In every relationship, at some point we will experience a breach or damage to the connection between us and them. At some point conflict will happen. At some point frustration will happen. At some point, the trust we had in them or they had in us will suffer a hit. These ruptures can either be what breaks the relationship, or what makes it stronger. But all that depends on our ability to repair ruptures with someone when they occur. Today, I’m going to walk you through how to participate in creating repair when someone else has done something to create rupture in the relationship step by step. In addition to this article, I highly suggest that you also read the part one article on this subject, which is about how to create repair when you are the one that created a rupture in a relationship.
Ruptures in relationships are very similar to wounds in the body. If ignored or put off, they fester and get worse. So, the strongest relationships are between people who don’t have tolerance for the feeling of rupture and who put energy into creating repair as quickly as possible, if not immediately when they occur. Keep in mind that repair in a relationship, is a process. So, let’s dive in.
You have to recognize that the rupture occurred. When a rupture occurs, it feels like a hit or a rip to the fabric of trust, commitment and security that makes up your connection to that other person. You suddenly feel out of alignment with them. Disharmony and anxiety and dissatisfaction start to bleed through the rupture. It feels really bad. You may be someone that immediately recognizes it when this occurs. This is a really good thing. On the other hand, you might be someone who is normalized to relationship rupture. You might be someone for whom the people in your early life experience created rupture with you and never bothered to acknowledge that, much less create any repair. As a result, you may have learned to suppress, deny, disown, ignore, negate, try to explain away, keep to yourself or just put up with the experience of rupture and the feelings that come with it. This is a recipe for a relationship to fall apart. It’s important to think of a relationship like a dance that two people are doing. There will be times during the dance that what the other person does, doesn’t work for you. For the two of you to be a stronger dance team, you need to bring that up so as to create effective adjustments. When you don’t acknowledge ruptures, you are actually making the other person alone. You are turning a tango into an unchoreographed 2-person solo dance. You are failing to recognize and expose areas of potential workability and areas of potential incompatibility. You are also saying yes to whatever your partner is doing. Only, you can’t actually and genuinely do this with ruptures. Your truth will leak out in the form of passive aggression or resentment. You must acknowledge that you feel a relationship rupture because of what the other person has done or not done.
So that you can understand this better, let’s use an example. Marie was out to dinner with Jonah. Jonah caught sight of a waitress that he found very attractive. He stopped focusing on Marie when she was speaking mid-sentence to turn around when the waitress passed him and stare at her as she walked by. Marie must recognize that the feeling of pain in her chest, indicates that for her, Jonah’s action caused a relationship rupture to happen. She must recognize that the way she is feeling is important and it is necessary for there to be a repair between them in order to move forward in the relationship.
Clarify what your issue with it was, for yourself. It’s very easy to feel confused and lost when a rupture has happened. It is disorienting. You may feel thrown into the confused pain of loss of relationship security. You may immediately start trying to figure out if they are the problem or your expectations are the problem. Instead of getting lost in trying to figure out who is to blame, you need to recognize that what the other person did or failed to do made you experience a rupture. And inherent in that experience is some very juicy self-awareness which needs to be extracted.
Your job is to find out what the real issue is for you and why. All too often, we get lost in the surface happenings, without going deeper. Deeper into what meaning we are adding to an experience and what needs and wants it is making us aware of. Some questions you can ask yourself is: What am I not liking about this situation or what about it is making me irritated? What is my partner doing that is different to what I expect them to do? What about what happened scares me? What is the pain for me in this situation? If nothing ever changes and this keeps happening, what need would not be met? If I was to make it so this person was an automaton and did exactly what made me feel good, because it makes them happy to do so, what would I prefer them to do, and what would them doing that give me that I am not getting now? There needs to be a deep understanding of self to know what the actual issue is, so that you can recognize an actual solution that answers to the actual issue.
To use our example, Marie could make the issue about the surface thing that happened. She could get immediately defensive and make the problem about Jonah looking at other girls. But this is not the actual problem. When she really looks deeper at the cause of the rupture, she realizes that when Jonah looks at other women, it makes her feel disrespected, like Jonah does not consider her and thinks very little about her. Down deep, she sees his behavior as a reflection of the fact that he sees little value in her and thus, she is terrified that he would abandon her if a woman he perceived to be more valuable came along. She is not getting the experience of being valued by him. And she is not getting the experience of security that he will not abandon her.
Bring it up as a problem for you, but speaking from vulnerability. When a relationship rupture occurs, the best-case scenario is that the other person is attuned enough to you, that they notice the rupture, and they bring it up. However, it isn’t ok to simply wait for the other person to do this. Therefore, if they don’t notice or don’t bring it up, you need to do so. When a relationship rupture occurs, you usually feel hurt and afraid. The hurt and afraid part of you is very vulnerable and for most of us, when our vulnerable parts are wounded, our protector parts come up and do even more damage to our connection with the other person. We treat them like the enemy and engage in all kinds of anti-relationship behaviors because we begin to fight against them for our own best interests.
There is nothing wrong with anger and if someone has created a rupture with you, you most likely have every right to be furious. But anger occurs in order to protect ourselves from vulnerable feelings and vulnerable experiences. It hides what is really going on. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: The Link Between Anger and Vulnerability. You must slow way down and attend to the vulnerability, the pain and the fear and the perceived powerlessness underneath your anger. And then, put that vulnerability on the table in front of the other person using I statements. Name what happened and then speak from and for that vulnerability underneath the pain… what you discovered in the previous step. Let them respond to it. Don’t come to the other person with a solution yet. Remember that you are in a dance in a relationship. The other person needs to learn how to dance. You can’t take 100% of the responsibility for the dance of the relationship. When you are doing this, it’s a good idea to remember that you can choose to say things to soothe each other, while still telling the truth or you can say things that hurt and provoke each other. If you say things that soothe each other, it will feel much more like you are together against a problem rather than against each other. A good question to have in mind is: What would make you both feel loved and safe, while you are in conflict?
Using our example, Marie might say to Jonah “I want our relationship to feel strong and secure. At the same time, when you look at other women, I feel not considered by you and therefore like I am not valued by you, and afraid that you might abandon me if a woman who you think is more valuable crosses your path.” Obviously, you can elaborate much more and longer than this, so they really understand your pain and your fear and your feelings of powerlessness etc.
Seek understanding of their side of it. But not to negate your experience. In this step, you are really wanting to understand why the other person did what they did, or failed to do what they failed to do rather than project your assumptions onto them. The aim is to get into their perspective. To understand them better. This may confirm the meaning you have added to the experience, or it may show you that you assigned the wrong meaning to the experience. None of what you learn, negates the way you feel or the needs you have. Both can exist at the same time. To learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: I Can Have Me and I Can Have You Too. Ask them questions from a place of curiosity, not accusation. If you ask them questions from a space of accusation, it means you have already decided on the painful meaning of what happened and are seeking only to confirm it, rather than to be open to their side of what happened.
To use our example, Marie might ask Jonah “Walk me through what happened for you when you turned around to look at that waitress. I need to understand the reason why you did that.” Or “Can you tell me what I should make it mean when you look at other women when I’m around.” Or “What are you feeling when you turn around to look at other women when I am there, is it because something is missing from our relationship?”. Or “What do you think women’s reactions should be when the men they are with look at other women and why?”
It is especially effective when you ask questions that give the other person the opportunity to answer to your insecurity. On top of this being an opportunity for you to deeply know the other person, their answers will tell you a lot about their willingness to engage on the level of vulnerability and intimacy with you. Jonah’s answer might be something like “I just love beauty, it takes over my senses when I see it, but that doesn’t mean I would go be with some other woman because she’s beautiful. Lots of girls are beautiful.” Or “I wish we didn’t have to only be with one woman at a time. I like being able to act on my attraction to whoever I’m attracted to.” Or “It was super unconscious. It just made me feel good, like a natural high to look at her. It was just a natural reflex and it doesn’t mean I’d rather be with her, or that I would go with her even if she threw herself on me.” Or “I feel more alive when I can look at other women. To be honest, it makes me feel like I’m expected to be dead if I can’t feel attracted to other women just because I’m in a relationship with you or any other woman for that matter.” Or “I’ve been feeling like our relationship is becoming dead and I haven’t known how to bring it up directly.” A person’s answers might point to areas of workability in the relationship, or it might point to serious incompatibilities between you and them.
- Own your part of the rupture if there is one and modify any behavior that may have contributed to the problem. Contrary to popular belief, it is absolutely possible for a person to destroy a relationship all on their own. But more often than not, when a rupture occurs in a relationship, both people contribute to it in some way. We may need to change our part of the relationship dance in order to improve things. This means taking a really hard look at how we may have contributed to the rupture, taking accountability for it and altering our behavior in the relationship. Using our example, Marie might realize that her part in it is that she has really low self-esteem and puts all of the pressure of her sense of value on Jonah. And so, she might tell Jonah this and acknowledge that this might feel like he is walking on egg shells around her. And she might decide to commit to proactively working on her own self esteem.
Put forth your needs. Put forth what needs to change for you to be able to move forward in the relationship. If a person is committed to security of connection with you, and to a feel-good relationship, they will initiate the step of trying to figure out what you need to feel better. But you can’t expect people to be masters of relationship already or to be psychic. This step is about making the other person aware of your needs and what would make you feel better.
To use our example, Marie might say, “I really need to feel valued by you. I need to see effort being made by you that makes me feel valued.” Or “I need to feel more secure in our relationship so I don’t feel like you will abandon me.” Or “I need to feel like my partner is thrilled to be with me.”
Participate in the search for a solution which would create repair. The attitude to take on is “it’s us against the problem”. Not “it’s you against me”. The solution should account for both your truth AND the other person’s truth, which they will have shared when you were asking them to share their side of it. If a person is committed to security of connection with you and to a feel-good relationship (and especially if they are the one that created the rupture) the ball is in their court to offer ideas for resolve. If they are passive about this, or resistant to it, you are going to end up taking the responsibility for the relationship upon yourself and dancing the tango for the both of you. And this is a recipe for disaster. However, because a relationship is a dance, don’t just sit there, expecting them to do the dance alone for you either. Instead, proactively participate. Offer potential solutions that would allow for the two of you to move forward in the relationship… to repair. This step allows for serious creativity. Why? Because there can be so many solutions to a rupture in a relationship given the truth that belongs to both people in the relationship. What will absolutely work for one person might not work for another. For example, a solution might be Jonah committing to not focus on other girls when he is with Marie. Or, a solution might be Marie looking at beautiful women with Jonah, to feel like she is in on the appreciation of beauty with him. Or a solution might be to go to relationship counseling to try to re-ignite the relationship. Or a solution might be for Jonah to not stop looking at other women, but to change how often or long he looks at them. Or a solution might be for Jonah to show Marie he values her more consistently in other ways, like words of appreciation and by making time that is only for her, free from other distractions. Or a solution might be for Jonah to demonstrate small acts of thoughtfulness throughout the day such as helping her out with something or buying her something to brighten her day. Or a solution might be for him to find out what practical things she is afraid of in the case of his abandonment, and provide solutions to those things, so that she is less afraid of losing him on a practical, tangible level and they can focus only on the emotional element of their relationship.
It is super important to know that a relationship rupture is a “don’t move forward” moment. And many people make the mistake of thinking that if someone acknowledges something they did or understands your pain, that counts as resolve. It doesn’t. That is not the resolve. The resolve must involve some kind of mutual agreement or change. Something that causes you to feel re-connected, on the same page and in alignment with the other person and more secure. The harmony needs to be restored. If all a person does is to acknowledge and apologize for what they did or understand your pain, this does not mean they will actually change anything for the better. And if a person sees your pain and acknowledges that they hurt you, but makes no change, or does the same thing again, it is a recipe for a trust disaster as well as emotional damage. Repeat offense, assuming it is not something that both people have agreed to, is a relationship killer.
It's at this point that you must know that ruptures highlight where there is workability in a relationship and where there is not, because incompatibility exists. This will require you to be very honest about where you can be workable and where you cannot. Agreeing upon a resolution is not the same as a compromising. You’re going to need to agree to a resolution that makes it so that you and the other person are actually resolved, not that you aren’t and so, it’s going to come out in passive aggressive ways or be used against the person in later fights or lead to resentment or bitterness. In a relationship, you may find yourself needing to choose a specific contrast. But you can only do so if doing so will not lead to resentment or genuine life dissatisfaction. For this reason, it is a really good idea for you to watch four of my videos, The first is: The Biggest Lie You Were Ever Told About Relationships. The second is: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality in Relationships. The third is: The Most Important Element of Compatibility in a Relationship. And the fourth is: The Difference Between Compromise and Workability in a Relationship.
Using our example, if Jonah’s truth is that he wishes he didn’t have to only be with one woman at a time because he would like to be able to act on his attraction to whoever he is attracted to. And Marie’s truth is that what she has always wanted and still deeply wants, is to be in a relationship with a man who wants romantic and sexual exclusivity with her, this is a point of unworkability. This will be a conflict that comes up over and over again, corroding the relationship. They are likely to have to face the reality of incompatibility as partners. Every person will have different areas and levels of workability and unworkability. What is important is that you are in reality about what is and is not workable for you specifically.
This step usually causes people to come face to face with just how willing or unwilling they are to adjust their own behavior according to someone else’s insecurities and needs. And this willingness or lack thereof should have to do with to what degree it is beneficial to do so and to what degree it is detrimental to do so.
Be receptive to the solution. Fully experience and resource the agreement or change when it is demonstrated. This means be receptive to and positively reinforce the other person when they are doing what it takes to repair a rupture. Sometimes, we can feel so hurt that we close ourselves to the other person’s genuine effort to repair. This is building a wall between ourselves and the other person. This prevents re-connection. If we have agreed to a course of repair, we can’t act like nothing they do is going to work to take the chip off of our shoulder or take the walls down or make us trust them again. Where there is no actual willingness, there is no way. When someone tries to repair with us, for the repair to take place, we need to actually let that repair take place. A relationship only works if both people are in it.
Using our example, if Jonah shows Marie he values her more consistently in other ways, like words of appreciation and by making time that is only for her, and she has agreed to this being the way to repair, she needs to respond positively to those bids for connection and security rather than rejecting them. She needs to really let herself feel his efforts as her being valued.
Ruptures without repair is a recipe for a painful, resentful and bitter relationship, all of which leads to the ruin of a relationship. But rupture does not have to be the thing that ruins a relationship. To the contrary, it can be the thing that makes your relationship both strong and long lasting. If you and the other person learn to expect that you are both committed to repair and experience being able to do it whenever a rupture occurs, what you are left with is rock solid trust. Repair is the part of a relationship where you come to understand each other better, build a stronger, more resilient connection and to come back together.