The catchphrase of ‘burning bridges’ implies that we've ruined our chances of ever going back. That there is no longer a way to retrace our journey over troubled waters and repair the damage.
While I understand the concept, I don’t necessarily agree with it. When something has been damaged, we repair it. When it has been destroyed we build a new one. It won’t be the same bridge but it can be just as sturdy. The best approach is to take it slowly.
Image courtesy of Lisa F Young / dreamstime.com
Harsh words can be said in the heat of the moment and harsh actions can hurt those we care about. The reason that most of us burn our bridges is that our pride and stubbornness get in the way. Our actions at the time may have given us a feeling of power and control but that feeling soon passes and we are usually left with regret and remorse. The hardest thing to do then is to admit our mistakes or forgive the mistakes of others.
If we weigh up the consequences of burnt bridges, we might find that we’re better off. Maybe it was a relationship that wasn't working or a job that made us miserable. Would going back and trying to repair the damage be the right move? Do we just turn our backs and walk away? Sometimes that’s the smart choice. See
Image courtesy of Bigjom / Freedigitalphotos.net
But if you truly want to salvage the situation, the best course of action could be to begin again. Let’s use the example of a family relationship.
The first thing we have to do is to say sorry – not ‘sorry, but…’ – just sorry. Remember the pride and stubbornness thing. Even if you were in the right, let them know you’re sorry about the consequences of the altercation. If you said or did regrettable things, apologise for those. Don’t apologise for something you didn't do.
Image courtesy of dvdmounsey / freedigitalphotos.net
Give the other person time and space. Don’t push for an apology or reconciliation. If you cannot re-establish communication directly with them, find other ways to let them know you want to repair things. Send an occasional text message along the lines of, ‘Hi, hope things are OK with you. I’m here if you want to talk.’ Or even, ‘Would you like to catch up for a coffee?’ Send a birthday card or Christmas card letting them know you’re thinking of them.
Ask a mutual friend how X is doing. Don’t ask the friend to get involved but let them know that you miss X and think about them often. Hopefully the friend will convey the message.
Image courtesy of greyerbaby / morguefile.com
If you see them at a social function or out in public, give them a small acknowledgement. Don’t approach if they look like they don’t want you to. A smile or a subtle wave is all it needs.
There is no guarantee that any of these approaches will work, but trying to force the issue definitely won’t. If you've done all you can to convey the message that you want to mend the relationship but without response, then you may just have to count your losses and back off.