Supporting A Friend Through A Break-up
The most supportive way to help a friend going through the turmoil of a break up is to be a neutral and skillful listener.
Stay right away from taking sides. Resist making your friends’ issues your issues. Aim to remain neutral with their ex as well. It is okay to be comfortable socialising with both people if they are both an important part of your social group.
If your friends’ ex continues to spend time with your partner and you, your friend may perceive this as betrayal. Be tactful and honest about any contact. Clarify that it is not about ‘taking sides’. Reassure your friend that supporting him or her is not in question.
Avoid getting into judgements or attacking the ex partners’ character or behaviour. Your friend can be angry and say what she wants about her situation when she is in pain. Intense feelings of hurt or anger are normal. It is not wise to join in thinking it will help her feel better! It could very easily backfire and later both of you could feel uncomfortable.
Words have great power to be carried into the future. You cannot take them back once they have been spoken.
Being a skillful listener means conveying your understanding of what has been expressed. Reflecting back what the other person is saying, without adding in your own stuff. This means keeping any judgements or opinions to yourself. Avoid overlaying your own interpretations. The idea is to put yourself in her shoes. To understand what is going on for her.
Simply listen. Be present. Remain calm and neutral.
Allow your friend to freely express what she is feeling. This means not shutting her down or minimising what it means for her. Walk alongside, neither pushing nor pulling her along. You do not have to agree or disagree or ‘try’ to influence or fix anything.
Avoid any pronouncements or persuasions about what you think ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t happen. This is not supporting her. Instead, help your friend get clear about what she needs.
Sometimes it is helpful to offer reassurance along the lines of ‘you will get through it and be okay eventually”. However, be mindful of comments that dismiss or invalidate her feelings or what she is going through. For example avoid some version of ‘don’t worry, be happy’ or ‘they are not worth getting so upset over’ or ‘there are plenty of other men/women out there.’ While your intention may be to help your friend feel better, these types of comments don’t help. Worse, they can do harm.
Your friend may not want to talk about it. She may want to talk about it constantly! Let her be the guide. Let her know you are happy to listen whenever she wants to talk (as long as this is okay with you). Be clear that it is up to her to raise the topic if she wants to and that you will leave that ball in her court.
Aim for empathy. This means truly understanding how it is for your friend, as if you were in her shoes. What is she experiencing and feeling? What is most important to her in the situation?
Giving genuine, unbiased feedback can be helpful if you are asked for it. This can be couched in terms of what you have observed, without biased judgements or attempting to influence. Keep this feedback reasonably brief. Avoid any judgements about right wrong, good or bad.
Overall, the most helpful way of supporting your friend is to allow her to have the space and time to feel what she is feeling. To work her way through her grief and the adjustment process, in her own time.
If you are really concerned about her well being you could gently speak up about this. You could suggest counselling and help her talk through that kind of decision. However, keep in mind that no matter what you want, it is vital that you allow your friend to be in control of their own process.