How To Fix a Broken Friendship (+ Examples of What to Say)

“Recently, I broke a promise to my best friend. I know I messed up and want to make things right but don’t know what to say or how to start. Is it possible to get a friend back after you’ve hurt them or broken their trust?”

In any close relationship, there will be times when things are said or done that hurt the other person or cause a breakdown in trust or closeness. While most people are afraid of confrontation, having difficult conversations can actually save and strengthen your relationship, especially if something happened to push you apart.[1][2] There are often things you can do to avoid losing a friend you’re fighting with and ways to reconnect with a friend you’ve grown apart from.

This article will give tips on how to make up with a friend and begin the process of repairing a broken or lost friendship.

How and why friendships fall apart

Friendship involves time, effort, closeness, trust, and reciprocity. When one or more of these key ingredients are missing or undermined, the friendship can become damaged. Sometimes, this happens because of a specific fight or argument, and other times, it happens when one or both people stop investing time and effort into the relationship.

A new job, moving away after college, or starting a new romantic relationship or friendship are all common reasons why friends stop talking to each other.[3] Regardless of what happened between you and your friend that led you to stop talking, what you do or say now has the biggest influence on whether or not the friendship can be saved.

Conflict avoidance: a flawed way to protect a friendship

Conflicts are normal, healthy, and can even make a relationship stronger.[4][5] The key is not whether or not you fight, but how you fight and, more importantly, how you work on resolving things after a fight.

Becoming more comfortable with having difficult conversations can help improve all of your relationships and prevent you from losing friends.[5] When you and a friend are able to overcome differences and work through your issues, you may find you develop an even stronger bond.

15 ways to fix a broken friendship

Try the following strategies to reconnect with your friend, start a conversation, and try to repair your friendship and regain the trust and closeness you once had with them. While there is no guarantee that you will reconcile and mend the friendship, you can at least feel good knowing you put forth the effort to save it, even if it doesn’t work.

1. Reflect on what went wrong

You cannot fix a problem that you do not understand, so take some time to reflect on what exactly happened between you and your friend. Sometimes, this is obvious because there was a big fight or something that happened. Other times, it is not as clear.

When you know what went wrong in the relationship, you are often better equipped with an understanding of what you could say or do to make things right again.[1][2]

Here are some questions to help you identify what went wrong in your friendship:

  • Was there a turning point or moment when things changed with your friend?
  • Did anything weird/bad/awkward happen last time you spoke to your friend or saw them?
  • Are you both putting equal time and effort into the friendship?
  • Is there something that’s been bothering you about this friend?
  • Do you and your friend still have a lot in common, or have you grown apart?
  • Is it possible this issue was just a misunderstanding?
  • Is this a one-time issue or part of a larger pattern in the relationship?

2. Try to see both sides

Many disagreements between friends are a result of not being unable to understand each other’s perspectives. While you still might not agree with them, being able to see their side of things is the key to getting the full picture of what happened and what to do next.[2][4] Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and why you reacted the way you did, and also do the same for them.

Sometimes, it can help to pull back from the situation and consider their point of view, and other times, getting an unbiased opinion from someone else can help.[2] Just make sure not to involve any mutual friends in the argument, as this can stir up more drama and make your friend feel attacked or betrayed.

3. Take time to cool off

When there is a conflict or heated fight with a friend, most people benefit from taking some time and space to cool down before trying to talk through things. If you don’t, you are both more likely to say or do things that end up making things worse rather than better.[5]

Sometimes, cooling off on your own is all that needs to happen, and you might realize there is not a real issue that needs to be addressed with your friend. If there is an issue that needs to be talked through, cooling off can help you go into the conversation calmly, offering the best chance for a resolution.[5]

4. Ask if they’re willing to talk

It’s not a good idea to blindside your friend with a heavy conversation about your friendship. Give them a heads up first by asking if they are willing to talk or asking when would be a good time to talk.[4] Keep in mind that they may need more time to cool off and that you may need to give them more space before they’re ready to talk.

Here are some examples of ways to ask a friend to talk over text, email, or even a voicemail:

  • “Hey, I was hoping we could talk about what happened last week. I know you might not be ready so give me a call back when you are.”
  • “Can we talk sometime soon? I feel so bad about what happened and really want to make things right.”
  • “Are you free this weekend to come over? I feel like we need to talk through some things, and I’d rather do it face-to-face.”

5. Choose the right time and place to talk

If you and your friend need to have a serious heart-to-heart, it’s a good idea to select the right time and place to talk. Make sure to choose a time when you both have some open availability. For example, do not try to squeeze in a heavy conversation in a half-hour lunch break on a workday.

Also, try to choose a setting that’s private, especially if you anticipate you or your friend may become emotional. A public place or group setting is generally not the best place to have a serious, important, and emotional conversation with a friend.[4][5]

6. Own and apologize for your behavior

If you said or did something you regret, apologizing might be an important part of making things right with a friend. An insincere apology can be worse than no apology at all, so make sure to put some thought into exactly what you need to apologize for. Face-to-face apologies are best, but “I’m sorry” messages are an acceptable alternative when a friend is ignoring you or not taking your calls.

If you said or did something you regret, own up to it and say what you wish you had done, and try not to cancel out your apology with an excuse or explanation. If you didn’t say or do anything wrong but still ended up hurting your friend, it’s also ok to apologize for how something made them feel or for a misunderstanding that occurred.

7. Say how you feel and what you want

An I-statement is one of the best methods of saying how you feel and what you want in a respectful way.[4][5] I-statements usually follow this format: “I felt ______ when you ______ and I would like _________” or, “I feel _____ about _________ and I want you to know _______”.

I-statements are great ways to communicate how you feel and what you want and need from a friend without triggering their defenses. Sentences that start with “You did ___” or “You made me ___” can restart a fight or even make things worse with your friend.

8. Listen attentively when they talk

Listening is just as important, if not even more important, than talking when it comes to repairing a broken friendship.[4] When you are talking through issues with a friend, make sure to pause, ask questions, and encourage them to talk about how they feel about what happened.

Avoid interrupting or talking over them, and try to give them your full, undivided attention when they do open up. Also, don’t forget to pay attention to their body language and non-verbal cues, which can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling and whether the conversation is going well or not.[1]

9. Avoid getting defensive

There may be moments in the conversation when you feel yourself tense up, get angry, or want to shut down or lash out. Try to notice these urges without acting on them, as they can become roadblocks that make it impossible to have a productive conversation.

Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming defensive in a conversation with a friend:

  • Resist the urge to interrupt or talk over your friend
  • Pull back and really listen instead of waiting to talk or rehearsing what you’ll say
  • Take a deep breath and keep your body relaxed and your posture open
  • Keep your voice calm and at a normal volume, and speak more slowly
  • Take a break if you feel like you’re too upset, angry or emotional to be calm

10. Keep your goal in mind

It’s easy to lose sight of what really matters or what you’re trying to accomplish in a conversation when emotions run hot. Identifying a goal for the conversation ahead of time can help you keep the conversation focused and on-topic and can prevent you from restarting the original argument.[2] Keep in mind that your goal for the conversation should be something within your control and not be based on a specific response from your friend.

Here are some good ‘goals’ to have when trying to make things right with a friend:

  • Apologizing for things you regret saying or doing
  • Letting your friend know how you feel or what you want or need from them
  • Finding a compromise or solution to a problem
  • Understanding their point of view
  • Letting them know you care about them and value their friendship

11. Look for compromises

Compromises involve two people being willing to find a middle ground on an issue they can’t fully agree on. All relationships require compromise on certain issues, and being willing to be flexible about what you need and want from your friend is the key to a lasting friendship.

Here are some ways to look for a compromise with a friend you disagree with:

  • Consider topics or statements that could be made “off-limits” to discuss with a friend
  • Ask yourself whether there is a way to both get part of what you need or want
  • Consider what needs or preferences are most important to you in this situation
  • Ask your friend if they can think of a middle ground/compromise
  • Reflect on whether it’s possible to agree to disagree on this issue

12. Go slowly when rebuilding the friendship

Friendships take time to build, and they also take time to rebuild, especially if trust has been broken. Don’t expect things to go right back to normal once you and a friend talk through things, especially if there was a big fight or if a long period of time passed since you were close.

Instead, go slowly and work on gradually re-establishing closeness by:

  • Calling or texting your friend occasionally to check in or catch up
  • Spending short periods of time together after working things out
  • Doing activities together instead of intense 1:1 conversations
  • Keeping interactions light or fun at first
  • Letting your friend reach out to you sometimes, instead of always calling them

13. Don’t repeat the same mistakes

An apology is only sincere when it is followed up with a change in behavior. If you said or did something that harmed your relationship or hurt your friend’s feelings, make sure not to repeat this mistake again. This can further violate trust and destroy your chances of rebuilding your friendship with them. Follow through with making changes in the way you interact with your friend to demonstrate that you want to protect the friendship.[1]

14. Have positive interactions

After a fight, argument, or other negative interaction with a friend, it’s important to have some positive interactions with them. Friendships can be difficult sometimes, but it’s important for the good to outweigh the bad. Having four positive interactions to each one negative interaction may be the key to maintaining trust and closeness with a friend, especially after a really bad fight.[2]

Create opportunities for more feel-good interactions by inviting your friend out to do things you both enjoy, calling them to share good or happy news, or just by reminiscing on good memories you share with them.

15. Know when to let go

Not all friendships are worth saving, and even some that are cannot be saved. Remember that it takes two people to build and maintain a friendship, and it also takes two people to repair one that’s been broken. If your friend isn’t willing to do this work, it may not be possible to restore your friendship with them. In some situations, a friendship may have even become toxic, and letting go of it may be necessary.[4]

If you aren’t sure whether your friendship is toxic, our guide to spotting the signs of a toxic friendship may help.

Final thoughts

Friendship problems are common and do not necessarily mean the end of a relationship. Even if you had a bad fight, said something hurtful, or said or did something to betray their trust, it may be possible to repair things. Having an open, calm, conversation with your friend is often the best way to begin this process, and apologizing, hearing them out, and working to find a compromise can also help you make things right.

Common questions

Can ex-friends become friends again?

It is possible for ex-friends to repair their relationship, as long as both people are open to talking and making things better. In time, you can rebuild trust if it has been lost.

Should I contact ex-friends?

If your goal is to get a friend back, the first step is to reconnect with them. Try sending a text, email, or even a letter asking if they are open to talking, or just give them a call. They may not respond to you, but if they do, it is usually a sign they are open to reconnecting.

How do you know if a friendship is worth saving?

If you have regrets about losing touch or saying or doing certain things to a friend, these feelings can be an indication that you still care about the person and want to be friends. Things may not work out, but your feelings can be a good guide to let you know which friends are most important to you.

Why do friendships fall apart?

Friendships fall apart for a number of reasons. Sometimes, friends grow apart or lose touch with one another, and other times, people get busy and let other priorities get in the way. In some cases, friendships are damaged by words, actions, fights, or betrayals of trust.[3]

How do I fix a broken friendship with a crush?

Making sexual advances or disclosing romantic or sexual interest in a platonic relationship can make someone uncomfortable, especially if they don’t feel the same way. If you’ve crossed one of these lines, apologize, give them space, and let them know you still want to be friends.

Show references +

Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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