Going through a divorce or breakup is grueling. The pain people experience as a result of heartbreak is excruciating, and second to that pain is what friends and loved ones feel when they listen to and watch a person they care about suffer. Because of that, concerned loved ones often counsel the brokenhearted in a way that may not be the most conducive to healing, even when their heart is in the right place. With that in mind, here’s what not to do when someone you love is experiencing heartbreak:
1. Make assumptions.
Don’t assume you know how someone feels or that they’re further along in the healing process than they actually are. Whatever they’re going through is part of their unique journey toward recovery. And they come to it following a lifetime filled with individual experience, all of which shapes how they process their pain.
Think about it this way: If two people cut their finger in the same place, you wouldn’t know how much pain they’re experiencing, let alone expect them to heal identically. That is also true of heartbreak. Just because a week, three months, or three years has passed doesn’t mean they’re at a particular place emotionally. Don’t make these assumptions because, most likely, you’ll get it wrong.
2. Minimize how they feel.
When it comes to heartbreak, there’s no right or wrong way to handle it. Do your best to refrain from telling someone who’s suffering how they should be feeling or acting. It’s not for you to decide how much or how little emotion they should have based on the length or depth of a relationship you were not a part of, but they were. People fall in and out of love at different speeds. Don’t judge. Instead, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Chances are, you wouldn’t want them undermining you in the reverse situation.
3. Tell them what to do.
Like anything in life, people move at their own pace. Getting over a relationship is no exception. If someone tells you they’re not ready to date, believe them. If they want to get out there, support them. Unless that person is doing something that could be harmful to them or someone else, the best course of action is to listen, not give out marching orders. If you took up photography after your last heartbreak and it helped you move forward, great. But that doesn’t mean it will be the answer for someone else.
Make sure when you share your experience or give out advice that it comes in the form of a gentle suggestion instead. It may not seem so, but a person who’s in a fragile state is more likely to hear you when you’re not forceful with them. In general, people don’t want to be told what to do, not even by you.
4. Exclude them.
Your friend, relative, or co-worker may be going through a rough patch, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be up for some fun or, at a minimum, a distraction. Don’t feel that because they’re upset or sad that they need or want to be alone. Sometimes the opportunity to get out of their environment and be with others is just what the doctor ordered. Give them the chance to join if they want to without being too pushy. A gentle nudge is OK.
5. Bad-mouth their ex.
The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. If you’re listening to someone bad-mouth their ex, it’s very possible their words don’t match how they’re feeling inside. They may be confused or still hurting as a result of their split. Not to mention, if there is a reconciliation, you don’t want to be the one who spoke negatively about the person they love.
The bottom line is this: Love is patient, so show some to your heartbroken friend today even if the one they love didn’t.