Watching a friend grieve a relationships hurts, but honesty and boundaries are the best things you can give. Here’s how to help a friend through a breakup.
Let’s face it, break-ups happen.
And for a thinking feeling person, breakups can be rough.
All relationships are negotiated and if you begin with a common understanding of what you both want, you can bypass a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, and hard feelings. Unfortunately, there remains the pesky fact that so many people either just don’t know what they want or are too embarrassed or afraid to ask for fear of being rejected. So, those unwanted break-ups just might be inevitable.
If you or someone you know is working through a break up, here are a few pointers to make the experience a little easier.
Ask what your friend wants or needs from you.
It’s important to ask what your friend wants or needs from you. While in your mind, they may be served well by your expert advice, they may not need or want it. Relationships and the break-up/grief process that follows is a karmic experience. Meaning, how a person relates to what has happened is usually much more important than the relationship itself.
The relationships we enter into teach us something about ourselves every time and therefore hold immense value.
In order to be an expert in the needs of your friend, it’s imperative that you empathize with the spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical needs your friend had in going through this experience. You need to be willing to see it from their prospective rather than your own. So, ask your friend what they need from you and how you can best support them, then take the time to think about what you have to offer.
Be clear about the time and energy you have available.
The next step is being honest with yourself about the time and energy you have to offer someone who is grieving a loss. Grief for the bystander can sometimes be taxing, especially if you don’t understand or can’t align with the break up at hand. It’s easy to judge someone as having made a bad decision by entering into a relationship that you could see the end coming a mile away. As a friend, it’s not your place to judge, criticize or belittle your friend for information you feel they should have had.
If these are the feelings you find yourself having, it’s best to let your friend know that you are unable to help in this situation and then consider if there is any other way you can be supportive. Saying something like, “Hey, I care for you, but I am not the one to be able to listen or talk with you about what happened. What I can do is take you to a movie, help you around the house, or go for a run with you.”
Or, if the truth is you really just don’t want to be around your friend, then say that. It’s okay to say, “I am having a hard time watching you go through this.”
Don’t feel locked into helping, but if you do: Think of your friend’s feelings, not your own.
A person who has just experienced rejection and is grieving a loss will do better with open honesty than passive aggressive avoidance. Their spirit is busy finding the answers to what happened in the relationship they’ve just separated from and don’t need further confusion or loss created by your discomfort. Ultimately, this kind of honesty can only make your friendship stronger.
There is no shame in not being able to support someone how they need to be supported. It is far better to take yourself off the call roster if you’re not going to answer the phone.
The emotional skin of someone who is grieving a loss and rejection will be hyper-sensitive to any disappointment. It’s best not to set up an expectation that is not possible. If you’d like to extend this offer to a grieving friend, say something like, “Feel free to call me. And I’ll be sure to get back as soon as I’m able. I really want to speak with you about what you’re going through.” This way, everyone wins. You’ve been honest about availability and your friend knows how much you care.
Be present and set clear boundaries.
Everyone knows someone with a new boy- or girlfriend every month—maybe a friend, colleague or co-worker. With that much relationship negotiation going on, there’s bound to be some fall out. As a friend or confidant to this person, it’s important to be able to set kind (yet firm) boundaries. When someone is recovering from a major rejection—one that maybe for you, as a witness to their life, seems more like self-sabotage or a consistent unresolved life pattern—it can become tiresome for the person supporting the loss.
This is a delicate situation to say the least. Remember, for the person experiencing the loss, the pain is very real. You, as an outsider, may have some objectivity that your friend does not have, so it’s vital for you to listen with compassion or be kind enough to be honest.
Honesty may entail letting your friend know you’re unequipped with the time or energy to go through the grief process with them, or that if you do spend the time and energy, you are going to be honest with them on your thoughts and feelings. Most of all, be sure to communicate that you love them and wish them well.
Are you a friend or a healer?
A friend listens or says what you want to hear, a healer tells you what you need to hear. There are times in our lives where the circumstances are set up for us to experience a loss completely on our own. It’s truly one of the most amazing experiences to have worked through a loss or problem for yourself.
When we bring others into our grief, often we are sharing our pain with them. Literally, they share in processing the grief we have. It’s an enormous job to put on someone to help you with your grief, and it is one of the greatest acts of love and trust to take someone’s grief and help them to process it.
If you’re a friend, these are the things you can do to help:
- Actively listen and respond with empathy and compassion.
- Offer to participate in distracting activities like hiking, shopping, movies, or a visit to the spiritual space of their choice.
- Help your friend with their responsibilities; i.e., house cleaning, car maintenance, food prep, or anything else that may get swept under the rug in times of grief.
- Do something thoughtful like: sending funny text messages, sharing funny videos, getting them a card or their favorite candy, or showing up on a lunch break with their favorite… a Venti quadruple half caf with organic almond milk, topped with extra soy cream and cinnamon. It’s sure to bring a smile, no matter how fleeting.
If you’re a healer and they want your help:
- Listen, digest, reflect, then give your opinion.
- If you’ve known them a long time, offer prospective on the part of their journey you’ve witnessed.
- Encourage them to treat themselves kindly and with respect. Times like these bring out the inner addict. Whatever you do, don’t criticize—because under no circumstances is it helpful. If your friend has a tendency to self-medicate with anything do your best to be present and offer other options like a spa day or afternoon of golf sans beer.
- If your friend does, in fact, have substance issues that bring you concern, consider where your most value lies. Being involved and invested in the relationship or taking a stand by not participating in the relationship. Ultimately it’s imperative to be honest. Your honesty in this circumstance may possibly be the end to your friendship for a period of time. Staying involved and offering consistent, loving, alternate options may be the way to go depending on the severity of the situation.