An undeniable fact of life is that breakups hurt. It doesn’t matter who started the final argument or whose idea it was to end the relationship. Both partners emerge with emotional wounds and painful memories that take time to heal. You naturally want to be there for your friend, but you might be unsure how to act or what to say.
Understanding the Grief Process
In order to help, you need to understand what your friend is going through. As with any loss, the end of a relationship may entail a grieving process. The timeline is different for everyone, and some people visit the stages out of order or revisit an earlier stage. In general, however, there are five stages: denial; anger; bargaining -- sometimes with the ex, but often with a higher power; depression; and acceptance.
Acknowledging the Hurt
In an interview for "Marie Claire," grief educator Val Walker points out that many well-meaning friends end up pushing their loved ones to feel a certain way on a particular timeline. Avoid saying things such as “you’ll get over it” or “be positive." Instead, acknowledge your friend’s feelings. Let this individual to pour out emotions, even if it means listening to the same doubts and concerns expressed repeatedly.
Many people in your friend’s social circle will say something along the lines of “call me if you need me.” While this is most often a genuine offer of help, most grieving people will not reach out, according to a follow-up "Marie Claire" article. Your friend doesn’t want to feel needy or weak, and might worry about burdening others. Instead, offer to do something specific at a specific time. Invite your friend out to dinner on Thursday or ask if you can drop by after work. Don’t take it personally if your friend says no, but continue to reach out over the next days and weeks.
In the weeks following a breakup, most people do not think very clearly. On her website, The Breakup Coach, psychologist Sasha Carr, Ph.D., suggests that you step in to help your friend avoid embarrassing decisions. Redirect the attention of a friend who starts stalking the ex on social media, or talk your friend out of jumping into a relationship with someone new. Over time, help your comrade establish a new life, but in the early days focus on physical and psychological safety.
Carr points out that you need to take care of yourself while taking care of your friend. Whether you want an evening alone or want to see this friend without rehashing the relationship for hours, tell your friend calmly but clearly what you need. This individual is likely feeling vulnerable to criticism, so be ready with an alternate plan. For example, you might say “I’m sorry, but I have errands to run after work today. Can I take you to dinner tomorrow?” This shows that you are still there for your friend while allowing you to disengage.
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