Rupture in Relationship

In my first year of graduate school, I was in class and the professor brought up the idea of “Rupture and Repair.” I remember that I had my head down because I was focused on taking notes and immediately looked up in confusion. “Repair?” I remember saying. “I am familiar with ruptures, but tell me more about repair!”

Every relationship we are in is going to involve ruptures. A rupture is typically something that is said (or not said) or something that is done that causes hurt. (In this post, I am referring to emotional distress and not physical abuse of any kind). Ruptures usually cause someone to feel upset, hurt, disappointed, alone, or not validated. These are going to happen in every relationship, guaranteed. It is how we HANDLE the rupture with our partner and how we work to REPAIR the relationship that really matters. How do you and your partner repair with each other? Are you able to see when you have said or done something that hurt your partner’s feelings? How do you respond when you have hurt or disappointed them?

Repair can be challenging if it is not something we have practice doing. Often, its more automatic to become defensive when we realize we have done something to upset our partner. Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • “Well, you’ve done the same thing to me.”
  • “I didn’t mean to.”
  • “You’re just overly sensitive.”
  • Or the common use of “but..” such as “I hear what you’re saying, but…”

It’s habitual and easier to be defensive. However, defensiveness is a sure path to disconnection, the opposite of healing and repair. When defensiveness shows up in rupture, it is a sure-fire way for one partner feeling unmet and not validated by their partner. Now the initial person hurt is not only feeling upset by the original rupture, but it`s worsened by now feeling like their hurt is “wrong” or not real. As this takes place, the other partner may start feeling criticized or defensive. And it begins!

Working with defensiveness either in yourself or with a partner can be complicated. But here are just two pieces of wisdom to remember in these heated times.

1. Get curious.

Get curious about what is happening with your partner in that first stage of rupture. Notice how their mood shifted or body language changed. Then soften your voice and let them know that you are curious about how they were impacted by your words or actions. Ask questions and then really listen without pre-forming your response.

2. Try to stay open and present.

Stay present to the emotions that they are feeling. (This is the hardest part!) Hear them out, it is worth it if you are protecting the relationship. And then ask what they might need to repair the rupture. They may not know what they need, but at this point.. you are both in dialogue and this is the first step in potential repair.

Gottman states that 69% of conflict in relationship is perpetual. So its not about not having conflict, it is how you act in the midst of it!

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