Consoling a broken-hearted friend

Imagine the following scenario: a friend comes to you and confesses that his heart has been broken. He is in great distress, and looking to you for counsel and encouragement.

A fellow blogger recently found herself in that situation. Here is her entry — a plea for assistance — followed by my response. (I apologize for not providing a link, but she prefers to keep her blog private.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Financial Managerwrote:

Here’s the thing – I have never had my heart broken. This – I feel – leaves me at an almost complete loss when it comes to dealing with other people who’ve had their hearts broken. So tell me – how long does it take to go away? If you eventually moved on, and married or became part of another long-term couple, does that person who ripped your heart out and stomped on it still hold some sort of special place in your heart? Even though they are obviously AWFUL?!?!!?Anyone ever been left at the altar? Do we think this is quite possibly the cruelest thing anyone can do? How do you pick yourself up after that?

And, if you have head your heart broken, how long before there is room for someone else? I realize it all depends on individual situations, but I’m attempting to approach this as something with a logical schedule.

Because hey, I’m a Financial Manager. I like order, dammit! And love/romance/etc. is SO DAMN DISORDERLY.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stephen replied:

By all means, say encouraging things. But the deeper advice I have for you is this: what you say is secondary; just being there and being supportive is the most important thing.As for encouragement — You ask, If you eventually moved on…does that person who ripped your heart out and stomped on it still hold some sort of special place in your heart?

You’re describing one of those profound experiences (being left at the altar) that will be remembered for a lifetime. The good news is, it will be remembered with ever-diminishing emotional significance.

Emotions are like tides: (1) Emotions are never static; they are always either rising or falling in intensity. (2) Emotional peaks (like high tide and low tide) are momentary events; the rest of the time, our emotions are closer to the mean (less intense).

The point is, your friend’s pain will diminish as time passes; eventually, he’ll achieve some emotional detachment from the event. That’s something you can say to encourage him. But I can’t give you any hint as to how long the process will take.

In order to explain the rest of my advice, I will tell you a story.

A female friend once went through a very difficult time. She repeatedly experienced severe abdominal pain, to the point where they admitted her to hospital.

For weeks they couldn’t figure out what the problem was. (Eventually they diagnosed it as endometriosis.) So, in addition to the physical pain, she was scared.

I went to visit her on several occasions. On one occasion, she was inconsolable. I talked to her, I prayed for her (we met through church), and the whole time she kept crying as if I wasn’t even there.

I didn’t know what to do. So I just sat beside the hospital bed, holding her hand in silence.

After a while, to my surprise, her crying became less intense. A few minutes later she began to speak to me through the tears. And a few minutes after that, the tears stopped completely.

I took away a lesson from that experience. Words are sometimes pretty useless. (A difficult thing for me to admit, because I love words, and in general I regard them as quite powerful.) In situations of deep pain, very few of us have anything brilliant to say — our words are not adequate to the situation.

But we can still be a source of comfort and encouragement, just by being there and being compassionate.

In sum, I’m sure you’ve already begun to do the most important thing. Don’t panic if words fail you. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carolyn
    Apr 28, 2005 @ 10:37:00

    Q,

    Good advice about how to console the broken-hearted. I think sometimes we’re so eager to “say the right thing” that we don’t allow our mere presence and support to comfort someone.

    From my experience (having had my heart crushed into a pulp a few years ago), the beautiful thing about getting hurt is that when I healed, there was a new freshness and excitement about moving on. Just being able to feel a little better every day, or every week, I knew that I was going to be a stronger person when I was ready to date again. And I KNEW when I was ready to move one, there was no benchmark, I just knew.

    Reply

  2. Q
    Apr 29, 2005 @ 12:01:00

    Thanks for sharing from your personal experience. There’s some good advice implicit in your comment, “Just being able to feel a little better every day, or every week…”

    Having your heart broken is like any other kind of loss — it results in a grieving process. When my brother died, I learned to be patient, and just let the grieving process play itself out.

    It’s like losing weight: your progress may be slow from one day to the next, but there’s no need to succumb to discouragement. You’ll get there in due course.
    Q

    Reply

  3. Melodie G. Buendia
    Sep 14, 2007 @ 02:05:58

    Its been almost 1 month i never have a communication with my boyfriend. what will i do?

    Reply

  4. jK-
    Sep 21, 2007 @ 09:50:59

    Melodie,

    If you ended on good enough terms, as in that you don’t really still have feelings of anguish or disdain for him, maybe you can reach out to him. You want to be fairly confident when you reach out to him that there aren’t going to be any harsh words exchanged because a bad encounter will just feel as if you’ve reopened the wounds. Seeing him again would be ideal since then you are able to absorb his presence without the need for continuous conversation (a demand which telephone conversations usually require). To me, to ‘move on’ you have to be willing to look back every once and a while to really move on. The first month is always the hardest. After this you’ll be okay and better. But to break up and totally go cold turkey with never looking back is by far the hardest path to go.

    Talk to him. Just see how he’s doing and try to go for pleasantness. By now sourness will hopefully have been quelled enough.

    Hope all is well

    Reply

  5. Stephen
    Sep 21, 2007 @ 18:47:58

    Melodie:
    “Q” here. My apologies, I didn’t see your comment come in. Last week I wasn’t receiving email notification for some reason.

    jK is right: it would be best if your boyfriend will talk to you. Unfortunately, a lot of people are essentially cowards … if they have bad news, they just hide from you and don’t explain what’s going on.

    You don’t say whether you and your boyfriend had a disagreement, or whether he just stopped calling you. Either way, my suspicion is that he has lost interest in the relationship.

    You should at least try to get him to talk about it. But if he won’t, I would counsel you to be honest with yourself: don’t make excuses for him; tell yourself it’s over; allow yourself to be sad for a while; but start looking forward to your next relationship, too.

    There will be another relationship, sooner or later — when you’re ready.

    Reply

  6. Abechi Benjamin Ogbole
    Jan 18, 2012 @ 07:05:57

    Just Last week my soulmate who I propose in marriage since July 18th 2010 the very first time my counsin sister introduce her to me I just like her kind of person.

    since I begin to fuge deep image in my emotion, although I was not with her she is still in school.

    Met with parent the mother and the father and there all like me that very moment and the father say to me that I should wait for her to finish her school.
    I said ok by me beacuse I will like to marry and educated woman.

    This person I must said I gave her the deepest paths of my emeotion, but last week been the 11th/ 01/ 2012 been wednesday when I was in the church she called and I told her that when I close service I will call her back, when I reach home and called her she told me that she is loosing to something that she take so precious to her mind then I told her that she is not loosing out to anything that as for me I will love her to the last.

    She told me that if i will not disapoint her on any decision she is going to take i told no problem. Thursday I called her in the afternoon we spoke better and in the night when i came back from work I called her she told with her mouth that she will not continous to keep any relationship that will divide her family anymore this person I paid her school fee and all other things.

    This person we want to wedd by easter time what advice do you have for me that can make me heal of this in time?.

    Is a bad experience that can happen to anybody. Is it adviceable to call someone that broke your heart?

    Reply

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