Bridge Burners: Signs to Look Out For

Recently, I met two bridge burners. Both had the same complaints against other people, and neither assumed personal responsibility for their dilemma. In case you don’t know, a bridge burner is a person who ends a work, romantic, or friendly relationship in such a way as to forever prevent a return to anything similar. It’s a sad thing to be a bridge burner.

What I’ve discovered is that most bridge burners don’t realize they have a problem. It seems it’s always the other person’s fault. Bridge burners are blinded by their own folly. And to admit they are part of the problem is unthinkable. Self-deception clouds their thinking. My experience with bridge burners comes from inside the church world. I’ve listened time and again as bridge burners stood in church on Sunday and expressed how much they loved their church family, only to learn on Wednesday they made their exit. They left because their expectations went unmet and felt that no one cared about them! Wow! Talk about incongruity and double-mindedness.

What are the major characteristics of most bridge builders? Based on my association with these unpredictable people, let me share several similarities.

Bridge builders usually grow up in some type of dysfunctionalism. Their family of origin brings either mother or father wounds – or both –  into their childhood. As a result, insecurity and rejection cloud their adult years. They possess an unhealthy self-love. Sadly, they struggle with family dynamics that characterize both home and church life. 

Bridge builders usually overlook healthy boundaries. They misunderstand that relationships require a give and take mindset. Most of them assume a controlling attitude.

Bridge builders usually adopt “it’s my way or the highway” mentality. They tend to be very opinionated, and find it intolerable to accept others when they openly disagree with them. They often and secretly declare war on these perceived threats.

Bridge builders, because they are typically insecure in their own skin, implode when they feel rejection – real or perceived. They usually subscribe to a “flight over fight” response, withdrawing from social settings they once held dear. Many times they withdraw into a silent world of victimization.

Bridge builders say they desire friends, but don’t realize they become dominant in conversations and insist on “getting their way.” The opinions and idiosyncrasies of others irritate them, unless, of course, they agree. Most bridge burners hate to be corrected, often spurring leadership that offers redirection. 

Bridge burners make long-term relationships almost impossible because they insist their friends move and respond at their beck and call. This, of course, constitutes twisted thinking. Bridge builders become easily upset and offended when their friends do not respond to social invitations in a timely manner. They fail to take into consideration that others have lives, too; and that true friendships are not based on a controlling, unyielding attitude. For a friend to not initiate get-together times is a travesty of epic proportion for a bridge burner. 

One of my best friends was Dr. Harry Yates, who founded and pastored the Nashville Cowboy Church for over 30 years. We would go months, even years without talking to or seeing one another; and yet, when we did, it was like neither time nor distance separated us. I officiated his funeral in 2021 and to this day smile through grief when I think about the times we spent together.

Bridge burners struggle to watch their friends engage with other people. A sense of betrayal causes them to become unkind and unreasonable. I’ve even seen bridge burners inadvertently try to create division and hard feelings between marriage partners, when they felt they were being slighted!

Bridge burners become easily offended and depressed. When others do not respond like they desire, bridge burners often play the blame-shame game, making their friends feel guilty for not “being there” for them. “It’s been a long time since you called me,” they say.   

Bridge burners, over time, can become sarcastic, unkind and even hostile toward their perceived betrayers. Formerly loved and cherished friends become “public enemy number one.” Gossip becomes their trademark. How sad and truthfully, how immature. 

Finally, bridge burners light the fires of provocation, when they succumb to the unfortunate lie that everyone else is to blame, and they share no part in the ended relationship. 

God gives us other people – friends – to help us through life. Viable, healthy relationships make life meaningful and bring fulfillment along our journey. Not everyone we meet is designed to become an intricate part of our life. Most remain in the “acquaintance” department. However, God sends certain special ones, not to possess or control, but to become trusted friends whom we unconditionally love and accept, apart from their flaws. Remember, it is virtually impossible to become and remain friends with someone we have to control. 

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