Things We Don’t Say Enough (And When To Say Them)

Want to be a better friend? Looking for friendship tips or communication advice? Click through and read this post. #friendship #communication #whattosay
Long ago, in a land far away, I went through a terrible break up.
Two weeks after The Awful Breakup, I attended my cousin’s wedding.
Alone, instead of (as planned) with my boyfriend.
The highlight (sarcasm!) of this wedding was when I arrived to the reception before any of my extended family and found myself balancing a paper plate of hors dourves and a plastic cup of wine
on my lap
in a bathroom stall
trying not to cry.
Once enough time had passed to render this story hilarious instead of tragic, I regaled a group of girlfriends with it, laughing as I mimed the universal sign for “bathroom stall crying.”
We all laaaaaauuuughed at the Bridget Jones-ness of the scenario but then my friend Abby turned to me and said with seriousness: “You know, none of that is your fault.”
And I had to look at the floor and blink away tears at the truth and kindness in what she’d said.
Because she was totally, totally right. And even though I knew that the break up wasn’t my fault, it helped more than I ever imagined to hear those words from someone else.
With that in mind, here are a few other things we don’t say enough – and when I think you should say them.

“That takes guts.”

When to say it:
When someone breaks up with that Really Great Person who just isn’t right for them
When someone finally leaves the (steady, lucrative) job they hate
When someone moves to a new city/state/country where they don’t know anyone
When someone does something on their own that’s usually done in pairs

“It’s not your fault.”

When to say it:
When someone feels guilty that they couldn’t save/rescue/change a person who has significant issues
When someone’s partner cheats on them
When someone gets laid off
When a relationship falls apart after years of effort and therapy
When someone’s been robbed/mugged/assaulted/raped

“I really admire the way you’re handling this.”

When to say it:
Anytime anyone is handing a stressful situation (divorce, break up, family struggles, debt) with grace

“I’m glad we’re friends.” 

When to say it:
When your friend tells you something that you needed to hear
When your friend does something super amazing and inspiring that makes you want to be half as awesome as they are
When you get in a fight with your friend and then make up
When you do something super fun and ridiculous that you know you will reference years later and laugh about

What are things that you wish someone had said to you? When do you need to hear these things?

Photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

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  1. 75only75

    I tried to say -or rather type- the right thing to a friend whom I lent a not so tiny amount of money. Instead of diminishing the sum she wants to give back to me, because I could also take the smaller monthly payments and do not need the money right now, I thanked and complimentend her on being able to pay me back so quickly.

    After reading this article I will make sure to praise her efforts when I see her in person next week.

    Great article, as always, about friendship, Sarah !

    <a href=">XXX Moi</a>

  2. Anonymous

    It's not your fault:

    when your parent gets cancer

    when your partner is diagnosed with depression

    when you're bullied at work

  3. Amy

    I am always surprised by how much it means when a friend tells me they're proud of me. I love hearing it from my family, but it means a ton coming from a friend.

    • Michelle

      I just had this happen today.
      A friend I haven't seen for a while sent me an email that included some beautiful words.

      it made me bawl like a baby

  4. nancytyna

    I love this, especially the "That takes guts" section. It felt great to hear this from people when my boyfriend and I moved to Chicago. It's easy to forget how much these simple phrases can mean.

  5. The Martha Rose

    I love this list! So many times (I'm totally guilty too) of instantly being negative in a negative situation (that sucks! or he was a jerk anyway). These statements are empowering and positive. Thanks!

  6. johanna

    These are the things that we say easily ABOUT people, but rarely think to express TO people…but they are always good to hear!

  7. Anonymous

    The "that takes guts" section when applied to someone moving or making a big change in their life is far and away better than what I've heard sometimes: "Are you serious?" Please, if you've never thought about this, please do, I really think people overuse "Are you serious" when they have nothing else positive to say and/or are in shock, and this remark is not uplifting.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Such a good point!

      I would also add that we should resist the urge to tell people they're "lucky" when something awesome is happening in their life – they're getting married, they get a book deal, they get a cool job offer, etc.

      Of course, there's a certain amount of luck involved in these things but it's usually 10% luck and 90% hard work that we haven't been witness to. Telling someone they're "lucky" is (in my opinion) kind of dismissive.

    • melissa

      Oh yes, same with "you're so talented!"

      I think it bugs me for the same reason that "you're so lucky" can be annoying.

  8. Ms. Parker

    I ended a 7-year relationship with a wonderful person because we were NOT right together- a month before I turned 30. The best thing I heard (when I was questioning EVERYTHING about this decision) was "You are so brave!".

    It was the right decision, but so so difficult…and for a friend to recognize and honor that lifted an enormous emotional weight off of me.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Girl, that shit is haaaaaard. I have been there and I salute you <3

  9. Gigi

    I love these.

    Another one I try to say often is "It's okay to be upset/sad/angry."

    I think we're taught that we need to get over things quickly, but sometimes we just need to feel our feelings, darn it! And we need other people to give us permission to feel them – not always just try and cheer us up.

  10. eileen ragan | leaner by the lake

    The other day my boyfriend wrote me a touching e-mail after reading an essay I wrote and ended it with "I'm proud to be with you". Cue waterworks. I'm going to make an effort to say this more to him and let him know how proud I am of the man that he is, too.


  11. Ginger Jane

    I wish that someone had told me, when I moved overseas, that if I was really unhappy, it was not a big deal if I came back. I was convinced that not finding an amazing job and finding an incredible set of friends within the year was a massive failure on my part and that returning home was something shameful.

  12. Roselie

    I 've needed people to say all of those things to me, and I almost tear up when they do…

  13. Kate Tichy

    I got in a dumb dumb car accident once that if I had actually been using my head would have never happened. I was berating myself for it in front of my mom, and she said, "Honey, it was an ACCIDENT." And that made it so much better and easier to forgive myself– to hear my mom tell me that, with all the mom-love.

  14. Pearl Jolly

    I love this list. My husband and I just moved to a new country where we don't know anyone and it was so good to hear our friends say that they thought we were being very brave for doing this. I also think that we should say 'thank you' to our friends and partners more often as it's easy to take people's love for granted.

    x Pearl

  15. julie /

    this is a wonderful list!

    like pearl (comment above) i also had a few friends say this to me when i moved to china, and it was so sweet, and i hadn't really thought of it that way before. it was very bolstering.

    just yesterday my friend was saying "what if we planned 'attacks' on people on fb, where you'd pick one person and secretly tell others to attack that person with words of how awesome they are on a specific day"–i think this list could be a great part of that plan of action. but of course attacking people with their awesomeness is nice on ANY day! 🙂

    oh that reminds me, a friend once did this in a gift form for me–a box of things she loved/noticed about me–i describe more about it here (link below), if anyone wants to also give such a gift. it was so touching and cool and thoughtful.

    thanks sarah!


  16. Jenn Rowell

    I've done a lot of job quitting and moving to new places by myself, breaking up with people who were terrified but not right for me and so forth. Many, many times I heard, "You're crazy!" "Aren't you scared?" "I'd never do that." "Are you sure." When I was really feeling like a mess while making some of these decisions, one friend made me packages (which she's done for me several times) packed with quotes and cards and magazine clippings and every time a handwritten note or letter that would include "You're so brave," "I'm so proud of you," "I am always here for you," and "I love you." We only lived in the same town for maybe six months, she was making some very big and very hard decisions in her life too, but she's the kind of friend who knows your soul. She knows to say "It's okay to be scared, it's okay to be hurt, you are strong and you can do this." She helped me through a handful of really awful situations and she's one of the few friends I trust enough to tell the whole awful story to and just fall apart and she always knows the right thing to say or do. I will forever be grateful for her!

    Loved this post Sarah, thanks and Happy Friday everyone!

  17. virtuallypink

    Thanks! That was really what *I* needed to hear today – although quite from another angle. Because unless you can'tsay any of the above things it's time to back off of somebody else's life!

  18. Carrie Rosalind

    This post is so so great and SO inspiring to read all of the brave things people did in the comments!

    I recently had lunch with a friend, and after telling her about some troubles I'd been having lately, she said sincerely, "I'll pray for you." I am not a religious person in the slightest, but it was still very comforting to hear those words in that moment. I think that depending on who you're speaking with, those words can be very supportive as well.

  19. Michelle Thiele

    Hi Sarah,

    I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying going through your Archives. I wanted to add to this conversation. A dear high school friend whom I haven't seen in a while wrote to me the other day, about my recently becoming a mother: "But knowing that you've done it and seeing how happy it's made you makes me feel hopeful that one day, maybe, I can have that too." It was incredibly emotional to read, and something that I reflect on when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

  20. Vanessa

    So true, the simple phrase "it's not your fault" can relieve so many hurt feelings when said with sincerity.

    I think the most touching thing I've ever had said to me was right after I decided, after six years of law school, that I did not, in fact, want to be a lawyer. My boyfriend wrapped me in his arms and said, "I'm so proud of you for being honest with yourself".

    • Kathy


  21. Sharon

    Getting positive feedback from anyone – especially the supportive boyfriend and friends who chance upon my stories – is one of the most uplifting experiences to me.

    Also, I have realized how amazing it is to invest in friendships – with lots of heart-on-sleeve admissions, open and frequent catching up, accountability reports, etc – because when they come back – in the form of perfectly timed encouragements and nudges in the right direction – it can leave you feeling entirely capable of doing whatever it is that you set your mind on.

    Amazing post, Sarah! Thank-you!

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