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The end of summer and beginning of autumn represent a time of change, but also tumult.  In any ordinary year, these changes place a real stress on relationships and this year, that impact seems especially intense.  These days, couples are dealing with unemployment, underemployment, career changes, and sudden role reversals when one of the two loses their job.

These times of economic insecurity are also leading more people to evaluate the quality of their life experiences and relationships since we’re leaning on them more than ever to see us through. It seems our tolerance for even temporarily unfulfilling relationships is lower than ever (which is not necessarily a bad thing).   Thus, it is no surprise that so many people right now are having relationship issues, hitting the pause button on their relationship, or even breaking up.

This isn’t an article about yoga asanas, its about the yoga of friendship during tough times.

The chances are pretty high that each of us has a friend going through this right now and may wonder how we can best support them as they go through a breakup or have a relationship on the skids.  So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been polling people out there in Breakup Land and Difficult Situationland to find out what they wish their friends would consider when trying to be supportive. 

The result was a list which seemed to be echoed by each respondent and it didn’t matter if it was a minor spat or a full-on lamp-throwing divorce, their requests of their friends were the same:

Do:

  • Listen…without judgment.
  • Be there…to let them laugh, cry or drink a glass of red wine.
  • Remember….there are two sides to every story.
  • Borrow a line from the Hippocratic Oath and seek to “first do no harm.”

Don’t:

  •  Feed the drama – especially if one is demonizing the other and/or playing the victim role.
  •  Bash the other person – it will hurt your friend since they have strong feelings for them (or it wouldn’t be such a crisis).  Also, if they reconcile and get back together – they’ll remember what you said (but not what they said) with consequences for your friendship.
  • Give unsolicited advice (if you feel the urge, please look again at the first item on the Do list)
  • Ask the “what happened” question (after explaining this one a few times, it just gets more painful).
  • Choose sides or even be perceived as choosing sides, especially if they are both your friends.
  • Try to play the messenger or mediator.  Meddling won’t help to save the situation and can damage your relationship with the friend you are trying to “save.”
  • Pry and interrogate – unless you really want them to feel even more pain
  • Say things like:

“Maybe its because you…”

“You should have…”

“Why didn’t you…”

“Hey, let me fix you up with…”

Ask Yourself (especially if you are tempted to pry and meddle):

  • Why do you want to ask those questions?  What are your intentions?  Be honest with yourself; is it curiosity or a sincere desire to be supportive?
  • Do you really need that information in order to be supportive?  (Hint:  No, you don’t).
  • Do you think you can “fix” the situation?  Do you realize you can make it even worse, regardless of how well intentioned you are?
  • Do you need to be needed and are trying to fulfill that need by getting involved?

Instead of prying try this:

  •  “If you ever want to talk about this more, let me know and I’ll be there to listen.”

This lets them know you are available if they want to share more – on their own terms.

A few final points to remember:

  • People are often afraid to say what’s going on because they’re afraid of how others will react.  Doing any of the items on the Don’t list can send them back into their shell or cut you out of their support network.
  • Sometimes people (especially guys) put a happy face on it and won’t always indicate how much they are hurting.  So, be careful of assuming one of the two people is struggling while the other one is doing fine.

And finally:

When a relationship hits the skids it doesn’t always need to be anyone’s “fault” –  we’re all imperfect beings trying to relate to other imperfect beings so we sometimes end up in imperfect situations.  There is a trend these days to not only assign blame to someone after a breakup but also to label them with some kind of character flaw or personality disorder and this is something we should not feed with our energy.   People cope in their own ways and yes, sometimes they feel the need to hate their ex to get over them but its not a healthy to support this but that does not mean you can’t hold space while they vent.

In the end, while your support may be far from “perfect” (as if such a thing is even possible), as long as your intent is to serve your friend and not yourself and to avoid feeding any drama, you’ll be on the right track.