Someone you know has been hurt, been dumped, had their heart broken, been cheated on, or has in some other way suffered because of love. You want to be a good friend and help them. What are some good (and bad) ways to go about it?
Seeing another human being in pain is no fun at all, and it’s natural to want to help. Since you’re looking into the problem from the outside, you may be able to see it differently than the wretched sufferer does.
But you want to tread carefully, as your friend is already battered and bruised, and you certainly don’t want to add any more grief to their situation.
Here are a few helpful ways to cheer up your heartbroken friend.
1. Be There
Let your friend know that you’re available. This is a serious crisis in your friend’s life, and it will cheer them up to know that you are there for them, that you are willing to change your schedule and make time to be with them during their grief.
But tread softly here – don’t force yourself on a grieving person who needs time alone to cry in their room. Don’t insist on going over to see them unless they ask. This is not always easy, as it is natural for friends to want to spring into action at once. “I’ll be right over,” they say, hanging up the phone and rushing to the scene of the disaster, whether the friend wants company at that moment or not.
It’s not an easy balance to maintain, but the goal is to be available, like the fire department, to rush over if your friend calls you. But the fire department knows not to come over if you don’t need them. You should, too.
This may be the hardest thing of all for many people. Human beings are problem solvers by nature – that’s what our brains are for, and we tend to want to use them.
We see our friend in trauma, hear them wailing and sobbing, and we want to rush in and solve their problems for them. But it is important to allow our friends the dignity of solving their problems themselves, of figuring things out for themselves.
So although you should be sympathetic, don’t interrupt your friend constantly by telling them what you think, or what they should do. Open your ears and close your mouth. Let your friend talk, talk, and talk. Let them yell and scream and cry, whatever they need. You are there to listen. If you listen carefully, over time, you will actually hear them figuring out their own problems, and solving them.
3. Be Sympathetic
Whatever your friend says in their grief, try not to contradict them or blame them. Avoid harsh judgments like, “Well, you have only yourself to blame.” Even if it’s true, even if you think they’ve been an idiot, even if you told them so in the past, don’t point out their mistakes.
Don’t rub their nose in it. “You always seem to be attracted to jerks,” is not a sympathetic thing to say. Better to remind them that you understand how they feel and to assure them that you will be there for them and support them no matter what.
4. Help Them Express Their Anger
A friend’s white-hot fury can be terrifying and toxic. Angry people aren’t fun to be around, and they may lash out at you, too. Your friend is likely to feel a lot of anger – that’s normal and healthy. It’s important for them to find safe and healthy ways to express it.
You can help them by suggesting some physical activity, like a walk or bike ride or even a trip to the gym together. Physical exercise is an excellent way to release anger.
Just listening, as described above, to your friend’s tragic tantrums can also really help them, though it may not be much fun to listen to them scream and yell. Whatever you do, try not to contradict their anger – don’t tell them they shouldn’t be angry or that they shouldn’t be sad. Honor and respect whatever emotions they are feeling at the moment. Don’t let them express anger in unhealthy ways, like hurting themselves physically or breaking dishes and windows.
5. Take Them Out
Although a grief-stricken person is likely to want to spend some time shut away from the world, perhaps bawling in their room with the curtains closed, eventually they need to rejoin the world. You can help by going out with them.
Again, it’s a delicate balance – you want to keep suggesting activities that will get them out of their home and into society again, but you don’t want to be too forceful about it. Let them take the lead. Suggest some simple things at first, like a walk or hike through the neighborhood or in a beautiful park.
See a happy movie and get some coffee afterwards to discuss it. Going out to eat is also a pleasant diversion, and gives you two time to talk (and mostly for you to listen). Later, you can propose some activities that involve more people, like bowling or going to a sports event or party.
Don’t throw your poor friend back into a social crowd too quickly, though, and avoid places like pick-up bars (which you should avoid all the time, anyway). You aren’t trying to push them into a new relationship. That will happen when the time is right, and without your help. What you’re trying to do is remind your friend that they are an interesting and lively human being, someone who can have fun and be happy even after this heartbreak. You would never explicitly tell them this – far better to help put them in situations where they can deduce it for themselves.
Being a good friend in a tough time like this is not easy. But the most important thing you are doing for your friend, even if you make mistakes, even if they get mad at you, even if you don’t have much fun, is just being their friend.
That alone will do a great deal to help them feel better and cheer up, though it may take a bit of time. Trust your instincts and be gentle, and everything will work out.
If your friend is looking for ways to get an ex back, try to encourage them to avoid contact from their ex at least for a while.