Don’t burn your bridges, my Nana used to say. I always thought it just meant to be nice, to try to maintain positivity even after a relationship fails. The whole saying: Don’t burn your bridges behind you. From what I’ve read, it is based on military strategy.
As a military strategy, this is sound logic, in some cases. Should you be attacking, cutting off an avenue of retreat if the battle isn’t going in your favor would be folly. As a defender, however, leaving a path for the enemy to continue to pursue you seems equally foolish. Perhaps that is burning the bridges ahead of you, though.
But I digress.
We’ve come to view that phrase as a reminder to not set fire to connections we may have need of in the future. Some important times to remember that would be when resigning from a job when you may need that employer for a reference later, or when dealing with people in the community who host or lead events.
Maybe you have different political views. Perhaps you have different views of what community looks like. It certainly doesn’t mean you can’t be civil. That is about holding your temper and walking with grace.
But what about exes? I’ve written a little about sharing community space with exes before, and a lot of that is about trying to find balance and the peace of truce.
Some of it is about how things are left. It can be very tempting and a whole lot easier to walk away in anger, severing communication. Even if someone wanted to repair the burned bridge, there’s no way to call a workman.
Sometimes we leave a line of communication open, but that bridge may be a charred husk by the time a workman comes. How can a bridge which is that badly damaged be rebuilt or reinforced so that it can become usable again?
I believe the first step is an apology.
No, not just, “I’m sorry.” That’s what you say when you accidently bump into someone or spill a glass of water at a restaurant. An apology should be intentional, deliberate, and most of all, about owning your shit.
Own your shit.
Apologies that are meaningful don’t include the word but. They don’t place blame on someone else. They are about accepting personal responsibility for your own actions, leaving the rest aside.
Sure, there may be elements which are not your fault and that you may deserve an apology for. Expecting one is asking too much. All you can truly control is yourself, and holding yourself accountable for your actual failures within a relationship is important.
This means an apology should never be rushed into. Make notes. It’s likely you need to think this through before you begin. It might go something like this:
I’d like to apologize for my part in the way things ended. I didn’t take the time to pay attention to your needs and your feelings. Your tank was empty and I didn’t help you fill it. I hope someday you can forgive my inaction.
That apology is not the time to talk about how unhappy you were. It is tempting to mention your feelings, but this isn’t the time. I was unhappy and avoiding you smacks of justifying your behavior, which ruins the effectiveness of the rest of the apology.
If both people can accept their part in watching that bridge go up in flames, and express remorse for it without justification, without blaming the other person, perhaps healing can begin. It may take time.
The bridge may have too much damage and need to be torn down before rebuilding begins. It may have damage which can be repaired and the weak spots can receive reinforcement. The process will be as different for everyone as snowflakes are from one another.
Trust is one of the biggest foundations of what we do in the Kink Community. If trust was broken in some way, that will take additional time to repair, particularly if any type of activities are planned for the future which require trust. Often it takes seeing someone respond differently in a similar situation to one which broke trust in order to fully heal those particular sections of the bridge.
With time, though, so much healing is possible.
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