When we first went into lockdown and the whole world came to a screeching halt, I saw an announcement about an upcoming webinar entitled, “Parenting is Really Hard Right Now!” and signed up on the spot. I especially appreciated the exclamation point at the end of the title. I felt seen.
The featured speaker, Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, was a child psychologist and parenting coach who provided reassurance, comfort, and validation that this was indeed, really hard right now. She reminded parents to carve out time for self-care to offset the additional pressures and stressors that had suddenly been hoisted onto us sight unseen. Although affirming, none of that was new or revelatory to me, and I was starting to lose hope that this session was going to move the needle on my stress level. Then she said something that resonated so deeply that everything else suddenly seemed to melt away.
She shared that healthy connections and relationships are built on a cycle of “rupture and repair.” Rupture and then repair. Rupture and then repair. Over and over again. As a result, and I’m paraphrasing here, when you yell at your child to put on their shoes after eleventy billion times of telling them that you are in a rush and need to get out the door, checking back in with them at bedtime to apologize, acknowledge you were feeling stressed about being late for an appointment, and say that you are going to try better tomorrow actually helps to build trust, connection, and intimacy. That sounds like good parenting! I gasped audibly (good thing I was on mute) as my shoulders immediately dropped six inches from their standard position up on high. I took a deep breath. I think it was the first one I had taken in weeks.
So, I started thinking to myself, if I’m hearing this correctly, that means that instead of feeling guilty and perseverating for days on end that I am a horrible mother and permanently messing up my children for losing my cool, I should actually celebrate and embrace the opportunity it gave me to enhance my relationship with them?! Woah. Insert mind-blown emoji here. This was wading into life-changing territory. I immediately felt relief. Then I began to wonder, where else might this brilliant rupture and repair concept have application?
I have employed this approach dozens of times since then and, as it turns out, it has relevance in just about any situation and with all types of relationships: friends, romantic partners, co-workers, family, etc. People are complicated and layered, which is why disagreements happen. What makes it an effective mantra is the simplicity of it. We may have different needs, diverse opinions, and divergent worldviews, but one thing we can all agree on is that we need connection. Human beings are hardwired for it. So, when a rift happens, one of the fears that comes up (consciously or subconsciously) is that the divide will be insurmountable. When reconciliation happens, there is a sense of emotional and psychological relief. It builds trust in the other person, but also confidence in ourselves that we are valued. That we are worth the effort. That we belong.
It has a secondary benefit that I have found to be equally – if not more – important than the enhanced connection with others. It has taken so much pressure off of me worrying about always saying or doing the “right” things at all times. Of course, this doesn’t grant a free pass to go around causing unnecessary ruptures knowing that repair is right around the corner, but it has felt liberating knowing that if – when – I misstep, I can take the initiative to rectify the situation and help move the relationship forward. It’s both redemptive and cathartic.
To be clear, bigger ruptures require bigger repairs. Both parties have to be willing participants in order for this to be a fruitful endeavor, and some breaches may legitimately be insurmountable. However, for most run-of-the-mill gaffes, slipups, and mea culpas that we encounter in our daily lives, saying something is almost always better than doing nothing. Amends may not be possible in a single conversation, but at least we can move things in a positive direction and start to rebuild the trust that was eroded.
When working with clients, I share this concept when they tell me about a challenging conversation they had at work when perhaps they feel like they didn’t show up as the best version of themselves. Or, they may be relaying a difficult situation with a family member where they feel as though they said something that didn’t quite land the way in which it was intended. The beauty of this approach is that there is no expiration date. You can start a conversation with, “So, something hasn’t been sitting right with me since we had that meeting last week” or “that phone call we had a few months back has been on my mind.” One of my favorites is, “Remember that conversation we had? If I could have a do-over, I would…” There’s more room for grace (for self and others) when we are willing to be even just a little bit vulnerable in our effort to restore connection.
So, next time there’s a rift with a friend, a co-worker, a child, or a partner, let go of the guilt, and instead reframe it as an opportunity for growth, enhanced intimacy, and trust. Remember it's an essential ingredient for a healthy relationship. Rupture. Repair. Repeat.
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