What to Say (And Not to Say) to a Grieving Ex

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The experience of heartbreak and loss is one thing all human beings share. Everyone suffers through significant losses in their lifetimes regardless of how much they try to shield themselves from these experiences. Inevitably, you might one day deal with a grieving ex who's suffering profound emotional pain after a traumatic event. 

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The intense grief that follows a major loss is often beyond words. When an ex loses a loved one or survives another form of trauma, you might not know what to say or if you should say anything at all. The same is true with any other type of grief an ex might be suffering.

Whether it's the loss of a job, going through a divorce, or being diagnosed with a terminal illness, you might find it challenging to express how you feel. If this sounds like something you're dealing with, continue reading about handling this type of situation. 

Should You Say Something to a Grieving Ex?

Often, it's not a good idea to reach out to an ex, but in some situations getting in touch might be warranted. Wherever the two of you left off, keep in mind that any new communication between you might open up old wounds. Professional relationship experts seldom advise doing so, although it may help heal old wounds and repair a lost friendship or connection if that's what you're aiming to do. 

While there's nothing inherently wrong with reaching out and acknowledging the death of someone who was significant in your life but connected to your ex, such as a parent, child, or other close loved one, doing so might not be in your best interest. Especially if you had a contentious relationship with them that might lead you to relive the past.  

Here are some ideas of when you shouldn't say anything to your ex when they're grieving:

  1. It's unreasonable for you to reach out
  2. Talking to your ex opens a door that you'd prefer to remain shut
  3. You've moved on and haven't had contact in years

The above reasons are enough not to force yourself to say something when someone dies who was connected to an ex. One of the goals here is to help keep you from turning into an already bad situation and making it worse for each of you. 

Grief etiquette for exes

The rules of in-person or online condolence etiquette won't ever call for you to assume that your ex is waiting for you to acknowledge their loss. It may be that they'd rather not hear from you, depending on how your relationship ended and where it now stands.

Then, when is it a good idea to reach out, you might wonder. Anytime anyone goes through a significant loss, it can be a harrowing experience. Getting support from friends and loved ones when your world feels like it's falling apart helps keep you from feeling abandoned.

Almost everyone needs to feel as if they're not alone when something terrible happens, including your ex. But this doesn't mean that it's you who should be offering them that love and support.

Allow yourself to reach out whenever it feels right, but only if you’re confident that doing so won't make matters unpleasant for either of you. Dealing with grief and loss is challenging, especially when things get complicated. If you and your ex are on good terms, then this is a good sign that it's ok to reach out. If things ended badly between you, use your best judgment. 

What to Say to a Grieving Ex After a Death

The first few days following a significant loss will likely be a blur for your ex. They most likely won’t remember what you said. So figuring out the right thing to say to express your condolences isn’t as important as how you make them feel.

Everyone experiences loss differently. Because of that, it’s essential to anticipate how they might react to what you say. Here are a few ways to express condolences and standard sympathy card etiquette

“I’m sorry for your loss. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.”

It’s probably best to leave condolences short and to-the-point to avoid any conflict or misunderstandings with your ex. You may no longer be in a position to comfort your ex, especially if they’ve moved on and can count on the support of their significant other. Only reach out if you think that doing so will help make you both feel better. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with you.”

After experiencing a tragic loss, it’s normal to feel lonely and vulnerable. Remember where things left off between you. Succumbing to the loneliness of grief may lead you to consider getting back together with your ex out of sympathy for them.

They may be confused over their loss, and your reaching out to them may exacerbate those feelings. If you think this may be the case, consider adding a “we” at the beginning of your condolences to give them the impression that you’ve moved on even when you haven’t.

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“May you find peace and strength to see you through.”

Giving someone hope that despite the profound pain they’re experiencing, they will get through this is an appropriate thing to write on a condolence card. Maintaining hope is one of the greatest motivators in healing after a significant setback. Your ex may appreciate your kind words and reflect on them as they contemplate their loss. 

“Your mom/dad meant a lot to me. My prayers are with you and your family.”

The loss of a parent is one of those times you might consider reaching out to an ex to offer some emotional support. Feel free to tell your ex what their loved one meant to you and how they impacted your life. You may want to share some private moments or special memories between you and their deceased loved one. As always, make your intentions clear to avoid bringing up your past relationship or any misunderstanding of where your intentions lay.

“I can’t imagine how you must feel. I know how much Fluffy meant to you.”

The death of a pet carries with it its own unique grief. Don’t discount the emotional responses to pet loss that accompany this type of tragedy. You may want to reach out to your ex as you would any other friend or close loved one after their pet dies. You can offer emotional support by listening to them or taking care of routine things around the house until they can get a hold of their grief. 

What NOT to Say to a Grieving Ex After a Death

As with anyone suffering through loss, some things don't help to hear when grieving. Even when you mean well, some things are better kept to yourself than spoken aloud to your ex.

Learning these key things not to say to your grieving ex after suffering a loss will keep you from saying something wrong and making matters worse. Nevertheless, remember that your ex's loss isn't about you. Try and focus on their grief without using this as an excuse to rehash your past relationship. 

“How are you holding up?”

When experiencing grief after the death of a loved one, it doesn’t help when someone asks how you’re doing, despite their best intentions. This question comes off as insensitive and offensive, especially when you know that your ex is dealing with what’s perhaps one of the most challenging times of their lives. Instead of asking how they’re doing, try offering your time and attention to listen to them tell you about what they’re going through. 

“They’re in a better place and no longer suffering.”

Many people offer statements such as this when giving condolences. They might mean well, but the bereaved person might rather have their deceased loved alive and with them. This phrase is typically associated with an individual’s personal religious beliefs. Not everyone has the same ideas regarding the afterlife. Your attempt to comfort your ex may backfire and leave them feeling resentful. 

“The worst is now over.”

There's a fine line dealing with the death of someone who's suffered during the last moments of life. When you tell your ex that the worst is behind them, this discounts the excruciating emotional pain and sorrow that follows the death of their loved one.

Although their loved one may no longer be suffering, your ex will now begin the grieving process. They'll face having to adjust to life without their loved one and all of the other complications that come along with it.  At best, you have no idea of what's to come. Saying this to your ex is not only insensitive but may come across as cruel. 

“I know you two didn’t have such a great relationship. Now you can find closure.”

This statement presumes that you know or understand the intricacies of the relationship between your ex and their loved one. Even when dealing with estrangements between the deceased and your ex, assuming that they’ll find closure after their death can be significantly off-putting to them.

You may want to say instead, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope you find healing and closure in the months to come.” This statement better acknowledges their loss without assuming the impact their loved one’s death had on your ex. 

Supporting a Grieving Ex

Being there for an ex doesn’t have to be complicated or add stress to either of your lives. When reaching out to them, treat them as you would any other friend or loved one. Offer your support and condolences, ask about their wellbeing, and give them the help they need without confusing your intentions. 

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