Building bridges 101
Updated: May 1
How to create long-lasting healthy connections?
Contents of this post:
*This post is the part one of a series. You can find the second part here.
**This series is dedicated to my rock, Arda.
What is a bridge?
A bridge is defined as "a structure built to span a physical obstacle, such as a body of water, valley, or road." The purpose of a bridge is to connect two pieces of land, which are otherwise disconnected.
The English language has beautiful expressions that underline the importance of "bridges" aka precious connections in relationships. Burning bridges is a synonym used to indicate "to act in a way that destroys any chance of returning to the way things were". And along the same lines, building bridges, means "connecting two different groups, improve relationship between two parties."
We all want our relationships, especially the ones that matter to us, survive and thrive.
Yet, some bridges shake and collapse. Some of them burn down. Some of them hang by a thread. And we all know that building good bridges, from scratch can be excruciatingly hard.
I wish I could be the one to tell you the *n* step guide to build a connection. However it is not as easy as that.
Sometimes it can be so daunting to build a bridge, repair a connection so that we might seem to prefer not to have that relationship at all.
"I don't need anything from anyone, I am fine like this" Does it sound familiar?
Some relationships, no matter how hard and hurtful they may be, they are primal and we feel this deep desire to keep them alive, build bridges, over and over again.
After burning down some of my most fundamental bridges and building some more from scratch, I started thinking more and more about what worked for me and what did not.
The purpose of this post is to distill down my experience and insight to equip you with some practical strategies to help you build your bridges.
Again, I don't have a guide/handbook, yet I might have a helpful map for you.
Why do we need bridges?
We need bridges, to connect different people and mend broken relationships or connections.
and I hope you already know that connection, the emotional connection, is vital for human survival. It is not something that you can live without.
It is a fundamental need to survive.
I do not have neither the space nor time to summarize decades long research about attachment research here (feel free to looking to the resources at the end of this series), so for the sake of this post, I hope you can take my word when I say, you need those warm, close, dependable and loving connections (aka healthy and secure bridges) to survive. Literally.
Wouldn't that be great if all relationships were easy and effortless? I mean, if all our relationships were healthy and we lifted each other up and enjoyed our close relationships...
Sadly, that is not always the case.
As we much we believe we are very similar to our loved ones, friends or family; we are separate human beings with different sets needs, values and priorities. When we interact with one another, all these "differences" come together and it is only normal that we will have some level of conflict, misunderstanding and disagreement.
Sometimes these conflicts could turn into something else, increase in magnitude and shake the relationship to it's core. Unfortunately, some relationships do not survive these "earthquakes".
We might lose some of our most fundamental and precious connections with time if we don't stay tuned to this earthquakes. Then, "suddenly" the connection/the bridge that we did not even pay attention before and probably taken for granted for so long, is gone. And we are left miserable and alone in a rift.
After a rift, we have either of the following three choices as I see it:
End the relationship with this person completely and walk away
Do some repair work & start building new connections aka bridges
Live in a limbo (indecisive about whether to work through or walk away)
WALK AWAY - If you decide to end the relationship and walk away, well, then your "problem" is solved in a sense. This is a complicated track as some relationships never really end (if it is formative) and it is a personal choice. So, I will briefly say that if this is really the decision you decide to take, I wholeheartedly support you and I hope you find your peace and closure within yourself.
REPAIR - If you decided that this relationship matters to you somehow (even though it hurts you...) and you need to keep this connection in some shape or form in your life, then welcome to the world of bridges.
LIMBO - There is a third place that you can be, a limbo, and as the name implies, it is neither hell or heaven. At some point, eventually, you need to decide on what to do with this relationship. If you are at this place, I would suggest you to read on, especially how-to part to see if this is something that you are willing to work on or not.
How hard it can be, one might think? to build a bridge - repair, reconcile, and move on?
"I mean, it was just a fight. Not that big deal."
"Come on! Don't hold grudges, the past is gone"
or my favorite one: " Come on, forgiveness is a virtue, be the bigger person here. Life is short."
In my experience, none of the above words are enough or helpful by themselves to bring back a "dead" bridge. (It might even make things worse depending on the language...)
I would say, depending on the degree of the damage, it can be hard to build bridges. It depends on the extend and duration of the damage. Sometimes, little fights accumulate and the emotional bridges are severed so badly that you need to do some elbow-deep "construction" work.
The damage might seem little or superficial on the surface to one party, yet it might be much deeper for the other. (and this lack of awareness can be the exact cause for the collapse...)
In order to address a problem, first you need to acknowledge the presence of it. At some point both parties need to realize that this is serious. If a relationship is broken, significant effort is needed to build the connection/bridge from scratch. From both parties.
So, you need is to acknowledge the problem, perhaps apologize and take responsibility for starters. And then you might have a real shot at moving on.
To create a healthy relationship from scratch (after a collapse to be truthful...) and not fall into the dysfunctional patterns that made the bridge collapse in the first place is hard. It is a lot of effort and work.
It is a process with a vision. And it takes time.
It requires tremendous self-awareness, reflection and strategic thinking to create something new, and actively avoid old and "comfortable" patterns and invite other party to contribute in the process.
As hard as it is, there is no need for despair. It is absolutely possible.
The building blocks of bridges
Before we get into the how to build the bridge, let's take a look of the fundamental blocks of your new bridge.
As in every construction, you will need some building materials. And because we would like it to be solid, you will not use the exact same materials that you used in your "old" bridge.
That is gone. For a reason.
You will now think differently and include some tweaks to make this one stronger and last longer.
Of course we won't use all of these materials listed below in equal parts, yet you will need them all in my opinion.
Empathy (vs blame)
Empath by definition means being able to put yourself in someone else's position, mentally.
By doing so you can understand where they are coming from. This understanding should not be confused with acceptance though. You might understand someone, their reasons, but you might still find their behavior unacceptable. I hope that distinction is clear.
Empathy is the antidote of blame, which is a toxic hammer for all relationships. It wears them down and eventually make them fall apart. We will look into this duo in the how-to part more but for now I would say that you will need to get into other person's shoes every now and then if you want a a healthy bridge.
Kindness (vs niceness)
Kindness means "being friendly, generous and considerate" and it should not be mixed with niceness.
Niceness is not a genuine place to be and implicates that you are doing certain things, despite the fact that you don't want to do them. Niceness means you operate on "should" and when you operate on should, it is hard to be authentic as you tend to let people cross over your boundaries, in order to be "nice". I believe being nice somehow has a tendency to end up being very mean, as it is hard to keep up being nice, acting like you are okay with certain things when you are really not. Resentment builds up and eventually you become mean.
Being mean is an obvious "hammer". So as a way going forward, I would suggest going forward please consider replacing niceness with kindness which means you would say no from time to time, but you will be generously giving within your comfort zone.
Acceptance (vs rigidity)
Wouldn't that be great if everyone think like us and behaves as we wish? Wouldn't that be amazing if things happened the way we wanted on that exact time?
Well, life is nothing like that.
People are different and they have different values, characteristics, capacities and priorities. Unless you have an identical clone, there will be always difference in opinion which will create conflict. Conflict itself is not the problem for relationships but unaddressed, continuous conflict is. When people start to polarize more and more on their views, and dig their heels in, they become narrow-focused and rigid.
Rigidity is a big hammer. The antidote for rigidity is acceptance.
Accepting people as they are means appreciating what they are capable of -with the good and the bad and the missing parts...- If you have a realistic understanding of the other party's capacity, than you can decide whether you can accept them as they are or not, and hopefully you can be more flexible.
Self-awareness (vs defensiveness)
I know we all tend to get self-involved from time to time. We feel like we are in the center of universe and other people are not getting us fully. I feel like it is okay to be in this state of mind from time to time, but being too self involved and turning things into a monologue or just want to address only your needs in a relationship is not healthy.
This is very important especially if you have loved ones who have slightly narcissistic tendencies, which also brings lots of control by being needy and being low on empathy. Especially if that is what you are up against, I would strongly suggest that you build a strong self-awareness and try modeling it.
Self-awareness means being tuned into what you are thinking, feeling and your bodily responses. If you are struggling to voice your needs for instance, then you can tune into your feelings of disappointment, rage and try to improve this self-awareness by kindly articulating your needs.
If something does not feel right, probably it is NOT. Listen to your gut.
Increased self-awareness would be the antidote of defensiveness, as you don't need to be defensive and would be demonstrating what you need clearly. You can model some self-awareness to other party so that they can hopefully at some point realize that the relationship is not JUST about their needs and wants...
Ability to endure uncertainty (vs stability)
This is kind of given. If you want to change something and decide to do something you have never done, it would be scary, I grant you.
I understand you would rather have stability and "calmness". That might look like not trying too hard to change things or leaving things as they are, however messy they might be.
I understand this ambivalence and perhaps better labelled as "fear of the dark or unknown", but if you are reading until here, I feel like there is a strong part in you that wants to create something new and that really calls for uncertainty and some changes. There is no way around this...(sorry.)
We can perhaps learn how to hold this ambivalence for the sake of creating healthy and life-long relationships.
As long as you are thinking, moving forward and trying to make things better, you are doing GREAT.
There won't be an handbook exactly, even though tons of information and relationship research out there, it might feel like you won't know what you are doing exactly, whether you are going forward or not. That is totally normal, in my experience. I believe enduring this uncertainty and keep going forward is the key to build relationships. The process will not last forever and you will realize when you are "there", believe me.
Tenacity (vs impatience)
Along the same lines... Changing things take time. They won't happen overnight. I know we would have like to have things grow fast and bridges getting repaired quickly, yet these kind of PROCESSES take time. I invite you to be patient and consistent. Keep investing, keep thinking and it will be fine.
When you feel like giving up, or not seeing the "results" of your efforts, please keep hanging in there. I assure you, you will figure this out.
Hope (vs desperation or regret)
Last building block, yet the most important one is hope.
One must never let hope go, when they embark on a journey. Any journey. And this is no different.
It might get tough and ugly. (It usually does...) You might feel lost from time to time. You might feel like things are not going well, or you have wasted your time or efforts... (That is desperation.)
Or you might be feeling "Why bother? I am better off without this person"
I want you to genuinely reflect within you and answer this question: "Is there hope in this relationship? Do you believe there is a future?"
Imagine yourself at 80. Looking back to your life, would you rather say "I could have tried once more, maybe things could have been different" or " I am so glad I went through the process and never lost my hope. I created something healthy and I am proud of myself"
I would rather have you say the latter. The first one is Regret and I do not wish you to regret for the things you have done while you could have changed them.
I invite you to do this little exercise and believe in your hope. Regardless of how little that hope may be. That is your SEED.
That little seed, keeps this relationship alive. That keeps all dreams and our souls alive. I do hope you don't lose that hope and embark on this journey of building your bridge.
I believe that you have the strength in you to build new bridges.
Trust yourself and let's do this!
In the next post (here), we will discuss how to use these building blocks to build our bridges with more concrete examples blended with my personal experience with bridges...
Hope to see you there.