Life Advice



Person to Person: How to repair broken relationships

Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen, Tribune News Service on

Published in Helping Yourself

Are you refusing to speak to a family member? Maybe this person did something harmful to you. Or did an old friend betray you with gossip or lies?

We’ve all had relationships go sour at some point in our lives. Parents and adult children can have a falling out. Co-workers can have conflict. Neighbors can get into quarrels.

Not all relationships are worth repairing. And, in many cases, some individuals don’t want you to extend an olive branch. Mending fences is a sensitive endeavor.

“Having a small relationship with someone is better than total cutoff,” says a psychologist we’ll call Gregory. He and his brother own a therapy practice in a large Southern city.

Gregory believes it takes a lot of energy to totally ignore someone. He contends that just being on some type of speaking terms is better than having to remain silent.

“Totally ignoring someone takes more energy than being able to acknowledge them,” says Gregory. “Nodding a polite hello is often better than nothing.”

If you’re wondering how to mend a broken relationship, decide first if it’s worth the effort. These tips can help:

— Be careful about reaching out to dishonest people. For instance, if your daughter’s best friend stole a checkbook or credit card from your house, don’t try to reopen the friendship door. Many people must remain off your property for good.

— Think about removing any awkwardness. An example would be that your ex-wife has remarried. Despite the tension, she’s bringing her new husband to a family event for your child’s high school graduation. In most instances, it pays to rise above the tension and say “hello” to the new couple. This forces you to move on and not play the victim.

— Remain polite in the face of rudeness. Maybe your aunt called you fat in front of your boyfriend. You can’t feel close to her again. Instead, just ask her, “How are you doing?” Don’t try to grill her about her rude remarks. Let impolite conversation slide down the tubes.


“Your goal is simply to give yourself some breathing room,” says Gregory. “Forcing yourself to speak to the person you dislike removes the awkwardness — for you. In some cases, a new relationship can be forged. Every case is different.”

A man we’ll call Darrell says his mother ran off with his father’s best friend. Darrell was 11 at the time. He stayed with his father.

“When I turned 30, my mother called me to talk,” says Darrell. “I didn’t interrogate her or talk about our pain. I knew we had to build a whole new relationship.”

Darrell says his dad was abusive to his mother.

“My dad had a brain injury from being in the military,” says Darrell. “I decided not to judge my mom, but to simply see what kind of relationship we could have.”

It’s been five years since Darrell reconnected with his mother.

“We talk on the phone and visit a couple of times a year,” he explains. “My childhood time with her is lost, but we’ve built a lot of common ground. Her husband did apologize to me for the drama. He says he feels terrible about a lot of things.”

Mending fences means we have to accept the truth. We can’t fantasize that a relationship can be restored to what it could have been.

“What’s good about forming a new, workable relationship is that some type of healing starts to take place,” says Darrell. “We can open the door and see what happens.”

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