Rupture and Repair in Relationships


Throughout the years, there have been many advancements in technology and culture that have fundamentally changed the way that we approach the world around us. It's hard to imagine a world where books don't exist, or without the wheel. Electricity and technology have taken humanity to places that were thought to be impossible, giving us access to literally the entire world in little rectangles that we can put in our pocket. With all of these changes, however, there have been some constants that keep us human, where we find what may be the essence of the human experience. At the core of humanity, we find our relationships to be the central nervous system. Through our interactions with others, we learn about ourselves and the world around us. Different relationships, such as family relationships or work relationships, affect us in different ways. 

Relationships are interesting things, as there aren't really a ton of consistent markers you can point to across multiple relationships that indicate whether one is good or bad. Different people communicate in different ways and for different reasons, and what works in one relationship doesn't work in another. However, there is at least one that seems to be pretty consistent across the board, and that is the idea of rupture and repair.

Every relationship is strained at some point, and little (or big) fissures appear that cause distance and pain. The strength and importance of any relationship can be gauged by both the size of the ruptures and the repair work done on those ruptures. In other words, the presence of disagreement does not indicate a poor relationship, but rather indicates emotional investment, or the core of strong relationships. However, without efforts to repair the ruptures, the relationship becomes toxic and destructive.

Your job, if you hope to repair the ruptures, is to address your own personal feelings of hurt in a way that gives you a voice but doesn't silence the voice of the person you have a relationship with. One way you can accomplish this admittedly difficult thing is to strike when the iron is cold, so to speak. When your personal iron (emotional state) is a little cooled off and you can think about what made you angry in an objective way, make a list of the important issues to you and write them down. Make sure to note the difference between hurt feelings and disagreements about life choices. Be honest! Pretending that something didn't hurt your feelings when it really did is like fixing a hole in the wall by covering it with wallpaper. It just isn't good enough. The little statements you write down don't need to be big, drawn out discussions on the nature of your felt personal sense, but they do need to be clear. When you eventually do talk to the person who hurt you, you can use these written, clear statements of your areas of concern as anchor points. During the conversation, if you realize you are going away from these main talking points, you can correct and come back to where you know the problem to really be. This should help keep emotions in check and lead to some fruitful conversations.

As you talk about these things, be open to the idea that you might be wrong. It will soften your approach, which will soften the other person's approach. It is possible that you will feel that you are absolutely right, and that's okay. It's also possible that the other person will feel that they are absolutely right, and that's also okay. Be open to hearing how they think you're wrong, and repeat back to them their concerns. If you go into conversation convinced that you're right and needing to prove your rightness, it's hard to hear what the other person is saying to you. Without the other person's input, you're no longer in a relationship, but are alone in front of another person. Acknowledging someone else's concerns doesn't make them true, but it does show that you have heard them and that you care about they have to say. 

When you're in the heat of an argument, it might be hard to remember what you've read here and apply it. In order to help break this down into bite-sized chunks, I've compiled a short list of the important things to consider:

  • Your relationships are more important than disagreements, and they deserves to be treated as such. 
  • Rupture and repair is a normal and healthy part of relationships SO LONG AS you don't stop at the rupture. 
  • Be honest when talking to the other person about what your feelings are. Not having calm, honest discourse with someone about how they've hurt you is the equivalent of getting lung cancer and trying to kill it with cigarettes. 
  • Have a list of anchor points that you write when you're calm that you can come back to when the conversation starts to get heated and veer into stormy waters.
  • Be open to being wrong, and be open to hearing how you might be wrong from the other person. Not because you are wrong, but because you care about how the other person feels.

Remember, rupture and repair is a normal and healthy part of the human experience. Don't be afraid of it, but face it openly and honestly. As you work on the needed repair, you'll find that the ruptures start to happen less and less.