Your intentions to help someone going through a breakup may be in the right place, but the wrong response can result in more grief, anger, or resentment for that person. Here are some of the worst responses to someone experiencing the end of a relationship and some suggestions for a better way to acknowledge their feelings:
1. Worst: "I know exactly how you feel."
Perhaps your friend broke up with her fiancé of 11 months on vacation in May at age 28 just like you did. Seemingly identical situations may be drastically different experiences. Be cautious not to assume that these situations are the same despite similarities. Glazing over a friend's experience to examine your past may minimize what your friend is going through. Remember that you are not the center of attention; your friend is.
Instead, say something like, "I can only imagine how you're feeling."
2. Worst: "Don't take any of his calls."
Avoiding communication with your ex after a breakup may have worked well. Be cautious not to assume that your blueprint will work well for someone else. Some of us heal through remaining friends. Some situations heal best with no further contact. Still others find closure in accepting an apology never received. Reminding the individual to take the process gradually may lessen feelings of being overwhelmed.
Instead, say something like, "Take things one day at a time."
3. Worst: "You're handling this better than I thought!"
Jumping to conclusions can be dangerous. A person may seem all right on the outside but may be suffering on the inside. Sometimes our responses are born of our own unwillingness to sit with our discomfort. Acknowledging there is room for both the sour and sweet openly invites that person to share authentically if he or she chooses to do so.
Instead, say something like, "It's OK to have good days and bad days."
4. Worst: "Everything happens for a reason."
The tendency to rationalize may be natural, but avoid this inclination. Rationalization slams the door to the question of why. Sometimes our healing lies on the other side of exploring that why a bit further. Insight should take a backseat to consideration. Let kindness take the wheel.
Instead, say something like, "I'll keep you in my thoughts."
5. Worst: "I never liked that person anyway."
Prioritize their shared experience over your opinions, especially when unwarranted. Acknowledging you harbored very strong opinions you never shared with that person may also create a barrier to trust.
Sometimes people get back together. Your opinion may linger long after that person has moved on from the loss. Saying nothing and just showing up to listen allows space and comfort at the same time.
Instead, don't say anything. Just be there to listen instead.
6. Worst: "I hope you're almost over this."
Putting our own timeline on someone else's loss is not helpful to that individual. The path of healing is unique for each person. Encouraging that person to adhere to your recovery timeline can feel condescending. It may imply that you think you know what is better for that person than they do. When in doubt, listen more; offer less advice. Being present in itself can be powerful.
Instead, say something like, "I'm here for as long as you need me."
7. Worst: "It was bound to happen."
The idea that this person had to see the end of this relationship coming may be an insult to their sense of judgment. Acknowledging that there is no easy response to the situation honors the complexity of the loss and shows authenticity.
Instead, say something like, "I wish I knew what to say. If you'd like to join me at the gym or the movies or dinner, I'd like that."
8. Worst: "You're still so young!"
Avoid phrases that pressure a person to conform to a timeline or deadline.This adds another layer of stress and judgment.
Instead, say something like, "I'm always a phone call away."
9. Worst: "It's for the best!"
The end of a relationship, whether sudden or gradual, can feel irrational to that person. It can still feel problematic even if that person is the one who ended the relationship. Acknowledging a person's sorrow or pain can be comforting.
Instead, say something like, "I'm sorry you have to go through this."
10. Worst: "Stay strong!"
Statements like "stay positive" or "cheer up" can encourage the individual to mimic feelings that are not authentic to their process of experiencing loss. Avoiding one's true emotional response can delay healing. These messages also send a signal to that person that you may be uncomfortable with his or her genuine feelings. Allow space for their authentic self to show up.
Instead, say something like, "I'll be available if you need anything."