Saturday, April 23, 2005

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 Manager" wrote:

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.

Q 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.


At 10:37 AM, April 28, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...


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.

At 12:01 PM, April 29, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

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.


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