Rupture and Repair in Relationships

Rupture and Repair in Relationships

Developing and maintaining healthy relationships is a cornerstone of my approach to helping people increase their contentment, compassion and a sense of belonging.

A recent article in *“The Book of Life” newsletter continues this theme.

When looking at the tensions within relationships, psychotherapists find it useful to use the concept of “rupture” and “repair”. The ruptures may be small and barely noticeable to others outside the relationship, for example when your partner has been off-hand and dismissive of an idea of yours, or your lover embarrassed you by sharing an unflattering anecdote about you. On the other hand, the rupture could be a more serious breach of trust and kindness when, say, a person calls someone stupid and gets violent, or a birthday is forgotten or an affair begins.

Interestingly, ruptures don’t necessarily reflect a relationship’s prospects of survival. Some people stay together despite serious ongoing ruptures, while other relationships fall about over minor disagreements. The difference is determined by the capacity for what psychotherapists call “repair”.

Repair is the work that is needed for two people to regain each other’s trust, restoring their mutual feelings of decency, sympathy and care. As psychotherapy shows, repair is not just one capacity among others, it is seen as central to our emotional maturity as true adults.


Good Repair Skills

Good repair relies on at least four main skills:

The Ability to Apologise

Saying sorry in the event of a rupture may not be that easy. If we’re already feeling unworthy, it can be just too much to admit that we have been even more foolish, emotionally unbalanced, controlling, hot-tempered or vain. We avoid saying sorry because we can’t believe that we deserve the forbearance and kindness of the other person.

The Ability to Forgive

It can be just as difficult to accept an apology. In fact, we need to feel sympathy and forgiveness for good people, like ourselves, who have done some bad things. They’re not evil people, they could be just tired, sad, worried or weak.
Forgiveness for ruptures can be impossible when the mind does a manoeuvre known by therapists as “splitting”, that is, simply seeing some people as entirely good and others as really awful. This sad – but supposedly safe – division of humanity protects us from feeling disappointment, danger, loss of trust, hopelessness and fear of being alone.

The Ability to Teach

A rupture happens when we try to get an idea across to someone but it goes wrong and we lose our temper or get into a sulk. A good teacher or repairer recognises that the other person may not fully understand what we want from them. They realise people can be resistant to new ideas or defensive about change, and they stay calm despite feeing frustrated. They don’t push a point too hard; they give their listener time; and they respect that there may be two different realities to consider. The good teacher/repairer accepts that they will always be a bit misunderstood, even by a loved one.

The Ability to Learn

It’s not easy to have to admit to ourselves that we still have a lot to learn about life and love. The good repairer is a good learner who doesn’t feel humiliated or alarmed when someone gently criticises them or makes kind suggestions. A good learner is safe enough in the relationship to realise that the other person cares enough about them to offer feedback.

While a relationship without ruptures may sound ideal, the very act of repairing can offer a more precious and meaningful experience. Using self-acceptance, compassion, patience, humility, courage and tenderness we move closer to achieving emotional maturity.

A Note from Dr Bek

You might be interested in some of my blog posts about couples, dating, sex, and the compassionate mind. Headings include:

  • Detoxifying Relationships: Understanding and Dealing with Conflict
  • Check Your Emotional Wellness
  • Relational Matters

*The Book of Life is sponsored by The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence