The Key to Repairing Damaged Relationships


HI, and welcome to Talk RX with Doctor Neha. What do you want to know about communicating effectively with your family, with your friends, with your partner, with your boss, or with your colleagues? This week’s question comes from a woman in Florida. She says, “Dr. Neha, I’ve been in a fight with a friend for a long time. I wanted to reach out to her, but I’m not really sure how to open up the lines of communication again. I was wrong, and I worry that if I say sorry or ask her for her forgiveness, she won’t be receptive. What would I do then?”

That’s a brave question. First, all of us make mistakes. Especially if you haven’t talked to someone in a long time, usually you start to notice if someone’s important to you or not. If the situation happened a long time ago and you’re still thinking about it, I would guess that this person is important to you. So probably the first place to begin is asking yourself, “What does this person mean to me? Why do I value this person?” Get really clear about why that is.

The second thing is to understand why you took this action that was hurtful to the other person or damaged your relationship.

  • What was going on for you in that time?
  • What might the impact have been?
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What might the impact have been for that person?

It sounds like you haven’t spoken to your friend in a long while. You’ve been living your life but this person has you frozen in time: where they remember you is when this fight occurred or when this incident occurred. They may have heard some other things about you in the interim through friends or through the grapevine, but, for the most part, that’s where their experience of you stopped.

You’re absolutely right when you say you aren’t sure whether this other person is going to be receptive. What it sounds like is, at the very least, you’re ready to forgive yourself. You’re ready to take the bold move of telling this other person that you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness. Now, forgiveness is a little bit tricky, because a lot of people worry that “What if I say sorry and ask for forgiveness but the other person doesn’t forgive me?” I’ve had experiences like this, and I’ve actually had them go both ways. I’ve apologized and said, “Hey, I want to make amends here,” and the other person replies, “Wow, I’ve really missed you and I want to reconnect; I would love to do that too.”

I’ve also had the experience where I’ve gone in and said, “You know what? I’m ready to let bygones be bygones, and I’d really like to connect to you.” I remember a time when one of my friends just got up and said, “There’s nothing that I could say to you that would ever repair what you have done to me.” It was so surprising to me, and it was hurtful. He stormed out of the tea shop we were in. What I learned that day about forgiveness is something important: I had to be ready to forgive myself and forgive this situation. Usually, the truth is, it’s not just that one person does something to someone else. It’s usually that two people have had an interaction that usually ends up hurting both of them.

If you’re showing up and saying, “I’m ready to acknowledge my part of this and say sorry,” sometimes the other person isn’t ready. That’s the reality of forgiveness—but the beauty of forgiveness is that forgiveness is not for the other person. You’re actually doing it for yourself. I think about it like I’m wearing a backpack, and every time I think about that person and that interaction, I throw another “brick in the backpack. “Ugh, I can’t believe that. I just don’t like how I’m not speaking to that person. I miss that person.” It weighs me down. I didn’t like how I behaved. I didn’t like how I acted. Every time I think of it, I keep throwing these invisible bricks in, and I keep getting heavier and heavier.

The moment I’m ready to forgive myself and have that conversation with somebody else, I take off that backpack. I’m ready to set it down and say, “I’ve learned the lesson I needed to learn here. I’m not going to beat myself up, and I’m not going to carry this around anymore.” Forgiveness is actually for you.

In that incident where my friend got up and left, I had sat down with him and said, “Hey, I’m just wondering if we can make bygones be bygones. Is there anything that you need to tell me? I’m willing to listen if there’s any way that I’ve hurt you or that we haven’t spoken about, or anything I need to apologize for. I’m ready to hear it.”

When he stormed out of that tea house, I had already taken off that invisible backpack that had been weighing me down for a long time, because I really cared about him. It was almost as if he held on to his backpack really tightly and picked up mine too. That’s his choice. My coming to him and asking him that question doesn’t mean he has to be ready. It just means that I’m ready, and I’m willing to take the risk to see if he is.

I can’t give you any guarantees on how your friend is going to respond. What I can tell you is I’m really proud of you. You have thought through this. You’re taking the brave and courageous step to initiate saying sorry. How will you show up? Are you going to be open, curious and receptive, or are you going to come in and be guarded, and defensive and reactive? Those preparations, those moments in how you respond and react to somebody who’s hurt and maybe hasn’t thought about this in a long time, are important.

In my book, in chapter fourteen on anger, I talk about how the antidote to anger is compassion and forgiveness. I include some important questions in this chapter that will help you get clear on how to go about forgiving yourself as well as forgiving another person, because I know forgiveness can seem like a little bit vague and ambiguous.

Thank you for your question. I hope that was helpful. Thank you for all of you who are listening. Can you think of an incident or a relationship in which forgiveness needs to play a role? If it’s true, make sure that you really think about this. No matter how it goes, I want you to remember that forgiveness is for the person who’s ready to do it. It’s actually not for the other person. It’s about you surrendering and saying you’re ready to learn from this experience, heal from it, and, hopefully, bridge from your heart to someone else’s.

Thanks for tuning in. Drop me a tweet at #askdoctorneha, or come on over to the comments below and let me know what your question is.

Your Awareness Prescription

  1. What does this person mean to me? Why do I value them?
  2. What role have they played in my life?
  3. How was what I said or did hurtful to the other person or our relationship?
  4. What do I need to acknowledge or take personal accountability for?
  5. Have I forgiven myself?

To lightening the load,

Doctor Neha logo


2 Responses

  1. My question is this…what about a situation in which the other person is a narcissist and possible sociopath. The actions will continue but your hurt/anger and a host of other emotions are tearing you up. You know you need to forgive but can’t.

    1. Thanks for your question Kris. Forgiveness is for you. It actually has nothing to do with the other person. Read my book TalkRx Ch. 14 Taming the Volcano Within – it has the steps to forgiveness! You will feel so much better.

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