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How to comfort a friend after a breakup or divorce

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When Barbara Kamba-Nyathi divorced her husband after 14 years of marriage and a battle with cervical cancer, she uprooted her life to move away from him. 

But even though she initiated the breakup, she was plagued by doubt about whether she had made the right decision.

That is, until a good friend validated her reasons for leaving and gave her the strength to move forward. 

“I had grown and transformed over the years, and my ex had remained stagnant,” says Kamba-Nyathi, an inspirational speaker, author and psychologist from Zimbabwe. “We were no longer compatible, and I needed to embrace my newness and open myself to better and bigger possibilities.”

If you’ve ever had to support a friend going through a breakup or divorce, you know how hard it can be to find the right things to do or say to support them. 

But Dana McNeil, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, says being supportive is not about saying the perfect words or taking responsibility for your friend’s happiness.  

“Viewing it this way is setting you up to have too big of expectations about the goal of your friendship or the real value of your presence in the wounded person’s life,” she says. 

Instead, she recommends being open and curious about their experience and just being present with their answers.

Expert tips to be a supportive friend

I talked to several relationship experts and people who have gone through divorce to learn how to comfort someone after a breakup or divorce. 

Here are their tips:

Tip #1: Be supportive

Sameera Sullivan, a professional matchmaker with clients in New York, Houston, Dallas, and Portland, says the impact of a bad breakup or divorce can be softened or hardened depending on the kind of support circle a person has and the comments they receive.

“It's best to ease the person out from the state of shock by reassuring them again and again about the long-term benefit and their own self-worth,” she says. 

Ruth Reisman, 35, a New York City-based audiologist and mom of three, got divorced in 2020. She says that in the initial months after her divorce, she had trouble absorbing anything anyone said to her, whether it was constructive or not.

“I think the thing that was most effective was knowing that the people I loved the most were there to listen, offer a hug, and help with my children at any given moment,” Reisman says. 

Kyle Zrenchik, Chief Clinical Director at ALL IN, a mental health agency in Minneapolis, advises people to simply ask the person going through the breakup how they’d like to be supported. 

“Support can take many different forms: unconditional positive encouragement, accountability/healthy criticism, helping distract your friend from the breakup, etc.,” he says. 

Comforting words for a friend:

“I know different people need different types of support. I just want to make sure you know that I'm willing to help you in whatever way you need. If you don't have an answer to this right now, that's fine — but I really want to ask you directly: What can I do to be helpful to you? Whatever it is, I'm 100% committed to being on the journey with you as you go through all of this.”

Tip #2: Offer empathy — not solutions

A lot of people have a tendency to want to “fix” other people and provide solutions to their problems. “Savior complex,” according to this Psychology Today article, is a psychological construct that makes a person feel the need to save others.

But Zrenchik says some “solutions” often come out as cliches — “You were too good for him anyway!” or “Everything happens for a reason!” or “I’m sure you will find someone better.”

“You don't want to do that,” Zrenchik says. “You want to provide an open sense of empathy that makes space to grieve with the friend.”

Mary Joye, 65, a licensed mental health counselor who runs a private practice in Winter Haven, Fla., says the best way to comfort a friend is to allow them to vent their frustrations, which can clear the air and help them see a way forward.

“When people are going through divorce, I do work on the present problems, but every session ends with reinventing,” says Joye, who also experienced divorce herself. “Allow them to vent and then help them to believe it’s possible to reinvent and ask them what that would look like to them.” 

Comforting words for a friend:

“I am thinking about you and I am here. I may not have any answers that will make you feel better or take the pain away right now. What I am sure about is that you are going to get through this. Please consider me a source of support and someone to lean on when it gets hard.”

Tip #3: Don’t assume you know what they’re feeling

Even if you’ve gone through your own divorce or breakup, the way you felt may not be the same way your friend is feeling. 

“When a well-meaning person tells their version of a similar situation, it can sometimes come across as minimizing or ‘topping’ the other person’s experience,” McNeil says. 

Instead of focusing on your own advice or experiences, she suggests being open and listening to your friend’s experience, which can lead to a meaningful and heartfelt connection. 

“Being able to ask about and being willing to sit with their pain without trying to fix it is such a valuable gift to give a friend,” she says.

Comforting words for a friend:

“I won’t pretend to know how you’re feeling right now, but I want to listen and be there for you. Please call me to vent anytime you need.” 

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Tip #4: Make sure their needs are met

A man and woman making a smoothie. Check here about how to comfort a friend after a breakup or divorce.

People going through a hard time after a divorce or breakup often forget or lose motivation to take care of themselves in practical ways — food, sleep, laundry, exercise, getting a haircut or keeping the house clean. Help with these basics serves your friend’s visceral needs in a profound way.

“Bringing a protein smoothie or salad to your friend who hasn’t been eating and sharing lunch with them is a gesture of loving concern,” McNeil says. 

Zrenchik says to help a friend through a divorce or breakup, you often have to be the one to pursue them and set up plans.  

“Inviting a friend over for a meal you are making just for them, arranging a game night with your shared friends, or taking a day trip out of town to help your friend get their mind off of things are great, bold ways to show your friend you truly care,” he says.

Alina Clark, 37, a marketing director from Los Angeles, says the most helpful thing people did for her when she was going through divorce was inviting her to dinner (or something else) at least once a week. 

“It kept me from becoming isolated and indulging in pity parties,” she says. “It was usually dinner because they wanted to make sure I was eating.”

Comforting words for a friend:

“Do you need anything right now? I can come by this weekend to watch the kids so you can get in some self-care — maybe a massage or trip to the gym. Or we can watch some TV or a movie, go grab dinner and drinks if you prefer! Anything you need to take your mind off things for a little bit.” 

Perhaps your friend has some basic needs, including housing, food or utilities. These guides can help:

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Tip #5: Validate their feelings

McNeil says it’s important never to ask someone who is struggling to mask their pain or move forward before they’re ready. 

When someone going through a breakup or divorce worries they are being “too emotional” or that they should be handling the pain of the breakup in a different way, they start to feel that they should reduce their own pain to make sure other people feel OK. 

“This does little to increase your connection or convey support to your friend,” McNeil says. “If you don’t know what to say, then tell your friend that.” 

Kamba-Nyathi says anyone who wants to be a supportive friend should honor the friend’s feelings and offer to be a safe space. 

“Do not judge, do not compare them to some other person you know or yourself, and do not criticize,” she says. “Be a friend and not a devil’s advocate.”

Comforting words for a friend:

“I don’t know if anyone has told you this, but it is 100% OK to not feel OK right now. And I’m here anytime you need a shoulder to cry on.”

Tip #6: Don’t trash their ex…yet

Our go-to response to comfort a friend after a breakup or divorce might be to put down their ex. 

But speaking from experience, Joye says this probably isn’t what the person wants or needs. 

“It was awful to have people try to get me to call my ex horrible names or think of ways to harm him,” she says. “That wasn’t who I am. I didn’t want to be vindictive. I wanted to be vindicated.” 

She says being vindictive might offer immediate gratification but does little for the body, mind, and soul. 

“However, waiting to be vindicated and allowing the truth to unfold while keeping my dignity was wonderful,” Joye says.

McNeil advises to simply follow their friend’s lead.

“Many people who are still in shock or are trying to process the end of a relationship — especially one where they didn’t make the decision about breaking up — are fragile emotionally and often do everything they can to deny the relationship has ended,” she says. 

People tend to romanticize their relationship after a breakup and try to seek comfort and validation from the person who hurt them. 

“They often feel incredibly sensitive to any negative comments about the relationship because they may still harbor hope that it can be salvaged,” McNeil says. 

And in the event that your friend and the ex do get back together, your friend might avoid being around you since they don’t think you support their relationship. 

“If you bash your friends' partner while they were broken up, you now have a problem on your hands if they rekindle things,” Zrenchik says. “Your friend will always remember how you ‘truly felt.’”

Comforting words for a friend:

“Anytime you want to vent, I’m here to listen. I know you’re hurting and that this is a big transition.”

Tip #7: Give them space to recover

“I tell all of my clients when they are going through a breakup to treat themselves like they have the flu,” McNeil says. 

That means they shouldn’t expect as much of themselves or push themselves to make big decisions about the future.

“You don’t have to make a decision right now in the midst of a breakup about when you might have to start dating again or what you might say to your partner if they decide they want to get back together in the future,” she says. 

Part of learning how to comfort a friend after a breakup or divorce is giving them space to feel their feelings and recover at their own pace.

“When you have the flu, you allow yourself to rest, and you allow your brain to go offline and just be present with the needs of your body,” McNeil says. “That means trying to get sleep, eat properly, and take time to emotionally and mentally heal.”

As a friend, you can focus on helping the person through that process. 

“The main thing is to make space for your friend,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified Imago relationship therapist based in Baltimore. (Imago therapy focuses on turning relationship conflicts into opportunities for healing and growth.)

“This means being there as a blank screen to give them the opportunity to open up and share without judgment or advice, just someone to talk to that can provide support, validate, and empathize without any agenda or strings attached,” he says. 

Comforting words for a friend:

“I realize you’re hurting right now and need your space. But I am here to listen and help you through this whenever you’re ready.”

Tip #8: Highlight their growth

Once you’ve given your friend adequate time to work through their initial feelings after a breakup or divorce, you can begin to communicate the personal growth you witnessed during and after that relationship. 

“This is a sneaky, but totally appropriate, way of helping your friend to begin thinking about the breakup through a somewhat positive light,” Zrenchik says. 

After relationships have ended, people tend to focus on what they lost, but highlighting their personal growth will flip that narrative and help them focus on what they gained. Maybe your friend gained confidence, took a big leap forward in their career, or learned to walk away from a toxic relationship with lots of red flags

Sullivan says reassuring your friend about the long-term benefit of going through their divorce or breakup can help them cope with it. 

“My clients have felt a lot better when people make them see the brighter side of things and tell me that the perspective helped them get over the bitter feelings of a divorce,” she says. 

Comforting words for a friend:

“I'm sure it's hard for you to think about this right now, but I need to be honest. I've gained such a respect for the growth I've seen in you over the course of the relationship. I know you're at the hardest part of it right now, but I've had a front row seat to seeing you learn a ton about yourself, step out of your comfort zone, work through obstacles, etc. I just want to highlight the respect I have for the way you've handled the entire span of the relationship.”

Tip #9: Step in if your friend needs help

While everyone has their own timeline for moving on and dating again after a relationship, there are some people who just can’t move on or stop obsessing over their past relationship. 

“If someone is obsessing, then there is likely nothing you can really do to stop them,” Zrenchik says. “You are not their therapist or psychiatrist, and interrupting obsessive thoughts is very challenging.”

Don’t be afraid to let your friend know when you think they may need to reach out to a professional therapist for clinical support, McNeil says. 

“If a friend is just not seeming to rebound, seems more depressed than you would expect them to be, or makes any kind of comments about ending their life, then it makes sense for you to suggest they seek out more support,” she says. 

Offer to take the heavy lifting off their hands by finding a reputable therapist in your area or by helping them sign up for therapy

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Comforting words for a friend:

“I just wanted to check in with you and make sure you are OK. I noticed you haven’t been yourself since the breakup, and I hope you know you can come to me anytime you don’t feel like keeping it all together. Have you thought about talking to someone about this?”

Tip #10: Share words of encouragement

When your friend has done some healing, remind her how much she's grown through this process and how much she still has to look forward to.

Comforting words for a friend:

We asked real single moms on Facebook to share the words of encouragement that helped them get through divorce:

  • “It is hard right now, but I promise, in a year, you are going to look at yourself and be so proud of the woman you’ve become.”
  • “Your kids get to experience a version of you that is truly happy. That’s an incredible gift to give them.”
  • “You are worthy of change and it will be for the better. You may not feel it now but in time you’ll know you made the right choice.”
  • “You are choosing freedom, for you and for your children.”
  • “Be kind to yourself as you adjust to your new normal. In time, you will find that the new life you create for yourself is more amazing than you could have imagined.”
  • “You are modeling for your children not to accept less than they deserve in a relationship.”
  • “You've already done the hardest part, which is to decide to leave. The next hardest thing was telling your kids. The two hardest parts are over.”
  • “Though this is painful, it’ll pass. Cherish it for the good moments it had and release it. You might end up with a friend in the future. Either way, the future is waiting for you.”
  • “You are a strong woman! I’m proud of you!”

Common questions about comforting a friend

What do you say to a friend after a breakup?

Every person going through a breakup has different needs. Here are a few things you can say to comfort a friend after a breakup or divorce:

If you want to offer them a safe space: 

“Wow, I'm so glad you are telling me about this, but I am also so sorry to hear about the breakup. First off, don't feel like you need to put any boundaries around your emotions. Just let your body feel what it needs to feel. Let's start with this: How are you doing? I mean for real. How are you doing?”

If you want them to know you care:

“Hey. Just letting you know that you are on my mind today. You are such an AWESOME friend and one hell of a catch. Please believe me when I say that I think you have a really bright and exciting future ahead of you.”

If you want to give them motivation:

“I am here, I am not going anywhere, and we will get you through this difficult time together. I don’t know how everything will turn out or how long it will take, but I just wanted to remind you that you are more resilient than you think you are, stronger than you remember, and so deserving of love and happiness. This is a temporary season of your life, and there will be sunny days again.”

How do you cheer up a friend who broke up with his/her boyfriend?

Even if your friend is the one who broke up with his/her boyfriend, they’re still likely experiencing a lot of pain and potentially doubt about their decision. 

You can start by making sure their needs are met and by simply being there to listen openly and help them see a way forward. 

However, McNeil cautions people not to approach cheering someone up as taking responsibility for their happiness.  

You can invite your friend to go see a movie, go for a walk, or go out to dinner if they feel up to it. These gestures let your friend know you care and give them a healthy distraction from the pain they’re dealing with. 

What do you text your best friend after a breakup?

If you want to offer words of encouragement after a breakup, send a quick text to show your support:

Try one of these text scripts: 

  • “My life would not be the same without your friendship. You are so important to me and I want to let you know you are not in this alone.”
  • “Just wanted to text to say how proud I am of you. I know things are hard right now, but you’re getting through it every day and that’s enough.” 
  • “I don’t know how everything will turn out or how long it will take, but I just wanted to remind you that you are more resilient than you think you are, stronger than you remember, and so deserving of love and happiness. This is a temporary season of your life and there will be sunny days again.”
What do you say to a friend after a breakup?

Every person going through a breakup has different needs. Offer your friend a safe space and let them know you care.

How do you cheer up a friend who broke up with his/her boyfriend?

You can start by making sure their needs are met and by simply being there to listen openly and help them see a way forward.

What do you text your best friend after a breakup?

If you want to offer words of encouragement after a breakup, send a quick text to show your support: “Just wanted to text to say how proud I am of you. I know things are hard right now, but you’re getting through it every day and that’s enough.”

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