What to say (and not say) to someone with a broken heart.
Recently, I read On Grief & Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler—a powerful book about how human beings cope with many types of loss, including the death of a person you love, the death of a dream, or the death of a particular identity.
After finishing the book, I meandered over to Kessler’s website. There, I found a very thoughtful, beautiful list of what to say—and not say—to someone who is grieving, particularly someone who is grieving the death of a parent, sibling, spouse, or child.
Kessler’s list inspired me to create my own list, but focusing on a different kind of loss: break-ups and divorce.
If you know someone who is grieving the end of a relationship (something I’ve been personally navigating this last year), I hope this list is helpful for you.
What not to say
The following statements might not feel comforting to someone with a broken heart—either because they’re aggressively positive/cheerful (which hurts), or aggressively cruel/critical of their ex (which hurts, too), full of pressure (“hurry up and stop feeling sad”), dismissive (“get over it, things could be much worse”) or just don’t feel “true” (too black and white, not acknowledging the grayness and complexity of the situation).
Even though you have the very best of intentions (you want to help them feel better) these particular phrases might not be helpful right now.
1. “You need to get back out there and start dating again!”
2. “Well, you are fabulous. He’s an idiot. It’s his loss. One day he’ll realize what a huge mistake he has made and by then, too bad, you will have moved on!”
3. “Break-ups are tough, but you know…things could be much worse. My friend’s husband just got diagnosed with cancer and he’s been given six months to live. Now that’s really something to feel sad about.”
4. “You’ll fall in love again and all of this will just be a distant memory. You’ll see.”
5. “This is great fodder for your next book! You’ll turn this whole experience into a bestselling novel or movie script! You’ll be laughing on the red carpet at the Oscars while he’s watching at home on the couch!”
6. “She’s an asshole. You deserve so much better. One day you’ll think, ‘I can’t believe I wasted five years with her’.”
7. “I totally get what you’re going through. I went through a rough break-up last year…but then I met someone amazing and now we’re engaged! You’ll get there soon, too!”
8. “Well, I’m sure you’re learning plenty of valuable lessons from this experience.”
9. “This is such a great opportunity for you! You can use this time while you’re single to improve yourself, focus on yourself, love yourself, take a painting class, learn tai chi! So many great things will come from this! It’s really a huge blessing!”
10. “You know what you need to do? Blast some fun music and have a dance party in your living room! You’ll feel so much better!”
(When you’re so heartbroken that you can barely convince yourself to eat or take a shower, a dance party sounds…ah, how do I put this? Excruciatingly horrendous.)
. . .
What to say
Here are a few things my family and friends have said to me this last year—things that have really, really, really helped.
1. “Heartache is so painful. I wish I could do something to take the pain away, but I can’t. I’m so sorry you have to experience this and I know it hurts so much.”
2. “You don’t have to go through this alone. I love you. All of your friends love you. We’re here for you.”
3. “You can text me anytime you want. My door is always open to you.” (Also: “If you feel the urge to text your ex, text me instead. Text me and say everything you want to say to him. You can pretend I’m him. Send it all to me.”)
4. “If you want to call me and cry, vent, talk about your ex, or talk about something completely different, anything you need, just call.”
5. “Every relationship is different and every break-up is different. You are grieving right now, and there’s no ‘one right away’ to grieve. I hope you’ll do whatever you need to do, and take as much time as you need. There is no rush.”
6. “What’s something that would make your life just a tiny bit easier right now? Could I bring over some food? Wash your sheets and make your bed? Fill up your car with gas? Something else? I know you’ve got so much weighing on you right now, so I’d love to do something to make your day a little easier and calmer.”
7. “Hi. I am just checking in. How is your heart today?”
8. “Hey. How are you doing today? If the answer is ‘not okay,’ that’s okay.”
9. “I just wanted to tell you: I’m proud of you. No need to reply unless you want to. I just wanted to send a hug in your direction.”
10. “I love you.”
. . .
Everyone grieves in their own way. No two experiences are alike. If you’re not sure what to say to someone who is grieving, trust your hut (heart + gut) and follow your instincts. If you’re still drawing a blank, you can always say:
“I’m so sorry to hear about this. I wish I knew what to say. I don’t have the right words.”
Sometimes saying nothing at all—just being there, and offering a few moments of your undivided attention, being quiet, caring, and compassionate—is the best thing you can offer.
And to anyone out there who’s currently cradling a broken heart: you’re not alone, you’re going to survive, and I’m right there with you.
I don’t want to push my advice onto you, however, if you want a few recommendations on how to cope with the pain, I can recommend listening to soothing whale sounds, boxing class/punching things, gentle piano music, ho’oponopono, crying, more crying, therapy, cbd oil, quiet walks at night-time when the streets are emptier and calmer, writing letters and then burning them, sleeping a lot, cleaning and decluttering your home to get rid of stale energy, lighting candles, washing your sheets, being in/near the ocean, and anything else that your hut (heart + gut) urges you to do.
Your hut knows what it needs.