How to Fix a Broken Relationship

After writing the post, Can You Be Too Helpful? last week, I got a ton of email responses and blog comments from folks with great insights. One of those folks was John Lemmon, who had some great insight. I asked if he might put it together into a guest post, and Voila!

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Everything in this world is based on relationships, and relationships are built on trust. After all, how many people do you want a relationship if there was no trust?

Relationships can survive most things, but not the loss of the foundation of trust. When someone undermines a relationship, trust is the first thing that goes out the window. Would you trust someone who talks behind your back, undermines your position or takes advantage of you? Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, probably not.

But what if you are the one undermining the relationship?

What if you inadvertently said or did something to offend someone you respect?

Is there anything you can or should do to bring the relationship back on track?

Yes. Plenty.

Consider these points:

  1. The best way to maintain a relationship is not to screw it up in the first place! How many times has it been said, “If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it behind their back!” Good advice;) If you email, text, tweet or blog it, it’s out there forever…and one day it may come back and bite you!
  2. If something REALLY has to be said to someone you respect, then say it to them. Don’t talk about them behind their back or they will think you are gossiping — and no one trusts a gossip. But if you go to the person saying, “Hey, I really respect you but lately I have noticed something and we need to talk…”, or,  “Are you aware that what you are doing is damaging your brand…” and so on. Go to the person, and talk directly to them.
  3. But what if you have already said, written, blogged, tweeted the words and can’t take them back? Can you salvage the relationship? Yes, but you need to do the hard yards if you really want to hold onto the relationship.

There are three steps to salvaging a relationship that you have screwed up, and they must be done sooner rather than later. The longer you leave it the worse it will get and the faster trust will deteriorate.

Done quickly and properly, the relationship will survive and maybe even get stronger.


As soon as you know there is an issue, work to resolve it immediately and follow these Three “R’s” to restore the relationship.

–    Recognition
–    Repentance
–    Restitution

First, RECOGNIZE that you screwed up. Accept the blame when you are in the wrong. Go to the person and tell them, “I screwed up.” They may rant and rave, and may be justified doing so, but will soon see you are trying to fix things. (Remember when Claire accidentally sent an email she shouldn’t have? This is what she did. Immediately.)

Then REPENT. Offer your apology for the wrong you did…and mean it. A hollow apology won’t work. Words without feeling are empty and will not cut it.

Finally, make RESTITUTION. You need to take action to rectify the situation. Words are not enough. Tell them how you plan to rectify the wrong, what you will say, what you will do to restore their trust in you. Better yet, ask them what they would like you to do…and then DO IT. If the relationship is important to you, come to them on THEIR terms, after all, they are the ones offended.

Once it is done and the relationship is restored, then you need to move on. Don’t dwell on the past. Move forward and carry the relationship forward so that they and the rest of the world can see it was just a bump in the road.

Relationships take work. And because people are emotional creatures they can easily be screwed up. But very few screw-ups cannot be resolved if you are prepared and willing to put the effort in. You’ve just got to have the will.

Are you willing to put the work in? Have you screwed up a relationship lately that you need to fix? What can you do? Or have you screwed one up in the past that you were able to put right? How did you do it?


After forty years working in various senior management roles, and becoming a qualified accountant, a Six Sigma black belt, a project manager and many other things, John Lemmon found that process is important, but people count more. His purpose now is to give back what has been given to him and to pay forward what he has learned. John writes a Christian Bible study blog at, which contains his thoughts and opinions as he studies the New Testament.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “How to Fix a Broken Relationship

  1. Am Cathrine, a USA Citizen. I am sharing my testimony here to let the world out there know about a man that has really helped me in getting back my lost relationship and now i’m so in love.. my thanks goes to High Priest Otigbolor, he is the realest spell caster i have met and he is so true with his words and dealings, I sincerely thank you so much for this wonders you have done for me. contact high priest otigbolor for your long awaited answers through his he is so true.

  2. And simply due to the law of large numbers, it is likely that having one
    bad streak at some point with your life is actually comparatively high.

    That’s why dating them may be so CONFUSING and FRUSTRATING.

    Maybe if I keep banging my head using this wall, it’s going to come down.

  3. hank you for sharing sound advice on repairing broken relationships. I would offer that this dialog could be enhanced by addressing the other half of the issue. The other half is advice for the person who was wronged on how to accept a genuine effort to repair a broken relationship.
    Here are some suggestions.

    1. Decide immediately whether you want the relationship repaired. Do not make the other party do all that is necessary and then reject their efforts. This will ensure your acquisition of long term enmity from that person. If your best alternative to a broken relationship is to walk away, then do so, and without drama. If you want, need, or believe there is value in a continued relationship, then spell out what is needed to accomplish that result and without judgmental communication.

    2. Don’t use the effort to repair the relationship to bring up other mis-steps, errors, or mistakes. Do not resort to score keeping as a way to tell the offending party how you are escalating the conditions that need to be satisfied to repair the damage.

    3. Do not design tests to see if the other party is trustworthy. Either you accept their efforts at face value or walk away.

    4. What you can do to help the process is to work with the other party to design and use confidence building measures, in both communication and verification of actions, to avoid in the future the inevitable imponderables that contributed to the current misunderstanding.

    This is necessarily a short list. Perhaps by sharing it with your readers, you could ask for additional contributions of advice in this area.

  4. Great post.
    Like the 3R’s. One thing not to forget is that all relationships are based not only on trust, but also on value. “Do I trust you?” and Do you add value?” are the two most important questions in a relationship.
    So while you need to stay on top of the trust quotient, don’t forget about the value one. Too often in relationships, there is a lot of effort put into the beginning of a relationship trying to convince the other (person, company, etc) that you are adding value. Then over time, things get “taken for granted”. This happens in our personal relationships and our professional relationships.

    Relationships take work. Treat every client like you would a new client. And put the work into every individual or team you work with to convince and continue to remind them that you do add both TRUST and VALUE.

    Thanks again for the great post and advice. Keep it up

  5. Frankly speaking you’ve done justice to this topic except that if the person offended is so upset that he/she will not listen to you then you’ll need someone whom the person respected to help in mending the broken relationship.

  6. That’s all good advice without a doubt, and there is no substitute for going through all the necessary steps, but the truth is that you can’t really “fix” a broken relationship. If there was a reason for the relationship in the first place, it will probably fix itself. Otherwise, it won’t. It’s always a process of mutual attraction, like a form of music in a way, and if that still exists the relationship will continue to grow– whether you like it or not. 😉

  7. What was not mentioned, is that the method of restoration needs to be done in the same method and with the same reach as the damage. For example, you tweet to thousands of people. own up with a tweet to thousands and make amends to everybody who was influenced by your mistake. If your damage was done on a more permanent media, amend it with a permanent retraction so that the remedy is equal or exceeds the damage.