It’s almost as painful to watch someone go through a breakup as it is to go through one yourself.
Luckily though, there’s no need to feel powerless to help. On one hand, the man in your life just lost a major source of support. On the other hand, he has you. Clearly, you care about him if you’re reading this, and he needs that.
Whether you’re a mom helping her son through a breakup, or a concerned friend, you’re in a position to do something that’s impossible for me to do.
You’re in a position to listen to him
If you really want to help a guy in your life through a breakup, listen to him. Everything starts with listening!
Keep all your own views out of the conversation and just let him talk, and talk.
We’ll talk more about strategies a little bit later, but just being able to listen effectively will make a world of a difference.
Part of the reason breakups are so hard on men is because we are often expected to know how to handle it. The majority of breakup literature is written for women. The same is true for how to listen.
Most of the information is how to get men to listen, not how to listen to men.
While I don’t have any numbers to directly support this, do a google search for men and listening.
Notice how all of those results talk about women not feeling listened to by men? I admit, this isn’t a very specific search, so let’s take it a step further and use “how to listen to men”.
Still, we have the same thing! For this very specific search, only 2 results deal with the titular question.
I hope by now you see the problem: there’s not a lot of good information about how to listen to men.
And right now, he needs you to listen! He might not want to admit it, either because he doesn’t know how, or is afraid of opening up. But know that inside, if he’s hurting, he does want to share the burden.
Although there are a number of other things you can do to help him recover from his breakup, the most important thing you can do is listen to him.
Listening to him will help address the root of the issue, whereas everything else mentioned here will only treat the symptoms.
Before you listen, make sure YOU have the right mindset.
Listening to him is crucial after a breakup because of the confusing tangle of emotions he’s feeling. He may need help making sense of it all, and you want to be in the best possible position to help.
You want to approach from a place of peace and love.
The last thing you want to do is let your own stress impact the guy you’re trying to listen to.
When you’re emotionally vulnerable as a man, you want to talk to someone who at least presents a calm and collected presence. It puts us at ease and makes us feel more comfortable speaking our minds.
It turns out, that’s there’s a science to this type of thing.
Effective listening comes from peace of mind
I reached out to Dr. Mark Brady to get his advice on how to listen. Dr. Brady is a longtime researcher for Sophia University and the published author of 3 award winning books on listening effectively. He has also spent over a decade at The Center for The Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.
Dr. Brady’s advice on listening to a man in your life after a breakup?
Learn to control your own emotional responses first, as they can seriously cloud your ability to speak and listen.
Take a look at the chart above. You want your demeanor to reflect the social engagement zone. You want to espouse compassion, mindfulness, and groundedness before listening to your friend.
As your stress level increases, your ability to listen and communicate effectively decreases, says Dr. Brady.
Dr. Brady suggests developing daily habits that help control the stress response you’ll have to seeing someone you love in distress.
What this might look like in practice is going on a run prior to listening. Exercise reduces cortisol production, one of your primary stress hormones.
Meditation, and spending time in nature are also great options.
Think about a time you went on vacation as a young adult, and didn’t have a worry in the world. You probably felt peaceful and even-keeled. Not much bothered you.
That’s the type of feeling you’re looking for before you try to listen to your friend. Trying to do it when you’re in higher level of emotional arousal will hold you back.
So take the time to get into the right frame of mind, and be patient.
Once you’re feeling calm and collected, you’re ready to listen.
How to listen effectively to him effectively
The key to effective listening, is inviting someone to talk and just listening, according to Michael Nichols, PhD.
Nichols, who is the author of the popular book “The Lost Art of Listening” is a Professor of Psychology at William and Mary and teaches listening for a living. He knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about.
I found his advice particularly candid, and in line with my own experience on the subject. Nichols advises an honest approach to listening to the men in your life.
Don’t ask too many questions, don’t always try to paraphrase – and definitely don’t shift the focus to yourself- e.g., “I feel your pain,” which of course is a lie.Micheal Nichols
Possible complication to listening to a man in emotional pain: he may feel uncomfortable diving right into it. Tread lightly. Sometimes “ listening” means hearing and understanding that someone isn’t ready to talk, or talk long, or go into details. Indicate your interest in the mans feelings, and then follow his lead.
The key takeaway here is your listening should be on his terms!
Don’t try to force anything. Resist the urge to mention your past breakups unless he asks. Remember, this conversation is about him and not you.
Your job is to provide a safe space and listen to him, on his timeline. You’re trying to understand what he’s feeling. Your job isn’t to lead the interaction.
It’s just to be there, and be present with him.
Is just listening enough?
I always used to think that listening was just the first step for what I could do. It was a chore with questions to be asked before we could get back to the fun steps, like changing styles, hitting the gym, or talking to new women.
In the last couple of years, I’ve realized that I wasn’t listening at all, and this was hurting my friends. Because I was so concerned with progression, I neglected the most important step of all.
I neglected to let my friends fully process how they felt, which is now what I consider the most important step to recover from a breakup. Because I wasn’t really listening, I now realize my friends didn’t feel truly understood.
Please don’t make my mistake. Focus on listening. You’re following his lead.
Just listening will give him the chance to express and make sense of his feelings in a safe space. That alone is enough for 95% of men.
In effect what you’re doing is giving him the chance to process his feelings. This will lead to new connections that will be helpful to his recovery down the road.
By listening you’re also allowing him to share his emotional pain, so that he doesn’t feel like he’s facing the world alone. It’s a helpful reminder to him that even though things are bad, he still has people that care about him.
Continuing to be that resource for him will help him more than anything else I mention here will.
Above all, be patient with him. Everyone heals at different speeds. Do everything in your power to not rush the process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Support positive, healthy choices. Take him to try new things.
Listening the most important step, and once you’ve established a good line of communication, try to have some fun!
Breakups aren’t all doom and gloom. While your friend might not realize it yet, breakups are an incredible opportunity for growth and change. The emotional change he’s going through have him primed for new experiences.
In other words, it’s a great time for you to try things with him.
The key to this isn’t to just say it. Lead by example, and make it a fun activity to do together, or with other friends and family.
Take him on a hike for instance, instead of taking him to the bar. Invite him to lift with you, or take a class together. Getting him out of the house will do wonders for his mindset, and will help him stay present.
By keeping his mind occupied, and keeping him in the present moment, you’re keeping him from ruminating over his ex-girlfriend.
You won’t have to worry about him turning to drugs or alcohol if you are really and truly listening to him and spending time together.
Keep encouraging him to stay no-contact with his ex
Your friend will need time to process his emotions after a breakup. He may feel tempted to reach out to his ex-girlfriend, however that’s not advised.
Reaching out to his ex-girlfriend will just make him feel worse in the long run. Keep reminding him that he should leave her alone, and that reaching out will make what he’s feeling worse.
You can encourage him to call you if he’s thinking about reaching out to his ex-girlfriend. By using the listening strategy presented above, you’ll be able to help him share the burden.
…but don’t push him towards other women, yet.
Rebound relationships can be fantastic learning experiences for him if he’s in the right mindset. Chances are though, if you’re reading this, the breakup is still fresh.
While meeting a new woman can help him feel better, doing so too soon can lead to further emotional turmoil. He needs a chance to resolve his feelings in order to move on, and this takes time.
Getting involved with another woman too soon can prevent him from learning from the previous relationship.
Encourage him to use his newfound freedom to improve his life. While it might be fun to suggest all the new women possibilities, you should leave that topic alone for at least a couple of months.
Be patient with him, especially in regards to women. It can be a particularly sensitive spot.
Help him remain present and patient!
It’s could take him a long time to be completely back to normal. A general rule of thumb puts the time to full recovery at 1/2 the length of the relationship. Add more time to this calculation for first relationships, and add even more if they lived together.
I was certainly unprepared by how long it took me to recover from my first breakup It took about 6 months to feel 95% again.
However, it took me nearly 2 years to completely recover, which is right inside the normal timeline.
Your friend might feel shitty because he doesn’t feel better right away. He may not want to be a burden to you, and may have trouble expressing emotion.
As much as possible, keep him focused on the day ahead of him.
Every so often, encourage him to keep going and remind him that he’s your friend. It’s often as simple as reminding him that you’re in it together.
Small gestures can have a big impact
Back when I was in college and my first girlfriend had just broken up with me, I was coming back to my townhouse. I was tired and frustrated after having just driven almost 2 hours home.
My friends were sitting on the couch, and noticed when I didn’t say anything and went to my room.
About 15 minutes later a card popped under the door. I wish I still had a picture of it. It was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen. It looked like a 4th grader had sniffed some markers and drawn lewd illustrations all over.
I couldn’t help but smile. On the back it read:
“When you’re ready to come out, we’ll be here for you. Stay strong man, we’ve got your back”
The 5 friends I lived with had all signed it. I was so overcome with emotion, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
A couple of weeks later when I was at my lowest point, I looked at that card and it still made me smile. I was laying there in bed, and I felt a rush of compassion for everyone who had supported me. My friends and family. It helped me turn my mindset around.
A simple card.
Above all, be the friend he deserves
Helping your guy friend after a breakup doesn’t have to be hard, or be a 24/7 process. You can show them you care with something as simple as a dumb card with some penises drawn on it.
Most men aren’t going to want any special treatment. Just being there, and listening is almost always enough. Do those two things right, and you’ll help your friend to get better.
Anything else you do, like inviting him places, or challenging him to try new things falls under you being a good friend.
Be patient, listen hard, and be kind and you’ll be doing everything you can be doing to help him get better.
He’ll thank you for it later.