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Burned Bridges: Do I Say I’m Sorry or Move On?

In this context, a “burned bridge” means the end of a relationship, often not through positive means. These relationships can be close or not, ranging from work colleagues to family and romantic relationships. Oftentimes there is a significant event or series of significant events that force someone to draw a boundary, possibly leading to burning the bridge. When this happens, the relationship often ends. 

Causes of Burned Bridges

There is no one cause for burning a bridge. There is any number of reasons a relationship can end. Common events that will cause a burned bridge include poor behaviors, such as shouting at a colleague, getting in a physical fight, saying something unsavory to a person, or any other action that can compromise integrity for yourself and someone else

Many who struggle with addiction and actions fueled by addiction often find themselves burning bridges and then struggling to reconnect. No matter the cause of the burned bridge, when a relationship is so tumultuous it turns to high conflict, there should be boundaries in place as well as some serious healing. 

When to Say Sorry

There are times when the bridge is burned, but the words “I’m sorry” are still necessary. People who are hurt by another’s actions need to do what is healthy for them and enforce certain boundaries to protect themselves. A boundary is an agreement that represents the burned bridge. This can look like a person saying, “I can’t see you anymore,” “please don’t come here anymore,” “ask someone else for help,” or other iterations of this. These are clear examples of boundaries that result from burning bridges.

Though one may think they will not see this person again and do not need to try and make reparations, this brief series of questions below may lead one to understand when to say, “I’m sorry”: 

  • Were your actions the catalyst for a significant event? 
  • Did your actions escalate a significant event?
  • Was someone physically harmed? 
  • Was someone emotionally harmed? 
  • Was someone lied to, or misled deliberately by something you said?
  • Was the person forgiving once (or more), and their trust was broken?  
  • Was there money involved or did someone lose large amounts of money or materials due to your actions? 
  • Were there others there to witness a bridge-burning event, making it a potentially embarrassing or socially awkward situation? 
  • Were children or strangers present for the significant event? Were the children scared or worried?
  • Were authorities called to diffuse a significant event or situation? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then the other person or party deserves a sincere and specific apology for the harm done to them. However, it is important to know that they are in no way obligated to accept the apology or renew the relationship. Some people may be unable or unwilling to accept the apology, and that is their choice. Even if a sincere apology is made, the relationship may still be over.

It’s Over When It’s Over

This article is not to shame anyone if the answer was “yes” to any of the above questions. This is to show that the relationship is probably over, and the only recourse may be to apologize and move on. Contacting a person who has set a boundary is not a good idea, no matter what kind of relationship it is/was. It is time to accept that this relationship is over–possibly for good–and cannot be changed. 

Instead of continuing to apologize for harmful behaviors, this could be a good time to figure out how to move forward. If this event is triggering or causes wishful thinking, it is time to enroll in therapy or join a support group to help identify potential struggles. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) operates by identifying current reactions, then consciously using mindfulness practices to stay in the present moment and change behaviors. Many people have made significant recoveries in their relationships and emotional well-being using CBT. 

What to Do If You’re Setting the Boundary

If a person needs to set a boundary, that is okay. If someone has been wronged in the ways described by the questions above, it is obvious that the relationship is tumultuous and the bridge may need to be burned for the welfare of parties. Some examples of setting boundaries include:

  • Telling the other party that you need a break or need space to think
  • Refusing to give or offer help, money, materials, or other things to this person, especially if they’ve violated your trust
  • Asking the other party not to contact you anymore
  • Blocking their phone number, social media, and any other form of contact
  • Filing for a restraining order if you’re worried for your safety or if they don’t stop when you ask
  • Not allowing access to your home, your children, or your money/resources through means of a restraining order, changing locks, or a divorce

If any of these actions escalate the situation, get law enforcement involved early. It is important to end a toxic relationship and never live in fear or carry stress from another person. 

Setting boundaries and burning bridges can sound harsh, but for some relationships, burning the bridge is the healthiest for both parties and someone needs to be strong enough to end it. Humans at their core want what’s best for each other, but that can’t always be achieved together. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and burned bridges, call us at RECO Intensive. At RECO Intensive, we understand that people’s actions during substance use and active addiction do not always reflect their hearts. We can help you overcome your struggles to become the person you want to be. Our professional staff and experienced alumni are here to create a treatment plan specific to your needs and help you overcome your addiction. We offer cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, individual therapy, and couples therapy for those looking to heal their relationships. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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