It was my first serious relationship at 15 in 10th grade with a boy I met a few years prior through my sister.

Laughter and was our thing. We laughed until we couldn’t breathe about silly things and I was intoxicated; feeling accepted, loved and free to talk about anything and everything. Sure, we partied and did stupid things too, but not more or less than I would’ve without him.

Two years later we’d gotten serious and were looking at the future.

He graduated two years prior and was working full time while considering his next steps that seemed less and less about planning our happy ever after. Our relationship started going off the rails and I became controlling, like the eight-arm octopus hanging on for dear life to the one thing I thought I couldn’t live without. I was totally insecure and unconsciously looking for evidence I wasn’t lovable.

He had his own friends including one girl who set off my spidy senses. My direct questions about her were plausibly answered yet my gut said there was more. When pictures of them together appeared in his room on full display, I knew he was lying.

I confronted her and said, “What you’re doing is wrong. It’s really crappy and I’m not stupid.”

My high school graduation was only 2 months away and my dream of attending prom on the arm of ‘my person’, my safe place, was fracturing. While driving home from school one day, I noticed his car was home and my spidy senses kicked in.

‘Go. Go and check.’

I turned the car and went to his house. As I quietly walked up the brown, wooden front steps, straining to hear any voices, my heart was racing as I prayed my suspicions were wrong. Slowly reaching for the doorknob, I realized it was unlocked. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened the door.

There was my boyfriend, my person, my everything, and that girl in a naked, horizontal tangle on the living room floor. I stood wide eyed, in complete shock, unable to move or breathe.

I felt crushed, absolutely devastated. For the next 2 weeks, other than school and sports, I sat at my best friend’s house with her and her mom, bawling my eyes out as they listened and comforted me.

My worst nightmare was coming true.

Otherwise normal comments about my boyfriend and plans of prom were met with awkward silence as my heart broke all over again. I was starred at with silent sympathy as word got out about what happened and the kicker was, I’d confirmed I was unlovable, unworthy of respect and kindness. I was used goods that no one else would love.

Whether it’s a romantic relationship or friendship, break ups are HARD. Supporting your teen through this painful process to find healing and wholeness is possible when you understand the following key points.

  1. You can’t rescue your teen from their pain or fix them and trying to do so is hurtful and invalidating. It also makes their situation more about you.
  2. Grieving isn’t linear and it comes and goes without warning so let go of checking boxes or fitting a timeline.
  3. Labelling your teen’s feelings (i.e., dramatic, fatalistic, attention seeking, etc.) is also hurtful and invalidating. Even if you don’t understand or agree, your teen’s feelings are real, and yes, this IS the end of the world for them. In their short life, this relationship was as far as they could see on the horizon.

What to do:

  • Listen without interruption (limit your questions too), correction, judgement or fixing
  • Validate your teen’s feelings and empathize to help calm their nervous system and create connection for greater emotional safety
  • Offer to do an activity together, something they love as a welcome distraction (this isn’t about denying feelings, expensive gifts or trips)
  • Share similar relationship situations you’ve had as a point of reference, not advice, and only after your teen has finished sharing and has found a calmer place.
  • Admit when you don’t know what to say rather than trying to have the right thing to say

What not to do:

  • Don’t talk smack about your teen’s ex to make your teen feel better (this isn’t endearing when part of their heart still wants them back)
  • Remind your teen of all the positives to shift their perspective i.e., ‘it could be worse’, or ‘at least…’
  • Tell your family and friends about this breakup so everyone stares or feels sorry for your teen during the upcoming holidays, or worse yet, brings it up every time they turn around with awful but well intended advice
  • Compare this situation to something that happened to you followed by your best advice

Lastly, support your teen to understand what’s happening in their life doesn’t define them. The actions of others don’t dictate their value or worth as a human, only they have the power to do that. This isn’t a conversation to force, instead wade in over time with questions like, ‘What’s the story you’re making up about yourself?’, ‘How is what happened changing what you believe about yourself?’, and ‘How do you feel when you believe that thought?’

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