Good attachments take work, and one of the hardest parts of building and maintaining satisfying and supportive relationships is repairing after rupture (i.e., conflict).
It’s so difficult, and conflict is so often avoided, that many of us have never experienced really good repair – or the way that it can deepen and strengthen our connection and trust with another person.
Rupture is inevitable. Conflicts, disagreements, and hurt happens in relationships. Repair doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong or when conflict occurs. And it takes work! It’s easier to “just move on” or act like it didn’t happen – to play it safe. But that’s not how healthy relationships grow and deepen. Avoiding conflict results in shallow and ultimately unsatisfying relationships.
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What is Rupture?
Rupture is a breakdown in our connection with another person. It’s a roadblock that pops up in the highway of communication, trust, and intimacy with someone we care about. Usually, rupture is conflict- like an argument- but rupture is a bigger category that includes almost anything that disrupts a relational connection. Ruptures happen in romantic and non-romantic relationships (even in therapeutic relationships) and happen at drastically different intensity levels.
Rupture can take many forms: arguments rooted in disagreements on minor matters (like where to place a house plant) or major life choices (like where to live or invest time/money). It can also look like broken trust, unavailability of one partner due to their health issues or work responsibilities, projecting blame/shame/other deeply felt emotions onto the other person, or even just “growing apart”.
What all ruptures have in common is a disruption in the connection between two people.
Ruptures invite us to the intimacy-developing work of repair.
Rupture in Relationships is Normal
Unrealistic expectations for relationships may lead us to believe that ruptures mean a problem in our relationship. However, ruptures are a normal part of relationships in which two people are fully present to one another as whole individuals.
Ruptures are not a sign that a relationship is in trouble- even frequent ruptures. Instead of looking at the frequency of conflict, therapists and relationship coaches are more apt to gauge a relationship based on:
- How partners engage with one another during a rupture (in healthy relationships, mutual respect is shown for one another throughout a conflict), and
- How couples repair following a rupture (real repair deepens authenticity- many argue it’s this increased intimacy that is the secret ingredient to great “make up sex”).
Fixing Ruptures in Relationships through Relational Repair
We cannot avoid ruptures in relationships – they are part of being in a healthy relationship. Instead of avoiding, we can remedy them. How do we “remedy” relational ruptures? Through repair.
Healthy relationships come from embracing the process of repair. Rupture is present in all healthy relationships- and inevitably, rupture is part of the process of good therapy.
When we engage rupture, it can help us to understand and change our patterns of being in relationship. How each of us responds to relational conflict is a story uniquely wired into each of our brains. If we always do what we’ve always done (i.e., ignoring the problem or just “moving past it”), that wiring gets stronger. If the way we’ve done it in the past is making it hard for us to form supportive, satisfying relationships, then strengthening it is a problem!
When, instead of running away, we are mindful in a moment of rupture to stay present engage it, we can help ourselves to begin rewriting the story in our brains. This can be a really difficult task! If it seems like an impossible feat to face alone, consider a season of relational therapy.
Good relational therapy makes room for emotionally charged conflict. It makes it safe for us to choose to stay, engage, and experiment with handling conflict differently. This hard work to change has a powerful ability to alter our brains by giving us vivid emotional experiences that help rewrite old stories with new endings in a way. This vibrant emotional experience helps us grow in ways that just learning relationship skills can’t. The work to change our capacity to repair ruptures can create a greater capacity to form and maintain fulfilling relationships beyond therapy.
Repair in Relationships Takes More Than An Apology
Repair is a process, not a performance. Repair in relationships often includes:
- acknowledging hurt,
- naming what has happened,
- owning our role in what happened,
- seeing how it impacted each person (which includes listening to the other person’s version of the event),
- considering together how the rupture was co-created,
- and exploring a way forward in the relationship.
Repair often starts with a simple – but really hard to say – statement like “I’m sorry, can we talk?” Especially if you’re in the beginning stages of learning how to approach repair in relationships, an “I’m sorry” can be the hardest part of engaging in repair.
Repair is a process. It goes further than just taking an apologetic stance. It dives deeper into naming what has happened, owning our role in what happened, seeing how it impacted each person (which includes listening to the other person’s version of the event), considering together how the rupture was co-created, and exploring a way forward in the relationship.
This illustration was created while listening to the Story Sage online course by a nonprofit organization called The Allender Center. Their entry-level resources are a great place to start if you’d like to learn more about attachment basics and how to build supportive relationships. Their professional CEUs are a powerfully impactful way to gain skills to engage trauma in those you work with more effectively.
Image description for screen readers:
A line Illustration on a light yellow background is titled “Rupture & Repair.” On the left side of the image is written “Not knowing how to repair leads to playing it safe & to shallow, unsatisfying relationships.” The phrase “playing it safe” is written inside a gold frame with a white background.
In the middle of the image is a drawing of two people. The person on the left, who has a tan skin-tone and shorter dark hair, looks concerned and has their arms on the shoulders of the person on the right. The person on the right, who has longer dark hair and a tan skin-tone, is turned away and appears upset. Underneath the two people is a gold banner that reads, “Rupture is inevitable. Repair takes work.”
Below this is another text block that reads, “Repair might feel like a myth because it’s so rare.” On a banner below is written, “But it’s real!” An arrow points from this text block to a drawing of a grey unicorn with a gold horn. On the right side of the image is written, “Repair is more than ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s also: naming it happened, owning our role, naming the impact (& listening to their version), wondering how it was co-created, and planning a way forward.” The phrase “I’m sorry” is written inside a white speech bubble, and the examples of repair are written in a bullet point list.
At the bottom of the image is written: @LindsayBraman from a lecture on attachment by @AllenderCenter