When you get that call and it’s time to help a friend through a breakup, you might feel completely out of your depth.
You drop everything, but you feel paralyzed; wanting to help but fearing you’ll make things even worse.
What do you say? Is it better to avoid the topic or rag on their ex? Should you help them start dating again, or discourage a rebound fling?
Every situation is different, so there’s no one right way to be a supportive friend. But there are some techniques you can use to approach almost any situation properly and make your friend feel better.
Feeling like a caretaker without a clue? Below, find 5 foolproof ways to support your friend through a rough breakup (plus a word of caution at the end).
Technique 1: Be a quiet supporter
You don’t have to say much to support a friend through a breakup. In fact, sometimes the best way to help someone, is to let them say whatever they want – and just that.
Hold a space where they can share exactly what’s on their mind. If you try to direct a conversation about what happened, you may accidentally bring up a part of the situation that’s very painful for them.
They also may find it hard to interrupt or change a course of conversation you’ve already started.
Your best bet is to leave the field open for whatever feels right to your friend. Talking too little may be better than talking too much.
Technique 2: Help meet their basic needs
Arrive with healthy(-ish) snacks, prep a cold water bottle or hot thermos with their favorite drink, or fill them a cup of water even if they don’t ask for it. Bring an extra hoodie in case they forgot theirs.
In a highly emotional state, it’s easy to forget about attending to your own needs. So make sure to surround your friend with the basics they might forget they need.
Technique 3: Master the art of distraction
You’ll eventually talk about the details of what happened and how it all feels to your friend. But unless they bring it up, try to leave the serious discussions for when your friend’s emotions have calmed down a bit.
Distraction is a way to naturally keep your friend’s mind off the bad.
What are your friend’s favorite things to do and talk about? Gently guide the conversation toward these topics.
By keeping them occupied with things that bring them joy, they won’t feel as deprived by the absence of their partner, or like they’re straining to avoid thoughts of the relationship.
When all else fails, or if your friend is not in a talking mood, use distracting TV or movies. The ideal choice is a show or movie that your friend finds familiar, but that doesn’t remind your friend of the relationship.
Planet Earth, action flicks, or Disney movies could all fit the bill. And nobody ever complained about re-watching The Office.
Technique 4: Take on responsibility
While you’re taking other steps to help your friend through a breakup, reduce their stress by being the adult in the situation.
Going somewhere that’d distract them? Offer to drive, so they can stay zoned out. Hold their wallet and keys in your bag, so they don’t have to keep track.
If you’re spending the whole day with your friend, try suggesting when it’s time to do important self-care activities — make it as easy as possible for them.
They need some sleep? Suggest they get in PJs while you make their bed cozy.
They haven’t brushed their teeth this weekend? Literally put the toothpaste on their brush and bring it to them – if nothing else, you’ll both get a laugh out of it.
Technique 5: Become the court jester
Speaking of laughs: even if you’re not a super funny person, or if you can’t crack a joke, you can still give your friend a laugh.
A good way to do this is through self-deprecation. Make yourself the butt of the joke, to lighten the mood at any time.
This could include wearing a mismatched outfit, joking about your underarm smell, or smiling wide with chocolate in your teeth. Whatever resonates with your friend.
The simplest, most human things are often the funniest in dark times.
And a cautious reminder…
Don’t speak too soon.
How many of us have spoken ill of a friend’s ex, only for them to get back together? If your concerns about their partner or relationship are really serious, broach that topic carefully, compassionately, and constructively.
If your issues with their ex aren’t serious enough to think hard on and bring up in a careful, constructive way… consider keeping them to yourself.
Helping a friend through a breakup is not a small nor easy task. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach it, and no matter how much you help, your friend will probably still feel sad in the end.
So don’t judge yourself for doing a good or bad job – just be there in any way you can, and don’t let your friend feel alone.
Don’t neglect yourself
We’re proud of you for trying to be the best friend you can be and helping your loved one through a break up. But even Harvard Health says so, too: remember to take care of yourself!
If you want to rant it out, express your fears, or even ask your peers for crowd-sourced ideas to help, Supportiv‘s instant, anonymous chat can be a good resource.
To talk to someone right now, hit ‘Chat Now,’ enter what’s on your mind, and get ready to feel supported while supporting your friend.