, you’ll be there for the totally normal moments when she doesn’t believe that herself.
5. “Couldn’t you have given him what he wanted?”
Compromise is essential in a healthy relationship, but there are some impasses that no one can’t be overcome —and that shouldn’t be questioned. “After a very difficult breakup—we loved each other, but he wanted children and I definitely did not—someone told me, ‘Well, you know, couldn’t you just have one kid, for him?’” says Jennifer P., 44, about a breakup that happened in her mid-30s. If the person you’re splitting from can respect your choices, your support system can do the same. Breakups that happen because two people want different things don’t have to get ugly, and there doesn’t have to be a villain. Don’t shame someone for knowing herself well enough to make a hard choice.
6. “Everything happens for a reason.”
This cliche is an infuriating thing to say to someone going through a difficult time. Hearing it can leave a friend feeling like you’re not listening at all. After her marriage dissolved, Stephanie S., 38, says that this was the exact opposite of what she wanted to hear. “It was dismissive of what I was feeling and the huge hole that was now in my life,” she says. “I was committed to spending my life with her,” and comments like this diminished the magnitude of her choice to get married and why she felt so devastated after the breakup. If you ever feel the urge to say this, stop yourself. Admit you’re not sure what to say, but that you support your friend and love them even when they’re sad. Tell them that in good times, too. You don’t need a reason to show a friend you value her.
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