As I shared in a recent piece, I’ve recently had a number of friends go through traumatic break-ups.
While some were excepted, others seemingly came from out of the blue.
Unsurprisingly, I wanted to be there for my friends. However, finding the right thing to say in these situations is always a challenge.
The written word has always come easier to me than the spoken one. Often times, when I try to make things better, I just end up making them worse.
While no two break-ups are ever the same, there are some things that should not be said or at least not in those vulnerable, early stages.
However, as the list below shows, we often say these things without even thinking about how they sound to the other person.
Therefore, whether we are comforting someone who is going through their first break-up or their 31st, here are some things to refrain from saying.
1. I never liked them anyway.
We’ve all had friends who were with jerks and we were secretly (or not-so-secretly) relieved when the relationship ended. However, this isn’t about how we feel.
As the old saying goes, there is someone out there for everyone. Just because you find someone repugnant and cannot imagine anyone ever wanting to be with them, does not mean that everyone feels the same. Clearly, your friend cared about that person or they wouldn’t have been in a relationship with them.
Plus, short of a death, there is always the chance that a couple can get back together.
I know from experience just how incredibly awkward it can be to spill the beans regarding your feelings about someone’s ex, only to have them reunite later down the road. For instance, many years ago, I had a close friend who broke up with a man I thought was a total condescending jackass. In the months after their split, I let loose all the large and small things I did not like about him. When they reunited for a period of time, I suddenly found that my friend no longer confided in me. Whenever she shared news about the two of them, she would preface it by saying, “I know you don’t like him, but. . . ”
Things never returned to normal between us until they split for good. After that, I learned my lesson and did not share what I thought about any man she was involved in unless she explicitly asked.
2. You’re better off without them.
This ties in with #1: it may well be the case that in the long run your friend or loved one is better off without this person in their life, but for the time being, they cannot see it.
Many of us who have been in long-term relationships for awhile have a hard time remembering that initial shock, fear and devastation that occupies a break-up-especially if it was unexpected.
Everyone needs time to mourn not only over what was, but what will now never be.
After awhile, hopefully they will come to the realization on their own that they are better off.
3. S/he isn’t worth it.
Out of all the things on this list, this one is my pick for the single worst thing to say. The reason I feel this way has nothing to do with the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend but what it implies about the friend. Namely, it suggests that they wasted a lot of time, love and energy on someone who was not worth it. Given that most people’s self-esteem is already low right after a break-up, a statement like this can further send it even lower.
In the past, even when I have gotten out of bad relationships that I later realized were not serving me at all, I wanted to believe there was something in the relationship that was worthwhile, even if it was the only briefest of times when I really thought I was loved and in love.
While I tend to generally believe honesty is the best policy, in some cases it is necessary to believe something which may ultimately not be true in order to move forward.
4. You’ll find someone soon in no time.
It’s been said that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone, but I have yet to see this actually be proven true.
For most people who are just getting out of a relationship, the last thing they want to think about is being with another person.
While we may think it’s helpful to introduce them to our single friends or encourage them to “get out and meet people”, in many cases all that does is make them think even more about their ex. (I remember after one especially painful break-up, I bursted out into tears when I went to a party and saw a couple where the guy was wearing the exact same jacket as my ex. Every little thing reminded me of him. Clearly, it was too soon for me to try to go out and mingle.)
Therefore, instead of playing matchmaker or claiming that getting out is the solution, respect that your friend needs time to mourn. It may be weeks or even months. When they are ready, they will tell you. Let them take the lead here and tell you when they are ready to go out and meet other people.
In closing, as someone who has been both the comforting friend and the friend in mourning, I know how painful it can be to find the right words for someone who is recovering from a break-up.
Despite the fact that there is a tendency to want to do “something”, sometimes less really is more.
Just saying, “I love you” or “I’m here for you”, or merely listening without offering advice, can be the best thing to do.
In any case, be there, listen, love and, ideally, should the time come, if you support your friends, they will return the favor in the future.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum