When To Build A Bridge, and When To Burn One

My stomach sank with dread. In the middle of a conversation with my friend Lauren in her apartment, I glanced down to my phone sitting in my lap and read the words on the screen. One unread message. I hesitated to even read what it said.

Every time he sent me another text or Facebook message, I felt paralyzed in what to say. Every time I saw him on campus my stomach tied in knots. And yet here he was again, getting at me with the same old charade.

I thought we were friends.
Why don’t we talk anymore?
This is on you, not me.

At one point in time, we had something between us. We talked frequently, we hung out, we interacted. I liked him, he liked me. But pretty quickly I recognized some serious red flags in our connection. He wanted me to change, and I didn’t want to. He demanded my time, and I gave it to him wastefully.

Eventually, I told him it wasn’t going to work out. But even then, almost a year later, he was still pestering me and I was still feigning that I wanted him too. I didn’t want to say no.

I continued talking to Lauren and silently weighed my options. I could just ignore him…but then he would get angry. I could just be nice…but then he might get the wrong idea. I could be short with him…but that would be rude.

Or I could do the courageous thing and be honest…but that would be hard.


I found myself then and often do today in crisis. I knew that my relationship with another human being was unhealthy. In fact, even seeing or hearing from him brought back bad memories, insecurities, and self-doubt. He made me feel like trash, like I was someone to call to use and hang up to dry. But to let him go completely from my life? Well then I would be the jerk, crushing him and making everything awkward.

So many times, I have thought that only my physical body could deal with the repercussions of infection. After a bad bike crash or pavement burn, an open wound that isn’t taken care of properly festers and oozes painfully, unable to heal. But our interactions with other people are just as likely to become open sores in our lives when we let unhealthy friendships stick around for far too long.

[clickToTweet tweet=”People become open sores in our lives when we let unhealthy relationships stick around.” quote=”People become open sores in our lives when we let unhealthy relationships stick around.”]

Human relationship, whether romantic, friendly, or casual, is one of the greatest investments we will ever make. In fact, strip away our hobbies, our possessions, and our thoughts, and people are all we really have. Because of friends, family, and lovers, we laugh, sing, run, fly, shine, adventure, and celebrate.

But the hard truth is that people not only benefit and build us up with encouragement, but also have the grave ability to stifle us, bring us pain, and steer us on a collision course.

I have always made a point with people in my world to burn no bridges. I have known friendships that have torn me down or degraded my dreams and interactions with coworkers, teammates, classmates, and acquaintances that I know have been grimy.

Maybe someone wanted me to change for them, maybe someone wanted me to do something I know was not right. But even if I held them at a distance, I have been more than hesitant to cut negative people out of my life.

It runs through my mind: what if that makes things awkward? What if I need them someday, or they need me? I’m a jerk if I cut ties completely, right? Or what if things change or get better?

Except that they haven’t. Bad friendships, tainted relationships, and awkward circumstances have always stayed that way. Like oozing wounds, I have let unhealthy interactions fester and make me sick. Eventually they have leaked into my strong and positive relationships as well.


We are all imperfect people. Every connection between two or more humans is going to have its problems and going to elicit tears and frustration. I totally understand that, and the last thing I want to say is that we should sever ties with all the people in our lives. But with every partnership we have, big or small, we must ask ourselves this:

Are the people around me building me up or tearing me down? If they are tearing me down constantly, why are we still friends?

Unhealthy, abusive, or manipulative relationships have warnings signs. Often, there is constant criticism and condemnation, two or more people trying to control or take advantage of the actions of each other, fighting, screaming, selfishness, degradation, and abrasiveness. If you feel less because of someone, if you feel controlled by someone, or if you and a friend or significant other can never find common ground, something is not right. Something needs to change.

Healthy relationships help us grow. We pour life into a person and they pour into us. If not? It might just be time to light a match and walk away.

When a limb has died in the human body and sepsis has set in–blood flow has stopped and it no longer functions properly–physicians have to cut that part of the body away completely in order to keep the person alive.

It’s basically the same with human relationships. You may think that to sever ties or to amputate a friend or past romance from your life is completely selfish of you. But in reality, you are selfish not to. By continuing a sick interaction with someone, whether they are the problem or you are, is allowing you to poison each other. To heal and move on, you both need to say goodbye altogether.

Burning bridges is flat out painful. It could easily be one of the hardest conversations you will ever have with another being. I think this is why I have avoided it, and still do. But be honest. Find the strength to let someone go, for their sake and for yours.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Find the strength to let someone go, for their sake and for yours.” quote=”Find the strength to let someone go, for their sake and for yours.”]

Sitting there on that couch that night with my phone in my hands, I had to do the hard thing. I had to tell this guy that I didn’t want him in my life anymore, that I didn’t want to talk or interact. I deleted him forever from my phone, my computer.

He didn’t really understand and I had to be the jerk. But our communication was getting us nowhere and was harming me in the process—so I said goodbye. We haven’t said a word to each other since.

We meet a lot of people in a lifetime on this planet. People come and they go. But there are enough amazing people out there for us to spend our time building relationships instead of suffering through them.

This New Year, relish in the people God has placed in your life who make things bright, who inspire you, who get you talking, who push you towards greatness, who will see you through hell or high water. Pour into those who bring you joy, help you grow, make you laugh, and give you space to think.

And those that do not? It’s time to get rid of things that are infected.

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