Broken promises? How to move on

broken promises, past, necessity

Broken promises break friendships, destroy marriages and undermine businesses.

Yet every day, we hear

I know I promised, but…

I’m sorry I can’t do what I promised…

The more you trust someone, the more their broken promise hurts. There is anger at the promise-breaker, and shame that we trusted them. We lash out, crawl away or pretend we didn’t really care anyways. What advice do you get?

People are quick to advise.  “You shouldn’t be so gullible.” “Get back at her, promise something and don’t deliver. Then she’ll see how it feels.” “Don’t tell anyone, just ignore it.” “Tell everyone what he did, and how he treated you.”

So what should you do? There’s no one right answer: here are some helpful steps to guide you to the best solution for you.

When a promise to you is broken

First, acknowledge your pain. Don’t beat yourself up for believing a promise. It may not have been wise, and you may not do it again. However, at the time, it seemed the right choice. Don’t add to the pain with blame. Think about what you really need to ease that pain. Think what you really want for the future. Inflicting pain and carrying a grudge rarely make you feel better.

Second, assess the situation. Does it matter? Is your pain proportionate to what’s happened? If not, try and figure out what story you are telling yourself about the situation that makes it seem so bad. Check if you have all the facts. Is there something you don’t know? What are your options? What is most important to you? Did the promise mean something different to you than to the other person? Is there a time when you broke a promise for a good reason?

Next, choose your path. Remember you cannot change other people.  If you wait for the other person to act, you are allowing someone else to determine your future. They may not apologise, understand or put things right. You always have a choice, even if it is only how you look at the situation. Will you give the person another chance? If so, what steps can you take to clarify your expectations?  If you decide not to trust that person again, how will that affect you and your relationships? Will this affect whether you trust others? Remember, intentions behind what people do are usually good and not trusting anyone will lead to misery. More on forgiveness (how to do it, why it’s good for you).

trust, distrust, broken promise

Have you broken promises?

We have all broken promises, sometimes for very good reasons, sometimes for bad ones. What can we do to restore trust? First, realise that trust takes a long time to build, and moments to demolish. So don’t expect to go back to the same relationship straight away.

First, acknowledge the other person’s feeling of pain and anger. Don’t offer reasons or justifications first. This may seem unnatural, yet works better. This is because once someone recognises our pain and anger, we are more ready to listen to them. When we offer reasons first, the other person feels that we don’t value them.

Next, apologise. An apology needs to be like a bandage–bigger than the wound. Whatever you do, don’t try and justify your actions at the same time.

Try and put things right. Ask what the other person needs and what you can do.

Finally, Do what you can. Follow through. The best way to rebuild trust is to be trustworthy. (more on rebuilding relationships here)

If you would like to get something off your chest, email me ( or contact me via the website.