Friends are hard to make but even harder to keep. And if you have a friendship that's broken, the hardest thing is to mend that relationship. Thankfully, if your relationship had any depth to it at all, it's still possible to salvage it. There are lots of caveats to that, of course, because it will never be the same again. Nothing that is broken can ever be mended to its original state. That's a fact of life. That said, however, it can become an even stronger friendship if you put in the effort and the time to build it up again. This article shows you actionable steps to make that happen.
#1 - Analyse the Extent of Damage
Damage assessment might seem like a cold, calculated way of bridging a broken relationship with a friend, but unless you know how bad it is, how can you hope to fix it? To carry out this step, you'll need to be very honest with yourself and ask yourself some very hard questions. At this point, don't start playing the blame game. It's not healthy and it's certainly not helpful.
Instead, think about the events that led to the misunderstanding or the fall-out. Was it about a boy or a girl? Was it because of something either of you said? Or was it a case jealously because of some good fortune that befell one person and left the other one high and dry?
If you can crystalize and encapsulate that for a minute before dismissing it as not being worth fighting over, that's half the hill won.
To help you get to the bottom of the problem, try reenacting or recreating the moments before you decided to stop speaking to each other. Usually, a reason that seemed huge at the time will seem insignificant now. If you can ferret out the situation, you'll have a starting point to reason with your ex-friend - a talking point to begin navigating back to a state of friendship if you will.
Don't just work it out in your mind. Jot down notes about what happened before the fallout or type it out on your computer. Record yourself voicing your thoughts about those moments or days before you broke it off. Anything that you can go over again could hold the clue you're looking for.
So, what exactly are you looking for? The reason for this exercise is to calibrate the 'perceived intensity' of the reason for your estrangement against what you know to be true today.
Think about that very carefully because it is important. In simple words, what you thought was a big deal all those days, months, or years ago might, in fact, be of little significance today.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you stopped talking to your best friend in high school because she decided to go to a different university than you. You're 25 now, working at a great company, and a lot more mature. How insignificant does your high school situation look to you at this point in time? Have you built up a completely negative picture of her since you discovered her decision? Is it just simmering at the same level? Do you feel worse about the situation now than you did before? Do you still feel those pangs of hurt and disloyalty?
On the other hand, what if the passage of time has given you a more balanced perspective of things? Maybe she wanted to go to that college because they offered a course that wasn't available at the one you picked. Perhaps her dad couldn't afford to send her to the expensive college you attended and she didn't have the kind of scholarship money you received. Have you ever thought about those things between then and now? Well, perhaps it's time to do just that.
More often than not, you'll find that there was really no basis in making the rash decision to cut off a friendship. Even if it was a serious reason, time will have softened your position on the matter. If not, your thinking about it from the right perspective certainly will.
Summary of Actions:
- Think about what set off the course of events that led to your breaking up as friends
- Dig deep to see how you may have been at fault
- Make notes or record yourself talking about what happened before the breakup
- Look at it from both perspectives to see what the issue really was - was it because of your situation then or has the animosity been sitting like a monkey on your shoulder all this time?
Once you've discovered the reason behind breaking off a friendship and put things into perspective, it's time to take the next step in your effort of fanning the embers into a brilliant flame once again.
#2 - Understand Why You Became Friends in the First Place
The reason I didn't put this first is that you need to have some starting point in order to understand your friendship and what it's based on. Understanding your reason for fighting or not speaking to each other gives you a lot of perspective into who you really are. Once you know that, it is easier to understand why you became friends in the first place. It's all in the context. If you have a context for your separation, it's easier to find a reason to get back to the way things were - or better.
Concentrated boy with girl preparing for lesson
This is an essential step in order for you to move on to the process of rebuilding that bridge, and it is important because it will provide a strong foundation to build an even stronger friendship than what was there before.
Go back to the days when you first met - when you were neighbors as kids or classmates in school or college roommates. Go back as far as you need to. You need to reach deep into your memory because a lot of these things will have been pushed away into the background. One thing is for certain - you're guaranteed to dig up some truly fond memories that you didn't even realize were hiding in your brain.
The purpose of this exercise is not just to create a stronger foundation for the future, although that is the primary objective; the idea behind it is to give you some additional perspective into yourself - why you were drawn to that person and not others, what it is you found attractive or engaging about them, and what state of mind you were in when you made that decision to be their friend.
Summary of Actions:
- Go back to the basics of why you became friends in the first place - find solid reasons why
- Remember that you are now building an even stronger foundation
- Dig deep into your memory for positive experiences and events around your friendship
- Analyze your own state of mind and perspective as you analyze the events and experiences surrounding the time you first became friends
This is important because it tells you a lot about the way you used to be versus who you are today. We all change, but have we changed for the better, or have we become sourer as we grew older? This insight can be valuable because it helps you take the next crucial step.
#3 - Why Do You Want to Be Friends Again?
You're reading this because you've chosen to make amends and do what it takes to regain a lost friendship. But why?
The reason the first two steps come in that order is that they set the tone for what's about to come next - approaching your friend again for the first time. In order to do that, you need to first know why it is you broke up and why you valued their friendship in the past.
Understanding these two aspects of your friendship - the good and the bad - puts you in a better position to answer the question, "Why do I want to revive this relationship?"
If you did the first two steps to the best of your ability and in an honest and open manner, you should have no trouble finding a thread that will eventually form the new bridge you are ready to build.
Using the bridge analogy, it's easy to see how the sequence falls into place. When you arrive at a bridge that has been destroyed, the first thing you do is assess the extent of the damage. You do this so you can spot all the weak points that you can avoid in the future. To complement this, you then start looking for places where the structural integrity has not been compromised; in other words, the parts of the original bridge that are still undamaged.
Only then can you hope to draw a plan to build a new bridge where the old one was. And if it's done right, the new bridge will be far more advanced because you already know the strong and weak points before you even start.
As with the analogy, you begin by assessing what went wrong and why rather than focus on who broke the bridge. Avoid the temptation to point fingers because that's useless information to you at this point, and it's a time-waster. It doesn't really matter who the guilty party was. You have to move on. And, as with the analogy again, you start looking for the foundational integrity that the friendship was built on.
Once you've done that, it's easy to answer why you want to be friends again. The answer might simply be that you get along so well, or that you understand each other better than others in your life, or it might be a complex relationship that is dependent on new factors that have entered your life. Maybe you're in a better position to understand their earlier point of view that led to the break-up.
Summary of Actions:
- Look to the future - why do you want to reconnect?
- Hunt for strong foundational aspects that you can use to rebuild the friendship in a stronger way
- Never play the blame game - acknowledge the past but move past it quickly
- Know why you're making the effort to regain his/her companionship
You have now established the groundwork for the actual construction to begin, so it's time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands and knees dirty, figuratively speaking.
#4 - Preparing to Rebuild a Stronger Bridge, a.k.a. That First Call
This is the moment everyone dreads - calling or visiting an ex-friend not knowing what to expect. Do you have to face an insult? Are they going to embarrass you in front of their new friends? Will they hang up when they hear your voice?
This nerve-wracking experience, unfortunately, is one that you'll have to go through to get to the other side. But this is exactly why there are three steps preceding it.
This process is designed in a way that gives you the tools you need to have that difficult conversation. And don't think it will be as easy as a single conversation. You might decide right away that both of you were foolish to stop talking and it might seem like everything is back to normal. However, it is not. The truth is, it will never be back to normal, not after what the both of you went through.
That's why it's crucial to know what went wrong and what was going right. You can only address the elephant in the room only if you know what the elephant looks like. Believe me, if you took the time to carefully follow Steps 1 through 3, Step 4 is going to go a lot easier. Not easy, just easier.
One practical piece of advice is to expect the worst and hope for the best. That sounds like a platitude because it is. But sayings only become platitudes because there's a grain of truth in them, which is why they're repeated so often.
The trick here is to read between the lines.
"Expect the worst" means be ready to face the most embarrassing or insulting situation you've ever been in. Depending on the level of hatred harbored against you by your former friend, it goes from not-to-bad all the way up to I-could-die-right-now. Shame, guilt, fear, doubt - these are your real enemies when you don't know what you're up against.
On the other hand, the "hope for the best" part is strengthened in your knowledge that the friendship was originally based on a strong foundation. After all, you wouldn't be exposing yourself to this if you didn't think the love lost was once a love that was mutual, right?
Don't forget, you are now armed not only with reasons for why things went sour but also a salvo of things that brought you together in the first place. No former friend can withstand the double-attack on their emotions, no matter how "tough" they seem to the outside world. Nobody is so hardened by a negative experience that they lose their humanity. They may cover it up well but it's never gone. The tools in your hands will help dig them out of their temporary resting places deep within.
From a practical perspective, it's a good idea to rehearse the conversation you think you're going to have with your once-friend. Don't worry about writing a script or anything. Remember, you've already got the crucial information needed to resolve any fallout. Besides, conversations rarely turn out the way we want them to. Nevertheless, practicing in front of a mirror helps fortify your nerves so you don't lose your voice when the time comes.
Another useful tip is to maybe carry crib notes or bullet points of the things you intend to say. There's no shame in rehearsing your lines and having backup notes. If anything, it will show your former friend how seriously you take this thing and how much of an effort you've put into making things right.
Summary of Actions:
- Gather the courage you need to make that first call
- Remember - you're ready with all the tools you need to get the job done
- Hope for the best but expect the worst
- Use notes to help you through the call
And now, armed with all the tools and information you need to build a newer, stronger bridge, you begin the rebuilding process.
#5 - Approaching a Friend-turned-Stranger
The best way to do this is to call ahead and simply tell them you'd like to meet. If they ask why just say you have something important you'd like to share with them. Keep this initial conversation short and don't be forced into a corner where you're being interrogated.
Say something like "Hey, I'm just heading out to work but can we meet this evening at 5 pm? There's something I need to tell you." If they resist, say please and reiterate that it's really important. Don't go into the details because this is not something you want to be doing over the phone. In the worst-case scenario, where they don't want to meet or don't want you to call back later, be prepared to go into videoconferencing mode. Just say, "Okay, I'll FaceTime you in a few minutes. All I need is 10 minutes of your time, for old times' sake if nothing else. Okay?" And hang up.
Whether you've been pushed to reveal your hand right away or they've agreed to meet, the rest of the conversation should proceed in a three-part sequence, as follows...
First, begin by telling them that you're sorry that the two of you had a falling out. Briefly touch on the reason but point out that it's all in the past. Don't skim over it but don't dwell on it for too long.
You can tell them how bad you feel about what you did or that what they did seemed like a big deal then, but talk about it like it's water under the bridge. The idea is not to reopen old wounds but to begin the restoration process by acknowledging the wounds and then moving on.
If they want to explore the incident further, let them. If they want to air their frustration at what they perceived you did to cause the fallout, let them. Let them vent; you owe them this much. Remember, you've had some time to think about reconciliation but they weren't part of that conversation. This is probably a huge surprise - and not necessarily a pleasant one - that's been sprung on them out of the blue.
That's why you need to make that initial call to set up a meeting, so they have time to mull things over as well. However, this is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, giving them time to think about things might rake up negative emotions and make your second conversation - the real one - that much harder. On the other, it's unfair to be the only one prepared for the talk. They need to have fair warning as well. You can't move forward if you suddenly jump them in an alley and starting ranting about how things were bad but you were so good together and that you should be friends again.
But now that they've had at least a little time to consider things, it's likely that they'll be open to having this conversation.
That's the first part.
The second part is to reminisce about the old days - how you first became friends, what drew you to each other, etc. Remember - you have a script in hand so you're at an advantage. Use it to put your soon-to-be-friend-again in a positive frame of mind about you, as well as the friendship you once shared. It's not a technique or device to manipulate them; it is merely guiding them through an emotional sequence that subsequently leads to a mutually favorable ending.
And that brings us to the third and final part of the conversation which, hopefully, will be the beginning of a renewed and fortified friendship.
The third part involves gaining agreement. You've dealt with the negative, you've put them into a positive frame of mind, and now it's time to get them to open the door and let you into their life again.
This part has two sub-parts: the first is to get a definitive "yes" for the question, "Can we be friends again?" It can be phrased differently but the response has to be affirmative, not a "let me think about it" or "we'll see." On the other hand, their reticence might mean they're still on the defense but they're willing to take the chance again. If you get that, take it. Don't push for a "yes" right away. That can happen in the next conversation, which is basically the second sub-part of that - set up a plan to meet again within a few days. A week at the most.
This second sub-part is scheduling your next meet-up. Don't pull out your calendar, though. Just set the date, time, and place, and leave with an "I really look forward to seeing you again."
Summary of Actions:
- Keep the first conversation short - just set the appointment
- Be ready to have the second conversation immediately
- Keep your notes handy
- Follow the three-part sequence: Recollect, reminisce, and gain agreement (along with a next meeting time)
If everything has gone according to plan, you can be confident that this will turn into something even more beautiful and lasting than what you shared before.
Often, during that scheduled meeting, the recriminations of the past won't even come up. You'll most likely talk about the good times you had, further helping the healing process. But also be ready to deal with any negativity that they still harbor toward you. You've had a lot of time to analyze the negative aspects of the fallout but they might need more time. Be patient, and keep reassuring them that it's in the past and things are different now. Every time they go back to a negative past thought, redirect them to a positive past experience.
Sometimes, you'll find that you need several more meetings just to get them to start accepting your friendship again. They might be suspicious or wary of your suggestions because they think you have an ulterior motive for wanting them back. Again, be patient with them and soothe them with calming words every time you think they're drifting away. Your goal is to ultimately gain their trust and strengthen the bonds of friendship so nothing like what happened before can ever come between you again. That takes time.
The key here is to gradually build up the trust level to where it was before and then go beyond that. This means you can't be your normal self because things with them aren't normal yet. You'll need to be a gentle guide that takes them down that path; more importantly, they should come of their own free will, not because you're manipulating them into being friends with you again.
A Few Final Thoughts
Talking about rebuilding a relationship is easy. Giving advice is easy. Even giving you detailed steps to go about it is easy. The hard part is all yours, unfortunately. Use the guidance given here to set the direction, not to do the work for you. Don't rely too much on anything that you read here. It's not set in stone and it is only meant as a rough compass of sorts, not a treasure map where I mark the X for you to find. For instance, if you've been friends from early toddlerhood, there's really no point in trying to figure out how you became friends. Maybe you were just put into the same sandbox at the same time and decided to be friends from then on.
Instead, focus on why you need to rebuild the relationship - what do the both of you have to gain from it.
Another consideration is what you expect to gain from this exercise. Do you merely want to make up with someone who is important to you? Is there an ulterior motive for approaching them now as opposed to patching up a long time ago? If it's the latter, then please rethink the whole thing because it will be an extremely selfish and opportunistic move. That's not what friendship is about. Sure, friends do things for each other but they have no expectations. There are no benchmarks or disqualification criteria in a true friendship.
You also need to think about trying to avoid the type of situation that forced you to split up in the first place. They say that history repeats itself, so be aware of that. Any time you sense that the friendship is going in an undesirable direction, bring it back on track. For example, if your original fight was about a guy, it could be that your competitiveness was what caused the problem, not the guy. Therefore, be wary of other situations where competitiveness could creep in and destroy what you're trying to rebuild.
On the positive side, you should also make an active effort to increase the number of positive experiences in this renewed friendship. Never forget that a broken relationship, no matter how well-mended, still bears the cracks and scars of the original breakage. It is time for you to be an active friend rather than a passive one. You need to be the person that's always there for them, giving them confidence every day that you'll stand up for them and be at their side no matter what. This is crucial because once the trust has been broken, it is extremely hard to build it up to the same level again.
One final piece of guidance: never, ever take this or any other friendship for granted. Friends are hard to come by, and friendships can be quite fragile. That's especially true if you haven't built them on a solid bedrock of understanding, forgiveness, love, and tolerance. You have a second chance here but that doesn't mean you'll always get that chance with others. And if it's your best friend with whom you're trying to rebuild trust, it's even more crucial that you keep this at the forefront of your mind at all times. Besides, do you really want to go through this process again with someone else, or would you rather be careful the first time around and treat all your friends with the respect and love they deserve?
I hope that reading this article has given you some insight into the human mind and how the complex phenomenon of friendship works. Read it again if you need to but make sure you internalize it and act on it. That's the most important part of learning how to mend a broken friendship.
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