In a perfect world, you’d treat your friends like a saint 24/7. But you’re human, and sometimes you mess up.
Maybe you spilled your friend’s secret after you swore to keep it on the DL, or you blurted out something hurtful in the heat of the moment. Deep breath: Your friendship is not doomed.
“Most of the time you’ll be able to fix the problem, but depending on what happened, you also have to be prepared for the possibility that your friend is just too hurt to reconcile,” says Carlin Flora, a friendship expert and author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are.
Take these steps to let your girl know that you realize you made a mistake—and you want to patch things up ASAP.
1. Craft your apology. Let’s say that you often ditched your friend for a guy you were dating, and now that your relationship with him is kaput, you want her back. It’s important to consider what your exact apology is going sound like—and really think about the wording—before you approach her. “Otherwise you could find yourself rambling and apologizing for the wrong thing, which could make you feel uncomfortable and throw you off track, thereby worsening the problem,” says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix. In this case, the “wrong thing” could be that you apologize for dating the guy. But chances are, that’s not what you’re sorry about. The more nuanced—and accurate—version is likely that you weren’t sensitive to her feelings and ditched her without saying sorry. Be sure to zero-in on your message before you talk to her so you clearly present your case.
2. Show some emotion. You’ve been pondering a lot about what to say, so it’s tempting to just bust in and rapid-fire your apology out so that you can get the whole “My bad!” over with already. Don’t do it! You need to give her time to process what you’re saying. Slow down and start the talk by telling your friend how much you love her and miss her. “If you begin by saying something like, ‘We need to talk,’ or ‘We need to hash things out,’ it will trigger fear, and she is more likely to immediately close up or become defensive,” Flora says. [Tweet this tip!] “But if you go straight for the emotional appeal, she’ll be more primed to want to work things out, so you’ll be able to have a more truthful conversation.”
3. Ask how she feels. After you say your part, ask your friend how she feels, Bonior suggests. Something like “I’m sure I made you feel pretty awful” will prompt her to elaborate on her feelings. Listen, apologize again, and add, “I’d really like to be friends again...what do you think?” so the ball is in her court, Bonior says. Remember, you’re the one who messed up, and she deserves to forgive (or not) as she feels fit.
4. Suggest something fun. Once you wrap things up, there’s that awkward “What next?” moment. Sticking around can drag out the issue, so ask her to do something you enjoyed together back when your friendship was fine such as going to yoga class or getting a manicure. [Tweet this tip!] “Doing a familiar activity will help you get back on track so you can move forward and not dwell on the problem,” Bonior says. You can also switch gears and plan a future event, maybe a dinner or going to a party together. The important thing is that you’re focusing on your future as friends, not fixating on your past tension.
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5. Let time works its magic. Don’t assume that once you apologize everything will instantly be happy-go-lucky again. “These things take time, and just because you came forward, you can’t expect her to instantly forgive you and for things to go back to exactly the way they were,” Flora cautions. If you feel that you left things a tad unresolved, it’s fine to go back a week later and check in. Otherwise just let it be—and be sure to not make the same mistake again.