Every now and then, God nudges my heart with a topic that I think someone out there needs to hear. Most recently, the topic is one I know quite a lot about: breakups. Although it’s been awhile since I was single, I had my fair share of breakups, and I remember them well. They were extremely hard, but I also learned a lot.
If you’ve never been through a breakup, you would probably be shocked at just how devastating they can be. Not all breakups are equally heartbreaking, but when a serious relationship ends–especially one that was either long-term or headed toward marriage–it can shatter you.
In many ways, a painful breakup is like a death. When a relationship ends, one witnesses the demise of a dream and a hoped for future. Simultaneously, everything changes: the most significant person in your life is now gone, and your plans are completely upended. For some, the upheaval launches them into a season of depression, self-doubt, and deep-seated grief.
However, breakups don’t always receive the same attention and community care that other losses do. Granted, the loss of a breakup is qualitatively different from other losses, but the grief is still very real. Clichés and simplistic encouragements are no more comforting after a breakup than they are after any other deep loss.
On the heels of a breakup, my anguish was sometimes made worse by thoughtless or insensitive comments from friends. Which is why, looking back on it, I would offer the following advice to those of you who know someone going through a breakup:
1. Don’t rush the healing process–Although there comes a point after every breakup when it is time to move on, don’t rush the process. I never felt more isolated and alone than when my friends didn’t let me grieve. They wanted me to accept God’s plans and timing and get on with it. As a result, I felt ashamed and embarrassed about my feelings, which compounded my pain all the more.
2. Don’t pick sides–The friends of a broken-up couple should never be asked or expected to choose sides. Picking sides is unfair, it causes division, and the “picking” itself can be horribly misguided–unless you witnessed wrong-doing firsthand, you can never know whose side of the story is really true.
Picking sides also adds heartache to an already broken individual. Speaking from personal experience, the only thing worse than losing my boyfriend was losing all my closest girl friends too. I remember feeling lonely to the point of despair. In retrospect, I think some of my friends confused “supporting” and “siding.” I didn’t need them to be on my side, but I sure did need their support.
3. Don’t give easy answers–Breakups raise a lot of questions about ourselves, our futures, and even God. It takes time to work through those questions, and unfortunately cliché answers usually don’t help. It doesn’t help to hear, “You’ll meet someone better!” when you can’t even begin to think about dating again, or the only person you want to be with is your ex. And it doesn’t help to be told, “It just wasn’t God’s will” when you were SO SURE it was.
If you have a friend going through a breakup, treat them the way you would any grieving loved one: Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Make space for them to mourn. Call them. Sit with them. Check on them. Pray for them. Breakups are awful and hard, but having a caring community surround you in the process can make it just a little easier.
And if you are going through a breakup right now, my dear one, take heart! The pain you feel is real and serious, so don’t ever think you are weird or pathetic or weak for the depth of your sorrow. Know that you are not alone–so many of us have been there, or are there right now. But also know that it doesn’t feel like this forever. Little by little the pain will fade until, one day, amazingly, it will be gone.
Until then, spend time with people who love you. Read the Psalms. And don’t stop talking to God. When you’re in great pain it can be difficult to open your heart up, even to God. But He is there for you, He loves you, and He will resurrect your heart, and your dreams.