Love Better

How to Handle Two of Your Friends Breaking-Up

What are you supposed to do when you're caught in the middle of someone else's break-up? We take you through it step-by-step.
Two people yelling

If you’ve ever observed a couple tragically and/or spectacularly ending things up close, you would know break-ups affect more than just the people in the relationship.

From friends to whānau to pets to parents, every relationship has its areas of overlap (and if there’s no overlap at all, you might have another problem on your hands). Mates are mates for a reason and likely share a lot of common ground, so it’s not shocking that plenty of social circles end up containing couples.


Even when the relationship is happy and healthy, it still takes a lot of navigating as everyone else is unintentionally involved: Will it be weird to hang out as a group of three? Can you call someone your best friend if they’re another friend's partner? There’s plenty to adjust to.

But if the relationship sours, it’s a whole different kettle of cold, dead fish.

Friends-to-lovers is all fun and games until they’re bitching about each other to you and both think you’ll back them up. The pressure is on when your birthday’s coming up and you’re expected to choose between who to invite. And what are you supposed to do if one ex tells you something genuinely concerning about the other? 

Being close to both people is gonna be harder than being close with only one person — or passively being friends from afar — but even at a reasonable distance you can find yourself in some pretty uncomfortable situations.

So what do you do when you’re caught in the middle of two friends breaking up? 

Gauge their vibe.

Before you make a call on your own, find out how the exes are handling the break-up. If they’re doing their best to stay friends and not impact others, you could be in the clear. But if they’re suddenly mortal enemies your collective relationship is about to become a lot more complicated. 

Worst case scenario – If one person has seriously harmed the other, such as sharing revenge porn or any form of physical or sexual violence, it’s incredibly important to be there for the person harmed and not leave them feeling like no one believes them or takes their experiences seriously. 


It’s good to understand both people's sides and be open to the possibility that people you love might have done some pretty shitty (and sometimes very serious) things to each other. As a friend, you’re in a great position to both support and hold each person accountable.

Check your loyalties.  

First, whether you’re an official third wheel or a bystander in the same social circle, you should figure out if you want to be friends with both people. Being close to both may be tricky to navigate, but if the relationship didn’t cause major harm to either player then you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your own friendships at someone else's behest. 

Maybe what’s most important to you is to stand by the friend you’re closest to, and that’s okay. Put your focus on supporting them, and not tearing down the other person. As their friend, you don’t have to fight their battles. 

In some ways it’s easier if you’re much closer with one person, but even in this situation, you might find yourself having sympathies for the person you’re less close to. Especially if your best friend was in the wrong in the break-up. 

Loyalty doesn’t have to mean picking sides. You can be totally mutual and choose to keep out of the drama as much as possible. And if that's the case, be clear with your friends that you don’t want to be involved in any nasty back and forth. 

Keep an open mind.

Sometimes, your friends treat each other badly in relationships. It’s uncomfortable, but there is a way to deal with it without furthering the hurt. Listen to what they have to say, don’t add your personal insights or overshare information from the other person's side, and let them know that you’re hearing them and are there to care for them – even if talking about the break-up in the future can’t be part of that care.

On the flip side, be open to the fact that both people will probably see the break-up differently and might even twist the truth a bit – which is not always intentional. Heightened emotions can lead people to exaggerate, misremember details and embellish. This happens in most break-ups, whether we see it in our own behaviour or not. Keeping an open mind to the fact that no one is gonna be telling the story 100% straight is a good way of keeping yourself somewhat objective.  


Be clear with them both. 

You might prefer to skip over the in-depth conversations if you’re not that close to either person and just let things unfold, but if your relationships are closer and more complex it’s a good idea to let your friends know where you stand.

This might mean telling both of them that you’re neutral in the break-up and don’t want to be spoken to about the other person. This might mean telling one friend that you’ll be seeing them less as you’re closer to the other person and want to honour their feelings. Maybe, when they were together, you would only hang out with them at the same time, and you need to let one of them know you’ll continue to hang out with the other friend on your own.

It’s not a necessity, but the point is simply not to leave people in the dark, confused about where your individual relationships stand.

Evaluate how the break-up changes each relationship. 

Maybe nothing will change, but it’s unlikely. Just be cautious of how the way you interact with each person can totally transform in meaning after they break-up. It might’ve been a comfortable thing for you to kiss your friends when you all got sauced and silly together, but your mate probably won’t want you kissing their ex, even though they’re still your friend. The same goes for sharing beds. What was once okay might have a different colour to it now. 

Just be considerate of how much someone’s mindset around intimacy and affection, even when it’s platonic, can be affected by a break-up. 


Don’t gossip about them.

We’ll make this one short and quick – don’t let the break-up dominate the conversations when they’re not around. It’s cruel and you’d hate it if you found out everyone was talking about you. 

Bonus points: don’t complain to them about how shit their break-up is for everybody else, unless you’re actually doing it to help solve the problem and not just to make them feel bad. 

No one wants to go through a break-up and no one wants to drag their friends through the mud in the process. The new exes are likely to both feel responsible for the state of the friend group, so don’t make it worse for them by whining about the way things have changed. 

Put yourself in their shoes. 

It’s really important to remind yourself that they are going through the break-up. It might be awkward for you, but it’s unlikely to be anywhere near as bad as it is for them. 

Put yourself in their shoes. When you’re trying to determine what is and isn’t appropriate, give some thought to how you would feel or react if you were in their position. And be realistic. It’s easy to brush something off when you’re not the one going through it and say you wouldn’t care, but it’s rarely true in practice. 

Ultimately, treat the situation itself kindly and with empathy. What else are friends for?

  Own the Feels is brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign funded by the Ministry for Social Development.


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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa. You can find her @rachellydiab on IG and Letterboxd and see her film criticism on Youtube.