House Beautiful

How to help someone through a breakup

It’s always so hard to know what to do to help someone who’s grieving…  I struggle with it every time a friend loses a loved one.  You show up and you do the best you can and you try to say what you think are all the right things, but you never really know what they need, or if anything you said or did actually helped.  Since I’m currently at the epicenter of the $%#@* saddest breakup and the most insurmountable grief I have ever experienced, I thought I could weigh-in on this one after the outpouring of love and support I’ve gotten these past few weeks:

1.  Just show up. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do.  Even if it’s just to sit with them in silence…  to watch TV with them…  let them lay in your lap and cry… whatever they want to do.  Just be there to do it with ’em so they’re not alone.  I have been so lucky to have friends fly in for weekends, to have my mom come to town and make me home cooked meals, to have my favorite cousin (*Jilly*) come to stay, and to have my local friends constantly checking-in and making sure I’m included in everything – including family dinners (*Beth*) and date nights with their husbands (*love you Tiff*), just to make sure I’m not by myself. People are amazing.

2.  Say, “What Else?” I read this on one of my favorite lady idol’s blogs (Joanna at A Cup of Jo) and realized that one of my closest girlfriends, Caitlin, continually says this to me.  When you’re going through a tough time, your thoughts (and words) are so consumed with your loss, and you start to worry that you sound like a broken record beating a dead horse, and that people are getting annoyed.  So “what else?” is an amazing thing to say to a friend who’s grieving.  Let them get it all out…  it’s part of their healing process.

3.  Bring them dinner. Cause their system is all outta whack and chances are, they are forgetting to eat.  My Mom made me a homemade pot roast when she was in town, and that was such a comfort.  I also almost cried when I realized she had cleaned my bathroom.  So if you feel so inclined, grab a dishcloth or a mop and have at it.  Cause cooking and cleaning (and taking down the Christmas tree *Nik*) are the last things they’re thinking about doing, but it will take a weight off of their shoulders.

4.  Call to check in. Karrie called me every day on her way to work during the aftermath of the break-up.  Like clockwork.  So many of my friends have continued calling and texting every few days, just to check in.  I feel like my insides have been ripped out and it’s hard to imagine the day when I’ll be able to see any light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime, I do know I have an army of love around me. And that is worth its weight in gold.

5.  Remind them that things are just as they should be. Whether you’re the dump-er or the dump-ee, it’s so hard not to agonize over every tiny detail of what you could’ve done differently, what you may’ve done wrong, all the what-if’s, etc.  It helps to be reminded that – however things are going to turn out in the end – that what’s happening RIGHT NOW is necessary.  It’s happening the way it’s supposed to happen.  Maybe the breakup is the impetus for something that needed to change if the relationship was ever going to survive longterm.  Maybe there is something way bigger and better out there for them.  Maybe they’ll walk away from this breakup knowing what they’re really worth (*Melly*); who knows.  But bones need to be broken in order to be re-set…  right?  So, this sucks, but it’s a step – albeit a painful one – towards a better future, whatever that may be.

6.  Pamper them. Sometimes there are just no words you can say that will give someone comfort.  But you know what doesn’t suck?  Laying down in your Mom’s lap and having her scratch your back.  Having your best friend draw you an Epsom salt bath and put your favorite magazines and a cup of hot tea by the tub (*Mary*)…  cuz seriously.  The same way you forget to eat, sometimes you forget you haven’t washed your hair in 4 days.  Getting a massage the week after my life started swirling down the toilet bowl was also heaven…  cuz my girl Jo was right when she said: “…when you break up with a romantic partner, you often miss the touch as much as the actual person. Your body can physically miss them.”  Truth.

7.  Don’t rush them.  Even though you’re on the outside and can see things clearly, know that it’s so hard for them right now to see the forest through the trees.  Their grieving process is their own, and they’ll have to do it in their own time and in their own way.  I’ve had a lot of well-intended people tell me that they want to set me up…  or that that’s enough tears – now it’s time to move on…  or that there is someone SO much better out there for me.  And while that may be true, at this point, the thought of it is incomprehensible.  It makes me want to throw up twice in my mouth and swallow.  Remember in the beginning of Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks says, “…it just doesn’t happen twice.” (?)  That’s how I feel…  there’s only one him.  On the flip side, the most comforting things people have said to me have been things like: “You will get there. Until then don’t let anyone minimize your feelings. Cry for as long and as hard as you need to.” and “You are not alone; I’m here. Whatever you need, let me know and it’s yours.” (*Paria*)  And, even though I’m not as devout as I should be: “Trust that God knows what is best for you.” (*NicNic*) and “Tell yourself the truth, and put one foot in front of the other.” (*Suzanne*) and “You have to feel it in order to heal.” And that is true.  There are no shortcuts through this mess – you gotta take the long road, as daunting as that is. I’m coming to realize that some breakups feel like a death…  the death of the life you knew, the life you thought you were going to have…  It feels like the person you love died and has been replaced by a stranger you don’t recognize.  It is some real sad sh*t.

8. Remind them of how wonderful they are. Because they probably feel like dog sh*t…  and when you feel that way, it’s easy to forget how much you have to offer the world.  I had one of my oldest friends I hadn’t seen in 12 years (*Scoo*) say to me: “You made my life better. You have a knack for that. It is impossible to be with you and be unhappy.”  It had nothing to do with what I was going through, but after it made me cry like a baby, it did me a world of good.  Another girlfriend (*Melanie*) reminded me that I have so many talents and so much to offer people, and to not stop blogging or doing any of those things that make me who I am.  So, remind your friend of their worth and that they have the ability to change other peoples’ lives for the better.  It is such a powerful thing.

That’s just what has helped me through so far.  What about you?  When you’ve had to wade through a pool of grief, what did the people around you do or say that helped you the most?

P to the S: I could never, ever convey how grateful I am to all of you who have sent notes and flowers, left comments, listened, and been so supportive.  I hesitated to share such personal details of that love and loss, but it was my way of coping, and I had no idea how much I needed the outpouring of support until I got it…  or how much my words would help other people who are going through the same thing.  Or that everyone I knew from Pre-School through High School would come out of the woodwork and take the time to send their love.  Every tiny thing everyone has said to me has been like a little Band-Aid.  Thank you to all of you.  I will be first in line to return the favor the next time anyone needs anything…  a hug, a shoulder or an ear.

P to the P to the S:  I swear, we’ll get back to sunshine and rainbows and decor posts next time.

Lots of love,

31 Responses to “How to help someone through a breakup”

  • You are a wonderful person! Sending you lots of rainbows!

  • *Tear. We’re allllll here for you, from those who were in Mrs. MacDougal’s class with you to those of us who got to have ice cream cones smashed on our forehead by you when we were 16 to those who met you more recently. And best believe we’re gonna have a nice, chill, relaxing weekend in SD soon with lots of head scratches, Mexican food, home decor perusing, ocean-smelling, Gjelina-tasting girl time.

    Love ya girl!


  • This is powerful. It helps me continue to heal. YOU are powerful. YOU are beautiful. YOU are strong. Forget the sunshine, rainbows and decor posts – let the storm continue because YOU are more important to all of us that any sunshine and rainbows.

    • YOU are our soul sister from another mother!! Thank you so much for all your help, and all of your sweet words. They are so comforting to me. Much, much love to you and see you in a week or so!! xo

  • I second what Paria said. You asked what’s helped us in the past…funny because something that stands out is your “Pause” post Put on some lipstick! Seriously…after reading this I started doing this when I feel poopy and it really does help….even if I’m just popping into Walgreens after the gym.

    Keep doing what you do Steph…because what you do is remarkable. So, thank YOU. I will gladly put on some lipstick right now in your honor. MUAH!

    • Thanks so much, honey!! Your advice so helped me last week… as do the perky yellow flowers perched in my living room 🙂 You are a saint. I so appreciate all the support. xo

  • All that ^^^ is exactly perfect. One more thing: don’t get too “jaded” during the process of healing…can’t stress it enough. I got in to that “men suck” faze after a particularly devastating break up~kinda Alanis Morrisette like. It helped for awhile but it stuck! :/

    There is a light at the end of this tunnel punkin~just soak up all our love in the meanwhile! 🙂 Love you lots! <3

    • Thanks Aunt Pam 🙂 And, I know.. I won’t. No matter what’s happened, I love that kid too much to be jaded or want to claw his eyeballs out. I hate the way it all unfolded for sure but no matter what, I loved him for the best reasons and for the good in his heart, and those still hold true, and I would never take back a second of our life. Just wish things could’ve been different. Love you lots, too 🙂

  • Reading this almost brings me to tears. When I realize how great family/friends are, it makes me cry more! I feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life especially when I feel so undeserving and confused about love. I feel your pain, and absolutely wish there was a fast-forward through this garbage, but just know you’re not alone!

    • MEGS! I am so sorry you’re going through the same thing. And I hear ya. Wouldn’t it be so fun to take a magic pill and wake up when it’s over? Sigh. It is so confusing, and so not fair. But it is what it is. Hope you are doing okay… I wish you lived in Columbus so you could come over on Mondays for Chinese + vino + Bachelor night!! Hang in there honey. I’ll be thinking about you.

      • We got this! Perhaps we can have a virtual date, and I’m “here” if you’d like to commiserate. Even though it’s best to look forward, and be rational, and all that…even when answering that “what else” question – it’s totally worth just having a b*tchfest and getting it off your chest. At least for me. 🙂 I usually have to follow that with a good work out so I’m not too wound up. Heyo multi-tasking!

  • you all...Marge Hobley

    Adore you Steph: comments you have made are exactly right. It is sending you love that makes our days! Stop by…celebrating my “Toney” book…many thanks.

  • Your posts are so real that they hit the heart’s bulls eye without ever stopping to take aim. Been hanging in the background with so many others sending goodness and peace your way … just as you have done for so long. You have been smacked down … hard … but as I have seen many times of the volleyball court, that’s when you girls rally and take it over the top! Looking forward to reading that journey.

    • Awww Mrs. Biggs. That is so nice, it just made me cry. Thank you much for sending good thoughts this way and for the words of encouragement. It truly means the world. Thank you, thank you thank you.

  • I don’t know why but as I read this it reminded me of your Grandpa taking you to parks when you were little and having you collect pop cans from the trash. I can just see him turning you upside down and sticking you head first in the barrel. I think of it every time I pass a park and see a trash can. Did you make lots of money from all those cans? lol

  • Sweet Ruthie always said…”everything happens for the best”.
    Even though your heart can’t feel it right now, I believe it to be true. You WILL get there! Keep the faith cause God is for you, God is in control and God is good!

    All my love, all the time. xoxo

  • ahhhh love this, i’m sharing it.

  • ps. you have given your friends SO much…this is just a taste of how many countless, sweet things you’ve done for your friends. YOU are amazing girl. so sorry for this hard time and sending you hugs every single day.

  • You have the love and support that you do because you are someone who is easy to love and support. And I don’t say that flippantly; I say that as someone who knows the beautiful woman you are on the outside, who is so filled with goodness and joy and wit and candor and spice and femininity and all my favorite things rolled into one. You are often strongest at what appears to be your weakest, bleakest, most humbling moments, I find. When you have to dig deep, you see what you are truly capable of. We all know how great you are darlin, but dig down deep at this moment and show *yourself* what you’re made of. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day, significant other or not.

  • Oh Ballard Babes, this is incredibly insightful! You have shown an IMMENSE amount strength to open up and speak from you heart and soul. You are one of the most amazing, driven, talented, beautiful, witty, intelligent, GORGEOUS human beings I know. In time, you will conquer the world. This I know. Much Love to you, sending you nothing but good vibes and happy thoughts! Xoxoxo

  • Can’t clean or cook for you. Instead I’m sending a hug from Jersey and applying lipgloss in your honor.

Leave a Reply to you all...Marge Hobley