Saving a Damaged Friendship When Trust Has Been Broken

Updated on November 28, 2016

The Friendship Equation

Friends and interpersonal relationships shape our lives and help mold us into the people that we are. Friends support each other and encourage each other. Friends see the best in each other and tell each other the truth - even if it hurts.

As with all types of interpersonal relationships, disagreements, arguments and hurt feelings happen. It's inevitable, no matter how close and understanding both of you are. Knowing how to approach these friendship hurdles not only says a lot about your character, but it testifies to the strength of your friendship bonds. It can be difficult to overcome a loss of trust or a fight, but understanding these tips can help you see things from a different perspective and resolve conflict on a positive and lasting note.

If You Were In the Wrong:

Everyone makes mistakes. It's a part of life, and by learning from and growing from our own mistakes, we can move forward and develop stronger interpersonal skills overall. If you have made a mistake in a friendship and need to make amends for your words or behavior, these tips can get you started on the right path to overcoming your mistakes and making a positive change.

1. Remember that you cannot control the other person's reaction to a heart-felt apology or explanation. You are only responsible for your own actions, and apologizing is no guarantee that the other person will react or respond the way that you want them to. Getting upset when your expectations are not realized will only make a tenuous situation worse. Develop self-control, wait it out, and see what happens when the other party has had some time to process.

2. Apologize from the heart. It's easy for observant people to see through an insincere apology from a mile away. If you make a mistake and you owe someone an apology, don't couch your apology with excuses. No sentence containing the words "I'm sorry" should simultaneously contain the word "but"

3. Take Responsibility for your words and your behavior. This includes not making excuses for your action as well. While expressing your point of view is essential to foster understanding and getting both people on the same page, no one wants to hear what amounts to "yeah, I was a jerk, but it was because you did this first". This will put the other person on the defensive and that's the last thing that you want if you're hoping to mend fences and put the pieces of your friendship back together again.

4. Practice patience. You may recognize that you made a mistake right off the bat and try to make amends immediately. If you hurt your friend's feelings, however, they may need a little bit more time to process the situation, and may need some time away to come to terms with the hurt that they experienced. Just because you're ready to put it all behind you doesn't necessarily mean that the other person feels the same way. If you've offered your apology, you have made the initial effort, and the pressure is off of your shoulders. Don't get irritated if the other person doesn't react in kind immediately. Take a deep breath, step back from the situation and try to figure out what steps you can make to make sure that your mistake is not repeated.

5. Make a conscious effort to change. If you keep running into the same problems over and over again, then more than a simple "I'm sorry" may be necessary. If you find yourselves apologizing and making amends for the same thing over and over again, there is probably something more going on beneath the surface. It may be time to step back and reevaluate yourself and your friendships. Pinpoint areas in yourself that need improvement, and strive to make a positive and lasting change. That doesn't mean that you'll never slip up again, but effort is appreciated and recognized more often than you may think, and your friends will acknowledge the fact that you're trying to improve your friendship and yourself and give you the benefit of the doubt.

The most important factor here is to not linger on the mistake and beat yourself up because of it. Mistakes happen, and no one can be perfect 100% of the time. As human beings, we are bound to screw up from time to time. It's what we learn from our mistakes and how we make the effort to correct them going forward that truly makes a real, definitive difference in our relationships with others - and with ourselves.

It's Your Turn

Have you ever lost a friendship that you regretted later?

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If You were the Wronged Party

Getting your feelings hurt or feeling betrayed by someone you considered to be a friend can be a heartbreaking experience, and trust is difficult to rebuild once it has been tested or damaged. Keep in mind that you're not immune from making mistakes either, and try to treat your friend the way that you would like them to treat you, if your situations were reversed.

1. Empathize and put yourself in their shoes. Everyone on earth has been in a position where they've hurt a friend - intentionally or not. Since no one is immune to making mistakes in interpersonal relationships - especially when stress and emotions are running high - you probably know what it feels like to be on the opposite end of the situation. Don't have double standards simply because you're the one whose feelings were hurt this time. Hold yourself to the same standard that you expect from your friends, understand that mistakes happen, and don't hold lingering grudges or resentments that can damage a friendship permanently.

2. Be patient and open. If your friend has made a mistake and hurt your feelings, it may take them some time to see things from your point of view - especially if things got heated between you. It's human nature to want to be in the right all of the time, but no one is right all of the time. Furthermore, it's unlikely that anyone is completely in the right in interpersonal strife. Bad behavior on one side is much more likely to spark bad behavior on the other, and you may have acted in a way that was not indicative of the investment that you placed on your friendship. Let your friend come to you on their terms - not yours - and be open to what they have to say. Don't be closed-minded just because you think you have the high ground. While excuses aren't going to go anywhere, further explanations may help shed some light on the situation and give you insight into what's happening in your friend's mind.

3. Don't be eager to throw a friendship away. It's all-too-easy to make spur of the moment judgements when emotions and trust are on the line. Many year-long friendships are torn apart from a relatively small indiscretion. Put things in perspective before making a judgement about the state of your friendship overall. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were guilty and your friend threw your friendship away because of the same situation, only reversed. Is it worth it? Think of all the time and energy you invested in building this friendship and what the cost would be to you if you threw it all away. Would you regret your impulsive decision later? While it's difficult to see the big picture in the heat of the moment, it's important to try to focus on the bigger issue when it comes to big decisions that could negatively impact the rest of your life.



While some people are genuine loners who enjoy being alone and don't like to rely on anyone for anything, most of us lean on our friendships and relationships to make it through hard days, to have a place to vent at the end of the day, to gain advice and encouragement and to find unconditional support - even when we may not deserve it. These friendships help us define who we are and what we stand for, and they're worth saving, if possible. Throwing away an investment in a friendship can be incredibly traumatic for both parties, so it's important to try to see things from all different perspectives before rushing to judgement. Remember - we all make mistakes. How would we like our mistakes to be reflected on us and our relationships? How do we view mistakes that others make towards us? Are we forgiving and understanding, or do we turn hostile?

Not only will these tips help us understand our friendships better, but they can lead us to better understanding ourselves. By focusing on personal growth rather than blame and forgiveness over guilt, we can learn to strengthen our friendships and ourselves in a positive manner without having to sacrifice our emotions, wants or needs in the process of growth.

© 2014 Elizabeth


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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      I was somehow always the one to apologize in my friendship with Dominic even when I didn't do anything because if I didn't he would be mean to me he always put his girlfriend first and never made me feel like a priority so I ended the friendship with him because I always ended up being last on his priority list he was never there for me when I needed him and he should have been

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      6 years ago

      Thanks for the great tips, especially the ones under the "If you were the wronged party" section. I needed the reminder. For some reason, I find it's easier to apologize for the wrong I did to someone else than to accept their apology when they've wronged me. I've always accepted their apology within a few days and have stayed friends with most of them.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very well thought out, and beautifully articulated. Too bad none of us can say we've never been on either side. I've been on both sides more times than I can count. It's all about time, reflection, and a willingness to fight for what's important to us.

      I like. :D


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