What to do when you messed up in a relationship: 16 ways you can fix it 

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Your relationship is in the dumps and it’s all your fault.

Whatever you’ve done or said, it’s had bad repercussions and there’s a huge chance your partner (or ex-partner) never wants to see you or talk to you again.

I could go on and make you feel even worse, but that’s not going to help you get your life back on track.

So instead, we’re going to put your mistakes to one side (for now) and look at what you can do to fix the problem and potentially win back your loved one.

As someone who’s both messed up, and given second chances to others, I know how it feels to be in this situation, and I’m here to tell you that you can fix your mistakes.

But first, let’s look into the main reasons why people mess up and relationships break down, to help you better understand why your mistake might have happened

Why do relationships break down?

Relationships are tricky, not only are you creating new experiences together, but you’re essentially dealing with each other’s past traumas and personal issues.

Let me explain:

Boy meets girl. The boy has trust issues, and the girl has poor communication skills.

All is well, until these issues that stem back way before they met start popping up, and before you know it, the relationship isn’t functioning as healthily as they’d hoped.

And this cycle continues until one or both people realize that to be in a healthy relationship, you first have to work on your issues individually to then show up and be a good partner to someone else.

Unfortunately, not many of us are aware of our traumas and issues, so we continue as if nothing is wrong and we act as if the problem is never us.

Until we make a mistake, and then we’re forced to confront what went wrong. And sometimes, it’s too late to save the relationship.

So what are the main reasons that a relationship fails?

According to PsychologyToday, these are the most common factors:

  • Trust issues – cheating, lack of emotional or physical support, not being reliable or dependable
  • Having different priorities and expectations of what the relationship should be like
  • Progressing differently – one person grows rapidly and the other gets left behind
  • Communication issues – not being able to communicate is a huge factor in breakups
  • Not being compatible – in intimacy, personality types, and attachment styles

So the chances are if you messed up by cheating on your partner, or by lying to them about something, other issues are going on.

They could be issues in your relationship, or they could be issues that are completely personal and that only you can work on.

But either way, there’s always the possibility that you won’t be able to get your partner to forgive you, especially if you’ve deeply hurt them.

Potentially hidden forces at play

What makes relationships feel like an absolute minefield is that we often don’t see or understand motivations that are bubbling away below the surface.

For example, a fascinating new theory in relationship psychology — called the hero instinct — says that men have certain biologically driven needs. No, not those kinds — emotional needs.

And if these needs aren’t being met, a long-term partnership is going to be incredibly difficult to sustain.

Essentially, a strong desire to protect and provide for those they care about means men instinctively crave certain things from the woman in their life.

But not only are the vast majority of women not aware about this (so don’t do it) most guys don’t know about it either.

A guy needs to feel like he’s earned your respect and if he doesn’t it pretty much spells curtains for the relationship — blame biology.

Click here to watch a really interesting free video explaining all about the hero instinct, how it works and why it’s vital for the sake of your relationship to understand it.

I’ll mention the hero instinct a little later on too, as learning how to trigger it really can save a struggling relationship.

But for now, without further ado, let’s get straight into the ways you can fix your mistakes, and then we’ll look at what to do next.

16 ways to fix your relationship when you’ve messed up

1) Reflect on your actions

Before you rush in with apologies and countless gifts or peace offerings, it’s vital that you first understand exactly what you did.

If you’ve seriously hurt your partner emotionally, you need to grasp how deep the damage is and what your role was in that.

Did you do it intentionally?

Were there other factors in your life that contributed to your behavior?

The sad truth is:

We tend to take our frustrations out on the people we love the most.

So by identifying stressful areas in your life, it could help you work out why you messed things up so catastrophically with your partner.

On the other hand, if the relationship with your partner is what caused the problems in the first place, you need to look back and work out where things went wrong.

And the only way to do this?

Lots and lots of self-reflection.

2) Take responsibility for your mistakes

Once you’ve reflected properly, now you can take responsibility for your actions.

There’s no point groveling or owning up to your mistakes without fully understanding why they happened – and your partner will see through this too if you’re not genuine.

So once you’ve cleared your head from all the emotions flying around, it’s time to sit down with your partner and take responsibility.

And this means no excuses, no playing the blame game or trying to skirt around the subject – pure, brutal honesty is needed here.

3) Be completely honest with yourself and your partner

Now that you’re ready, be honest with yourself and your partner and bare all.

No matter how uncomfortable the conversation is (and it probably will be, after all, you’re exposing your true feelings and talking about painful subjects) you have to persevere.

And if your ex doesn’t want to talk?

Explain that regardless if you get back together or not, this conversation needs to happen because it’s the only way you’ll both fully understand each other.

And without this understanding, it’s going to be much harder for you both to move on, together or separately.

4) Actively listen to your partner

So once you get to have a proper conversation with your ex, here comes the tricky part:

You have to actively listen to them.

And that means not listening to reply, but simply concentrating and listening to what they have to say, whilst taking it all in and processing it.

It’s even helpful to ask lots of questions to your partner such as:

  • How did my actions make you feel?
  • What would make the situation better?
  • What can I do to improve things between us?
  • What do you wish I/we had done differently?

Stay present. Listen intently. Don’t interrupt and certainly don’t try to argue back against their feelings.

At this point, your partner is feeling pretty bruised and hurt emotionally, so the best thing you can do is make them feel heard.

Repeat back what they’ve said to you, use your body language to let them know you’re listening, and look them in the eye when they speak.

5) Don’t be defensive

And most importantly during this honest conversation?

Don’t be defensive – don’t distance yourself from the mess you’ve made.

When we behave defensively, it’s our ego coming out to argue back and cover up what we’re ashamed to admit.

If you let your ego get the better of you, you can say goodbye to your relationship now.

And I don’t say that lightly.

Being defensive can make or break your connection at this fragile time in your relationship, so put it to one side.

Even if your partner is being slightly dramatic and you don’t fully agree with what they’re saying, remember, you messed up.

And you have to fix it.

So drop the defensive barrier and understand that they’re hurt and all you can do is take responsibility without giving any lame excuses in the process.

6) Be empathetic

If you manage to get to this stage, that means you’ve truly listened to your partner, reflected on the mistakes you’ve made, and made a real effort to understand their feelings.

Only then can you be fully empathetic to their needs – you can now put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they feel.

Sometimes being empathetic can get lost in the heat of all the emotions and you forget that at the heart of it, they feel sad and confused.

And you probably do too, so stop focussing on who did what, and instead put all your energy into making them feel understood.

They’ll be much more likely to accept your apology if they can see that you get how they’re feeling.

7) Apologize sincerely

So here’s the part that we’ve been building up to:


For better or worse, the apology can be the hardest part, especially if it’s sincere.

Sure, we’ve all apologized even if we didn’t fully mean it, but a casual “sorry” isn’t going to cut it.

And neither will a long speech apologizing and begging for forgiveness (it might work in the movies, but in reality, it doesn’t always come across as being very genuine).

So how can you effectively apologize to your partner?

Well, I would start by explaining how much time you’ve put into reflecting, understanding their point of view, and taking responsibility for what you did.

Then, I would apologize calmly, maintaining eye contact and not just saying “sorry”, but explaining why you are sorry.

For example — you lied to your partner and they’re hurt about it.

Here’s a general outline for how the apology might go:

“After spending time looking back on my actions, I can see that I hurt you by not being honest. I think that some of the reasons I did it come down to struggling with avoidance issues, and it’s something that I need to work on.

“But while I work on these issues, I want to apologize for my actions — I can see that it wasn’t fair and you have a right to be angry and upset. I hope that we can move forward from this.”

With this apology, you’ve shown them that you understand and take responsibility, and your apology comes with the promise of making changes and doing better.

And who knows, maybe this will be enough to make them give you a second chance, especially if they see you are genuine about making improvements to yourself and the relationship.

8) Dig deeper into the root cause of your relationship problems

I briefly spoke in the introduction about how relationship problems usually go far deeper than the surface issues which you see.

Partners who stray, who suddenly go cold, who fly off the handle etc. probably aren’t happy at home.

Of course, it can just be a reflection of the individual and not the relationship at all. It may be issues that you need to work on separately.

But it’s still important to do some probing around what is really going on and any areas where you’re not content in your relationship.

This isn’t about trying to shift blame in any way for your own actions onto your other half.

You messed up and that’s on you.

But it is about being honest and getting to any other root causes which factor in and may need fixing.

Do you feel unappreciated by your partner?

Do you feel unheard?

Do you feel stifled by them?

A lot of these types of underlying issues occur when the hero instinct is not being triggered within a relationship.

I mentioned the hero instinct briefly already.

All men have an innate drive for meaning, and as part of that, they need to feel respected and wanted.

In short: They want to be a woman’s hero.

And if something is getting in the way of this, relationship chaos can ensue.

There could be underlying problems like this happening in your relationship which you never even considered before.

I’d recommend watching this free video to learn exactly how to trigger the hero instinct in your relationship.

It’s totally fascinating stuff, and regardless of whether it helps you mend bridges right now — I promise this information is a relationship gamechanger moving forward.

Here’s the link again for that video.

9) Be productive in making changes

But once you’ve apologized, now you’ve got to stick to your word.

If you’ve identified an area that you need to change – set about physically changing it.

My partner can have quite an explosive temper from time to time, and there have been moments where he’s messed up massively.

So what made me consider giving him another chance?

It was his commitment to working on himself:

Once I could see that he was reading about anger management, practicing yoga and other sports to release energy and calm down, and physically redirecting his anger when he felt it building up, I knew he was doing everything he could.

So you need to do the same, heck, even go for counseling if you think it will help.

There’s no shame in seeking external support, and if anything it will make your partner realize that you’re serious about change.

So buy that book, take those workshops and do what you need to do to improve yourself.

10) Keep your partner involved

And as you’re making these changes and learning more about yourself, it’s a good idea to keep your partner in the loop too (if they want to).

In my case, my partner came up with an action plan, and we both knew what we had to do if he started getting stressed out.

For me, it was to stay calm and ignore his behavior.

And his job was to breathe, take ten minutes to cool off by reading a book or lying down, and then we’d get back together to talk calmly about the issue.

But because I felt involved in his efforts to change, I got a chance to see clearly how much he’s trying rather than if he was doing this all alone.

So this could be a great way to rebuild that bond you once had and show your partner how much you’re willing to change.

11) Be open to making compromises

Now, you’ve apologized and you’re trying to rectify your mistake.

But your partner might still not be convinced, and that’s okay.

It’s normal, but you should be prepared to make some compromises.

For example, if you cheated with a friend, it’d be rational for your partner to expect you to not see that person again.

If you blew your savings in the casino, your partner will probably insist on you avoiding gambling altogether.

So instead of fighting back, be willing to compromise and make sacrifices, after all, what’s more important, saving the relationship or continuing your bad habits?

12) Learn to be consistent

Being consistent means that you do what you say you will do. You follow through every time.

If you tell your partner you’re never going to lie to them again, it means you won’t even tell them a little white lie.

If you tell your partner you’re going to make more effort in the relationship, that’s exactly what you need to do.

Consistency builds up trust, and the more you can show how consistent your words are with your actions, the quicker your partner might learn to forgive you and move on.

13) Give your partner time and space

So even with your apology and promise of change, your partner might still need some space and time.

And who can blame them?

If you’ve been going through a rollercoaster of emotions, can you imagine how they’ve felt?

So as tempting as it might be, showing up to their house randomly or calling them 25 times in one day is probably going to make things worse.

Don’t pressure or harass them into talking to you, just let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready to get in touch.

Sometimes, having a little time apart can be the best healer, and it can make you both realize which direction you think the relationship needs to head in, for good or bad.

14) But show them that you’re not giving up

But just as you want to give them time to heal, there’s no harm in showing how sorry you are and how hard you’re willing to work at the relationship.

Even if your partner is still acting cold or distant, let them know occasionally that you’re thinking of them and keep them updated with any changes you’ve been making.

If there’s a special event coming up, like a birthday or anniversary, send them something thoughtful and meaningful, even if you don’t give it to them in person.

Hopefully, they’ll appreciate the thought you’ve put into it and even if they don’t reach out to you, you’ll certainly be on their mind.

15) Communicate in a way that works for both of you

And once they do come around, it’s a good idea to rebuild the relationship in a way that suits you both.

Starting with communication.

We all have different ways of communicating and having different love languages can cause huge problems in a relationship.

During my partner’s heated phase, we realized we simply weren’t talking the same language.

He comes from an extremely logical, “black and white” place of thinking, whereas I’m all about the emotions (you can see where our problems escalated).

But once we started to recognize this, we worked on talking to each other in a way that made sense to both of us, and this made repairing the relationship so much easier.

Find out how your partner communicates, which way is best to approach a conversation with them, and use it to make positive changes.

16) Focus on the positives as well as the negatives

Throughout this whole process, everything has been mainly about your mistake and the areas you need to improve on.

But here’s the thing:

Your mistake didn’t necessarily erase all the good stuff that you had together.

It certainly puts a blip on things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on the positive aspects you share whilst you work on the negative issues.

So if your partner is open to talking, don’t be afraid to bring up all the strengths in your relationship and highlight everything you’ve achieved together.

And ultimately, don’t forget to keep things lighthearted and fun from time to time.

Some couples get completely bogged down trying to “fix” all their issues, so much so that they stop having any fun or intimacy, and they forget to just enjoy each other’s company.

Maybe by doing this, they’ll miss what you guys once shared, and they’ll be more willing to give things a second chance.

So now we’ve covered everything you can do to fix your mistakes, what if it isn’t enough?

What if your partner still doesn’t want you back?

Here comes the real kicker:

Even following all these tips, your partner still might not want to take you back.

And this will depend primarily on how badly you’ve messed up, whether it’s the first or 15th time, and how much their perception of you has changed.

The sad truth is:

You might not bounce back from this.

And if that’s the case, you have to know when to give up and move on, for your sake and theirs.

There’s no doubt that you’ll feel a lot of guilt, shame, and hurt over this, but instead of using it to wallow in depression for months, see it as a catalyst for change.

Yes, you hurt someone you love.

Yes, you’ve disappointed yourself.

And yes, you’ve lost a great relationship because of it.

But that doesn’t mean you have to stay stuck this way, you have the power to change your bad habits and improve yourself.

And who knows, all this hard work could lead to an even better relationship in the future, one where you’re ready and sure of yourself thanks to all the hard battles you’ve gone through.

One of my favorite sayings is, “you win some, you learn some”.

So even when things go wrong, relationships end and you feel like you’re back to square one, there’s always a lesson to be learned and changes to be made.

And to help start those changes, let’s delve into some of these myths that people get caught up in when it comes to apologizing and fixing mistakes:

Apology myths debunked

I get it, apologizing and putting yourself out on the line can make you feel vulnerable and bring up old feelings that you’d rather avoid.

But you won’t get anywhere by not confronting the truth, and here are some real problems that people encounter when they’re trying to overcome their issues and win back the trust of a loved one:

Apologizing to my partner means they’re right

In this case, you’re apologizing for hurting them, not necessarily for your actions.

Even if you were in the right in some ways, your apology doesn’t have to be anything more than a way to show you understand how they feel, and that you’re sorry they’re hurt.

And if you’re in the wrong?

Then own up and admit it, there’s nothing worse than dragging on a lie just because you can’t face the truth.

If they take me back, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for my mistakes

Ultimately, it’s going to take work from both sides.

You’re going to have to prove that you can change and that you’ll never make the same mistake twice, but they equally will have to learn to get over their pain and move on.

And if your partner is unable to let go, even once you’ve proved that you can do better, it might be worth seeking therapy to help them process their pain healthily.

The bottom line is, this is a possibility but it’s not a situation you have to remain stuck in for long, and it’s essential that your partner also undergoes healing to avoid this from happening.

I’ll appear weak if I recognize my partner’s pain

Recognizing your partner’s pain doesn’t make you a doormat or weak, it means you’re capable of feeling empathy and this is a real strength.

You’re capable of listening to them, taking onboard their pain, and putting yourself in their shoes, and if anything, this will help rebuild a relationship quicker than ignoring how they feel.

If I disagree with my partner, I have a right to be defensive

As mentioned earlier, being defensive gets you nowhere.

Plus, it’s pretty hurtful to disregard your partner’s feelings, especially if you’re the one who’s caused the pain initially.

Do you know how they truly felt when you hurt them?

No, so you don’t get a say in how they get to feel, and being defensive will only hurt them more.

Even if you disagree with them, listen and be open to talking about it rather than making excuses or downplaying the situation.

Take away

Messing up hurts — not only your partner but it can bring you down and fill you with guilt and negative feelings.

You feel like you’ve lost a lot due to this terrible mistake, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But don’t lose hope!

Your life can change in so many great ways once you start taking responsibility for yourself — and once you accept your issues and work on them, you’ll start to feel drastically better.

And, this can have great, positive effects on your relationship too, after all, every relationship goes through ups and downs.

But it’s the ones where both people are committed to working on themselves that tend to work out, so there’s still reason to hold on and try to win your partner back.

And if it still doesn’t work out?

Well, it won’t be easy but you’ve got a lot of work to do, and you can use this time alone to focus on yourself and overcome any issues you need to work on — you will survive this.

Then, you’ll be ready to face whatever life throws at you, whether it’s a new relationship or even a second chance at your old one.

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Written by Kiran Athar

Kiran is a foodie, writer and traveler. She considers herself a citizen of the world, who gets her inspiration from the people she meets along her journeys. She's currently living in Spain, where she spends her time writing, watching the shepherds and eating tapas in the mountains of Andalucía.

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