Rebuilding a bridge to the past
Sometimes in life people drift away from us for one reason or another. Perhaps you had a “BEST FRIEND” in your life as a child from whom you were inseparable but as you both grew up, you grew apart. Or maybe you bonded really well with a co-worker at some job in your career. Your kids played together and you cooked out on the weekends together but when you changed jobs you found that it became difficult to find the time. Perhaps a good friend moved away when she got married and distance became the biggest challenge in maintaining your relationship.
We have all had relationships where we have just grown apart for various reasons. For me it feels a bit like we are all boats floating on a big ocean and sometimes the currents of life bring us together at the same port and then we drift away on another tide. Sometimes the currents of life bring us back together again and we make a choice to put energy into rebuilding the relationship.
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” ~Isaac Newton
Learning to rebuild a bridge in any relationship can be trickier than building it the first time. There may be rough water to cross over with hidden rocks beneath the rushing water and there may be delicate boundaries to navigate carefully. It can be done though if both people are willing to make the effort. Sure, one person could start the effort but it takes two people to complete the bridge at some point. Here are three things I think are important to rebuilding bridges in relationships:
1) Go farther than halfway
I have a long time friend who married and moved to a different state. She now has three beautiful children and they certainly keep her busy! One thing I appreciate about her is how she makes an effort to reach out to me – if she is in town and visiting and has time, she’ll reach out to see if we can meet for lunch. She reached out to me after I published my book last year and it meant so much to me for her to acknowledge my pain and tell me how she hurt for me. I love keeping up with her on Facebook and I have realized lately that she goes more than halfway to keep in touch with me. She doesn’t reach out once and then wait for me to take my turn. She is a great example of someone who is willing to go more than halfway.
It’s not about meeting halfway. If you think you can go halfway and just wait for the other person to meet you there, you need to rethink why you are building the bridge again in the first place. Be willing to go first and go farther at times.
2) Honor the boundaries
I didn’t see my brother for thirteen years after I left home. Selfishly, at the time I thought only of myself and the pain I was going through – and honestly I didn’t try to keep a relationship going at the time. It was far less painful to just let it go and I thought it was for the best. I never asked how he felt and I didn’t stop to consider the burden I left on his shoulders as I left our parents’ home. Looking back now, I wonder if I could have done more to help him over the years if I had only tried harder. Regret gets us nowhere in life though. We cannot change the decisions of the past nor can we erase the pain that our choices caused. We can only move forward when given the opportunity.
There may or may not be painful areas and memories from the past that one or both parties don’t want to or aren’t prepared to discuss. If there are sensitive areas that need to be explored to move forward, do so with complete respect for the other person’s feelings, but if that person sets an emotional boundary, it’s important to respect that. Maybe they haven’t healed completely or maybe you haven’t healed completely, but either way, accept that there maybe areas that you don’t share together or don’t share yet. That’s 100% ok as long as you both agree to be honest and open about the fact that you won’t go there and respect that.
3) Focus forward
It’s important that you don’t try to keep placing blame on who did what to destroy the bridge the first time. If you spend all your time and energy trying to insist wasn’t your fault, you won’t get very far. Accept responsibility for your part, acknowledge it, and move on. Focus on the future and what can be accomplished instead of looking back at the past. This might be harder to do if it’s a close relationship and certainly more difficult to do when you are feeling stressed. When you get in an argument there is a temptation to bring back old, painful memories and revisit every mistake ever made by that other person. It’s so much easier to point out flaws in someone else but bringing back blame long after something has been “forgiven” is a sure way to destroy future relationships. Forgiven doesn’t mean forgotten, but if you have truly forgiven, then you can’t bring it back every time you get in an argument over something else.
One last thing in closing – there are some relationships that should not be rebuilt. We must recognize the importance of identifying which relationships will be healthy ones for us to have in the future and which ones would not be healthy. Life is too short to spend one’s time and energy building a new bridge to an old relationship that isn’t healthy. It may be one or both parties who feel like the relationship isn’t a good one for them, and agreeing to disagree is the best thing on both sides.
“Hopefully we can build bridges, but we also have to draw lines.” ~Fred Thompson