The Break Up Code

How To Be Less Shitty When Your Friend Is Devastated

Let’s imagine it’s a normal day. You’re out doing your thing, or you’re in, doing your thing. Maybe you’re at work, maybe you’re on vacation, maybe you’re trying to decide if this is the day you’re going to finally bite the bullet and start that new work out/diet/blog/life project. Whatever you’re in the midst of, no doubt, you are functioning in a world that’s primarily about you and your shit. Cool! So are we all, most of the time.

It is then that the news hits. Your friend and their significant other are on the rocks. Maybe they have broken up already; maybe they’re about to break up; maybe there was an ultimatum that will inevitably lead to a break up. It doesn’t yet matter which of these is happening. What matters is this: You are now in this thing.

If the break up is anything like anything, you will not be in the same place as your friend when it goes down. That means PROBABLY you’ll get the news via phone call, email, text message or some other form of communication. And once you’ve gotten this news, you are now in a position where you can fuck things up. And let’s face it, you probably will. This is a delicate situation, and one that you may feel well prepared for. And what do I know? Maybe you are.

Let’s find out!

Before anything else happens, the first thing to know is the following: THIS IS NOT YOUR BREAKUP.

This is must know information. Read it twice. Read it three times. Read it as many times as you need to in order to understand it.

This is the first and most important thing to remember every time you open your mouth, pick up your phone, send a text or Facebook message, post a comment, write a clever tweet or write a long and heartfelt email.


Is this your break up? Choose one.

  1. Yes, duh

2. Kind of

3. In a sense, because we’re such close friends

4. Not really

5. No, absolutely not.

6. Maybe it’s similar


Did that seem obvious? It should have. If it didn’t, study up.

Maybe you’ve been through a breakup before and you think that you know what you wished someone had done for you. Or you know what really helped you. That’s great. Congratulations on making it out of that dark place! We are all proud of you and happy for you. It’s super hard to move on from a break-up and you did that hard work, and that’s amazing. Seriously, good work.

Now please move on. This breakup is not like yours. Because it is… say it with me… not yours.

That means that you have to let go of all the things you think you know about what’s best and most helpful. If you show up with a bunch of ideas about how to proceed, you will be useless. Your job is not to explain how this will all be okay in the end. Your biggest job is to listen. And people who are ready with a plan about how to fix things are HORRIBLE fucking listeners.

So never forget ever that this breakup is not your breakup. This ex is not your ex. The problems they had are not the same as your problems. They were unique and specific to the relationship your friend had with their ex. And your friend is the expert here, so you should listen to what your friend has to say. That will help you to understand what can and needs to happen next.

Great. I’m so glad we’re here together. You’re going to do great handling this break up that isn’t yours!

Now let’s go over the 3 Core Competencies you’ll need to make it through this. These are good items to keep in mind whenever your friend is in crisis, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going to think about them in relationship to their now dead relationship.

  1. Listening

Ah, the most important and essential thing when helping a friend. When in doubt, start here. You can never listen too much. No one has ever been upset that they were overly heard. The only way to get this wrong is by doing it poorly. How might you be a bad listener? Glad you asked.

  • Do you have your phone out? Put that shit away.
  • Are you thinking about what you’re going to say next? Stop.
  • Are you thinking about your own shit? Stop that too.
  • Are you wondering when they’re going to stop talking? Quit it.
  • Do you start talking every time they take a pause? Bad dog.
  • Are you correcting them when they say things you don’t agree with? No points for you.
  • Are you looking at the clock? Come the fuck on.

A good listener is engaged. You may be wondering, what am I supposed to be doing if not coming up with what to say next? Try absorbing information. The only way you can begin to understand someone else’s stuff is by taking in all the information they give you. The best listeners will listen to every word, and process it. Then, when it’s appropriate, move on to the second core competency

2. Ask Questions

Ha! Did you think the next step would be coming up with solutions? Well it’s not. You need to ask more questions. Get more information. You’d be surprised how many people can solve their own shit when asked the right questions. Your job is to listen, to get information and to pose the questions that will get your friend talking things through. You don’t need to have answers. How could you have all the answers about a relationship that’s not yours? You couldn’t. When there’s a lull, ask a question. But don’t assume every pause is a lull. Not sure what questions to ask? Don’t worry! We’ll get to that in Part 2.

3. Set limits

Remember all that shit you were in the middle of before you were suddenly in this thing? That stuff still matters! It does NOT matter to your friend who is going through a break-up, but it does still matter. Set gentle but firm boundaries so that you can still take care of yourself and your stuff. Be kind to yourself while still being generous to your friend. No one expects you to make your whole life about your friend’s break-up. That would be unhealthy and unreasonable. However, your relationship with that friend is temporarily going to be ONLY about that. So do keep that in mind.

Three is not too many core competencies to remember, and these will get you, and more importantly your friend, very far. It feels like just moments ago that the news broke, but now you’re well equipped to start handling this thing. In Part 2, we’ll break down the nitty-gritty of this break-up and discuss tactics and phrasing for handling any break-up situation.

Nicky Davis is a blogger, playwright, and novelist, working and living in Los Angeles. To read more of her work, visit her at To get a look inside her brain and life, follow her on Twitter @NickySDavis NickySDavis, or on Instagram @nickydavis13.