Fixing a Broken Relationship
- 1 About
- 2 (1) Your Feelings Are Never Wrong
- 3 (2) Acknowledge Your Inner Brat and Apologize
- 4 (3) Empathetically Forgive
- 5 When To Reach Out
- 6 When to Say Goodbye
- 7 Write it Out
- 8 See Also
I've seen a few different training programs with magnificent advice on fixing strained or broken relationships. The Landmark program, for instance, was particularly amazing for taking people who were estranged from their family members and helping people reconnect within 24 hours. I think a key component between all the advice I've heard is to break out of the victim mentality and own up to your part in demonizing the person who you believe has done you wrong. Especially in cases where they feel the same way toward you, you just haven't seen through their eyes yet.
Here's three key concepts that have helped me:
(1) We often invalidate the feelings of the people we clash with and only pay attention to how we feel. I believe that's a big mistake because the way we feel is never wrong.
- "I'm really sorry you feel sad right now as a result of my actions. What can I do to show you that I still love you?".
(2) We can fix many strained relationships when you consider that maybe you are being a brat... and starting an apology to the other person with:
- "I'm sorry I've been a brat.".
(3) In rare cases when you were truly victimized, then forgiveness was the key back to happiness.
- "I'm forcing you so that we both can move on with happiness in my life.".
(1) Your Feelings Are Never Wrong
We get so obsessed with who is wrong and who is right in arguments and disputes. Nobody wants to back down and say "I was wrong", and even if they do, it's probably not genuine. Oh sure, maybe someone lied, and that feels wrong, but maybe they thought they were protecting you. Who is wrong or right is highly subjective depending on your values. Some people, perhaps caused by something in their past have almost never spoken the words "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong", so don't get your hopes up that they will start now.
What if I say I can fix that issue for you?
What is NEVER wrong is how you feel.
- "I feel sad right now" - FACT.
- "I feel unheard" - FACT.
- "I feel jealous" - FACT.
This varies hugely from statements like "you are a terrible person" or "you disrespected me"which are very subjective. Notice that the best statements to use to fix a relationship always start with "I feel". If you start with "you did this" or any other words it sounds like an attack and you will only make the conflict worse. Only start your sentences with "I feel" followed by your truth and you can never be wrong.
Suddenly it becomes less relevant how the person becomes sad. Your girlfriend is sad and crying because you forgot to put the laundry up? The apology is so easy.
- "I'm really sorry you feel sad right now as a result of my actions. What can I do to show you that I still love you?".
You are apologizing for making the other person feel sad/small/jealous/unheard/angry, without explicitly saying you were wrong. Once you drop your defenses and offer the olive branch, maybe you'll get a chance to say that you "feel attacked" and they will reciprocate. Maybe you'll work out a more productive way to prevent this same argument happening in the future.
Once again, how you feel is never wrong, and the other person has a chance to empathize. Feelings are unpredictable, feelings can be triggered by the slightest thing, and certain times they can be especially erratic - including times of alcohol or drugs use, times of life fluctuation such as pregnancy and any moment of insecurity. Feelings can't always be predictable, but they are always facts. Maybe they refuse to apologize for making you sad, because they "didn't do anything wrong", but they should at least see that your sadness is fact.
Do Not Let Anyone Invalidate Your Feelings
You feel how you feel, and if anyone continually tries to invalidate how you feel, then you do have an issue. That lack of any empathy means they are potentially narcissistic and not someone you need around. Why not replace them with someone who will give you words or affirmation or hugs when you feel down, instead of belittle you. If they read this article and still refuse to acknowledge the fact that you feel sad. Well f**k... dump their sorry ass! You don't have time for people who can't support you when you feel down. Give them a solid chance to validate your feelings the next time you are sad and crying you are sad and crying, but if you see no improvement talk to your friend before this person traps you in their web.
Now let's get real with some case studies based on real life for acknowledging feelings.
Case Studies for Feelings
1) Jealous girlfriend
A long time ago a girlfriend saw me affectionately hugging another woman. She knew it was just a friend, but she was angry. So I asked "did I make you feel jealous". I didn't try to invalidate her jealousy... "your feelings are real to me, and I apologize for making you feel like you are not my first priority, how can I fix this". Turns out it just took a little bit of more time for my girlfriend to see that the other woman was a really close friend, that I love to hug deeply, but it was very much platonic only - I'm very huggy and neither one of us meant disrespect. Had I told my girlfriend she was being ridiculous... well things would have got heated.
Jealousy can be triggered by the most unexpected thing. Maybe your girlfriend tells another guy that he has amazing hair, and you suddenly feel insecure because you have a receding hairline! I'm lucky not to have a receding hairline, but often we can track jealousy back to the ego or a specific insecurity, and then you can work with that information.
2) Girl Fight
Two female friends of mine have a fight over something so trivial it seemed ridiculous. Someone forgot to bring the cake to a party. It escalated. Suddenly both of them dwelled on every possible detail from the past where maybe they were disrespected by the other. There was no focus on the times where we were great friends. Days later one of them finally had the bravery to step forward and say "how can I fix this, is it really worth losing a friendship over a birthday cake". It would have been nice if they'd come to that realization earlier, but it turns out one of the girls was very nervous about organizing the perfect party, and so was easily triggered when the other girl forgot. She felt ignored. Those feelings were valid. The other girl felt unproportionally attacked. Those feelings are valid. That's all they needed to hear. Who was wrong? Who was out of line? What were the exact details that went down? Who the heck cares.
3) Sexual Violation
Well that escalated quickly. In 2021, somone I knew and trusted was accused of sexually violating someone ouside of our group. Many people in our group didn't believe this outside, because there were two different stories. I think our friend was drunk so I'm not sure he remembers exactly what happened, and I didn't see why the girl would lie but the epiphany for me was that instead of the huge clash that happened of people taking sides, and trying to drill into every detail, the fact was that this girl felt like she was violated. I called the guy up on the phone and asked him to acknowledge that she felt violated and be able to talk to her in a calm and sincere way. If he couldn't do that then the group would be torn apart. Sadly he yelled on the phone at me for not believing him, and I guess I tried my best. That was my darkest hour in Hawaii, I couldn't focus on work for weeks, I uninvited him from a spirituality retreat (where mandatory consent is one of the mandates), and I've never been through anything quite like it. One or two other friends of mine had something similar where one of their friends was accused of sexual violation, and it just tore everyone apart. In fact, all we needed was a sincere apology for the way this girl felt. Six months later, it still hasn't come, but at very least I hope this guy is drinking less.
(2) Acknowledge Your Inner Brat and Apologize
To tell someone "Acknowledge Your Inner Brat and Apologize" is a deliberately controversial statement, but it might just be what's needed to shock someone enough to see that we are all brats. We act sophisticated and sometimes we take elaborate means to convince ourselves and our allies that someone else is out to get us but no. We're all just spoiled little brats at times, from the smallest toddler to a president of a country. Little f**king brats.
If you read the article you'll understand why you need this kind of thinking to fix a broken or shaken relationship. Even now you're thinking "but I did nothing wrong and I'm the victim here". There's an above average chance they think the same thing. For them and all of their friends who hear their version of the story you are the villian. Both of you are poisoned and hurting and if you think for a second "they should be the first to apologize to me", then you are definitely being a brat. Why not be the bigger person and go first. That's what this article is about, but first I'm going to tell you a few true stories.
Case Studies Being A Brat
1) Cheated On....\ I Think
In my third ever relationship I was cheated on. Or at least I think I was. I was told months after the relationship by a friend "I think she cheated on you" and I was devastated. It triggered something that had happened to my family and I went through all stages of anger, sadness and feeling like a victim. I thought our relationship ended great, so I was still friends, but I was passive aggressively trying to ask questions and catch her in a lie. I felt like I needed to know what happened and know for sure that she had lied to me, so that I would know what to look for in future relationships. I told friends how awful she was, but my very best friend said "eventually whether or not she cheated on you won't even matter". I refused to believe it, but so many amazing things happened from this single event. I learnt about myself, I discovered spiritual workshops, I met the most amazing lover who is now my best friend, and I eventually had the revelation I was a brat.
I wrote to her an email which - unlike other my previous emails had a passive aggressive undertone - was genuine. I was apologizing for being a brat. I really don't care if I was cheated on, I cared that I had soured my memory of an amazing girl, and heck - at the end of our relationship we had gotten each other breakup gifts and did a threesome, so really I should have felt like one lucky little punk. I tested clean for STDs and now I just remember the good times. I can tell people about the ways she was actually a great girlfriend.
2) My Boss Has It In For Me
A former boss gave me a bad review, heck she put me on a performance improvement plan. I swear she had it out to get me because I had tried to change teams, and it fell through. I thought she was punishing me. Finally I realized that a lot of the feedback she had about my work consistency was true. I was being a brat, and acting like a victim. I apologized, and things got better immediately.
(3) Empathetically Forgive
If we can acknowledge how we've been bratty or petty, then we make it easier for the other person to forgive us, and we will forgive them for anything left over in how they made us feel. It usually takes two to tango. But what about an extreme case where we were clearly victimized. Maybe they disrepected you by cheating on your multilpe times or... for two very extreme examples - both of which really happened at a Landmark forum - maybe someone else physically assauted you or murdered your child. Yeah, kind of puts your own issues into perspective right. Don't let these extreme examples invalidate your feelings of hurt by thinking "oh so much worse could have happened to me". Be inspired that in both these cases, the victim was able to find happiness through forgiveness. In these cases, the person at fault feels like a very bad person and unforgivable. However, studies have shown that you can't really move on with your life and happiness unless you forgive.
Maybe you could think: "I'm a brat in thinking that the world owes me", but instead I think the empathic shift in thinking is that maybe this person has mental issues, inner turmoil, similar horrible history of abuse, and suddenly you don't feel quite as angry at them. Maybe there's one or two traits about them that are still good and pure, and you can focus on the fact they are good to the environment or their pet dog, even if they poorly treat humans. Maybe with a heart-to-heart chat with them where you say "I forgive you", they might do their own healing and then you will have saved the next person from the same fate as you. I wish someone would assassinate Putin, but I oddly feel a little less angry at the world if I imagine he has a traumatic childhood and a reason the way he was.
Case Studies For Forgiveness
1) Cheated On Continually
This isn't one use case, I've had multiple people who have their trust shattered by being cheated on, and it felt like the other person was awful. Depending on the situation, it's a relationship you don't want to "fix" and get back together, but you do and should try to genuinely forgive them using any means necessary in order for you to be happy. If you stay bitter about the past, it will taint all your future relationships. Maybe you do need to go to a personal growth workshop focussed at this to forgive and move forward.
2) Lost a Child
I witnessed a woman standing in front of all of us crying because she had recently lost her newborn child. She was angry at god, and she believed she could never be happy again. I'm not religious, but I feel like I would have felt the same way. She only had two weeks to hold her premature child in her arms before he died. During the course of the weekend workshop, I saw how the facilitator slowly convinced her that the world wasn't her enemy. Many women, even those with murdered children had found their way to forgiveness and live happy lives. By the end of the workshop we could all see she was half-way back to happiness, and said that she cherished that she got to hold this child for two weeks, and that maybe there was some beauty to that. Maybe she would try to adopt. She was able to smile again. That was powerful to me, because something this traumatic can happen to any of us, and it is nice to know that there are people out there that can help us see light at the end of darkness.
When To Reach Out
When to reach out to the other person? It's now. Oh sure, if you're in a meeting it's a bad time, but sometime today you could reach out to say you are sorry for your part in a wounded relationship. Time heals many wounds, but who wants to wait for years to feel happiness again? Depending on your personality, and the other person's personality it's easy to loop into a cycle of depression that spirals and suddenly you are digging deeper in minute details of what went wrong and how they disrespected you and why you are right. All these details are irrelevant. For a court case maybe they are relevant, but you are only reinforcing the story that you are a victim, and that's massively unhealthy. Even if the other person is "more wrong" and out of line than you, you should reach out to mend the relationship first... not because of some competitive "I am the bigger person", but for selfish reasons if you must. You want to stop hurting. And you only stop hurting when you mend the relationship and/or forgive and say goodbye.
When to Say Goodbye
If a relationship wasn't really nourishing you - if that person never made you feel good about yourself - you might decide to give it one more chance, or maybe you'll decide to say goodbye. Each person in your life either drains your energy and happiness or adds to it. Some people are a mix, and in those cases maybe you can work out what to fix to be mostly happy, but generally speaking we should all be better about letting go of people who drain us. And please don't be mean about it and say they drain your energy, just say that you might be in different places. Maybe you drain their happiness too. Maybe in the future one or both of you will change and become better lovers or friends than ever before. If you are two lovers that breakup, consider a parint ritual to add to the closure.
Write it Out
So now that you've read this article, maybe you feel inspired to try to mend a relationship. For best results, you could call them up right now, and just emphasize that you miss being friends and that you acknowledge your part in making them feel however they felt. Take the focus off yourself as the victim. Don't expect them to answer, and definitely don't expect them to say they were wrong or to apologize back, call with the intent of offering an olive branch.
One problem with this is that they will naturally be on the defensive from the very moment they answer. They are expecting you to attack them or manipulate them. From their eyes you are the evil one trying to bring them down. Present yourself as an ally who wants to fix the issue.
Another problem, is that you might know yourself that you can be hot-headed on the phone or in person. Maybe then your better bet is to write down your thoughts. You might consider that this might become a written record used against you, but - assuming this isn’t a legal issue - if they care to mend the relationship at all, they might be overjoyed to read something like the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus "Love Letter", but in a slightly simpler form:
- Hurt and sadness: "I am really sad that you and I ..." ... the writer shares any feelings of responsibility and remorse.
- Fear: "I fear that ..." ... express your fear of the future if you don't resolve things peacefully.
- Accountability and remorse: "Even though I have been hurting, I want to take ownership of all the ways I might have hurt you ... How you feel is never wrong, and I think both of us are hurting". ... the writer shares any feelings of responsibility and remorse.
- Love: "I don't always show it but I love and admire you for ..." ... describe any feelings of love.
Write it out, check that it seems sincere and maybe even run it past a friend before you send it. Even if the other person doesn't reply positively, I think you'll feel better for offering an olive branch.
Finally, let me know how it goes!
- Authentic Relating - Share - how to let someone know when you are upset, in a very beautiful way that avoids arguments.