September 6, 2013

How to Rebuild Bridges After They’ve Been Burned.

Very few of us can reach a certain age and say we haven’t burnt a bridge or two. Or maybe three.

I have. I am not proud of the fact, but it happens.

Sometimes we are justified when it comes to burning them, and other times we are not. In any case, there are situations where for better or worse, we have to continue to have these people in our lives, and some rebuilding of bridges has to take place.

While it isn’t always pretty and certainly isn’t easy, like many things in life we sometimes have to do things we do not want to do for the greater good.

So, should you find yourself in a situation like the one described here, there are some tips that may help to rebuild that bridge. While you shouldn’t expect miracles or even the possibility of becoming friends again hopefully, these tips will allow you to move forward and maintain at least a modicum of civility. Perhaps in time, they might even lead to more:

1.  Say “I’m sorry,” but only say it if you mean it.

Many people are guilty of saying that they are sorry when in fact they are anything but. In my experience, the worst thing someone can do is “apologize” when they do not mean a word of it. A false apology only re-opens old wounds and leads to more conflict.

If you are truly sorry, then apologize. However, do not apologize with the expectation that the other person will forgive you. They may not then and may not ever. You have no control over what the other person will do once you apologize.

Likewise, do not expect an automatic apology from the other person. Apologies with expectations and strings attached to them are not sincere apologies.

2. Try to take a practical approach.

In some situations, neither party may ever want to apologize and will go to their respective graves believing that they are right and the other is wrong. While in a perfect world, it would be for the best if the two of you parted ways and never saw each other again, you cannot do this if you are in a situation where you share children or have to work together professionally.

In this case, a pragmatic approach may be best. For example, a hypothetical conversation may go something like, “We are never going to see eye to eye. We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to work with each other. Let’s do this, because it is for the best of everyone concern.”

If there are certain topics that keep triggering one or both of you, then perhaps come up with a code word in order to stop any would-be conversations about it dead in its tracks.

If you still cannot work together, then consider professional mediation. (In a  work-related situation, your employer may pay for some or all of it.) However, even if you have to pay some or all of it on your own, it may be the best money you ever spent.

3. Remember the past is the past, and leave it there.

I saved this one for last, because this is often the hardest one to master. Yes, the past matters and affects both the present and the future. However, try as we might, we cannot change it.

Holding on to anger and pain—especially if it is justifiable anger and pain—can be comforting. Yet, holding on to it for too long can be destructive.

Remember that the goal in rebuilding a bridge isn’t to ultimately forgive that person or attempt to justify things that happened in the past. Rather, the goal is to focus on the present and future and try to find a means to work with and/or someone you do not like and may never like.

In closing, rebuilding burnt bridges is challenging. There may even be cases where they cannot be rebuilt no matter how much of an effort you put forth.

With that said, in many situations it possible to rebuild bridges even if they are only temporary ones. This may happen in cases where you are forced to have someone in your life that you, ideally, would not like to have there. Again, it’s not easy, but ultimately may lead to a better life—not just for you, but others in your life as well.

Perhaps by keeping the latter in mind, it can make the process possible.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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