The 4 Skills We Should Have to Succeed in Adult Relationships

Psychotherapy on the Importance of the Rupture and the Repair

Like water, relationships can split and come back together again.

In French, we say ‘la rupture’ when we talk about a definitive break-up between a couple (or if we talk about leaving a job). However, in English, thankfully, a rupture doesn’t have to be as definitive.

There is bound to be some stress and strain on a relationship assuming both people are there and there is something between them. Yet just because we sometimes feel we have been torn apart from our lover, it does not mean we should walk away so quickly.

Psychotherapists believe strongly in the idea of ‘rupture and repair.’ For them, every relationship is in potential danger; flashes of frustrations or ‘ruptures’ are when we basically lose trust in someone that we thought we could safely give our love and faith. Someone we understood would be gentle, compassionate, and perceptive of our needs.

Jack and Diane have seen their fair-share of ruptures and worked through the repairs.

Not to bore you with too much technical talk, but here is a small excerpt from a study done on the importance of ‘rupturing and repairing’:

‘Personality maturation occurs as a result of participation in relationships in which strong affective bonds are established and their inevitable ruptures repaired. The affective bond process of establish/rupture/repair is understood as the underlying dynamic of internalization, an important mechanism of growth across the lifespan.’
Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. (Am J Psychiatry 2000; 157:1375–1378)

For psychotherapists, the ‘rupture and repair’ is most significant in three cases:

  1. The infant-mother attachment behaviors

  2. The psychotherapeutic alliance

  3. The marital relationship

I don’t believe this should be limited to only these three, but I will be talking about the ‘rupture and repair’ here in the context and significance it has in a romantic relationship.

‘There is much evidence that the affective bond sequence of establish/rupture/repair is of central importance in marital relationships.’
Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. (Am J Psychiatry 2000; 157:1375–1378)

The Unseen Significance

The hands that hold it up and together often go unnoticed.

These so-called ruptures are usually tiny in appearance, and to anybody on the outside, completely invisible:

  • Somebody didn’t smile or say, ‘hello’ when the other came home or they simply didn’t respond as warmly as they wanted or expected

  • One person tries to explain what is bothering them and the other simply shrugs it off as being ridiculous or insignificant

  • One person shares a story in front of friends that makes the other look less than charming

These are smaller ruptures, no doubt, but they can often be more somber:

  • We pull out the harsh and naughty words that we know hurt the other

  • We forget a special day, such as a birthday, anniversary, or loss of a loved one

  • Or the ultimate no-no for most people in relationships: someone cheated

Fedora, half a dozen roses, and that smile… yep, this guy is definitely a cheater.

The thing is, ruptures themselves don’t really have much to do with predicting the durability of a relationship. A couple could go through many damaging and serious ruptures and still not break up. Or there could just be a few minor, yet tense, debates that lead to the end.

What is the determining factor on the survival of a relationship is what psychotherapists love to talk about: the ‘repair’. Or more accurately, how capable and strong we are in our competency to:

  1. Apologize

  2. Forgive

  3. Teach

  4. Learn

This magic trick called ‘the repair’ is about how two people can learn to trust each other again. It speaks of the work needed to bring someone back into our view as a fundamentally kind and caring person who is still capable of translating and fulfilling our needs (at least, well enough).

This ability to repair isn’t just a skill for those trying to put more than love into the success of the relationship. It is a skill we should all learn and a key determinative of emotional maturity, of being able to call ourselves ‘True Adults.’

Let’s be honest, we all act like entitled, tantrum-throwing children at times. This isn’t to say we should deny our inner-child, but we could do with some growing up in the way we handle our emotions, whatever that inner-child brings up in us.

A solid repair rests on 4, rather tricky, know-hows.

The Art of the Apology

All puppies are born knowing how to swim and apologize.

It sounds simple, a few words. Yet, these tender words come at a heartfelt cost: our self-love.

We are already feeling shame. We feel absolutely intolerable to ourselves. Now, we have to admit it? We have to wave the white flag after our humiliating defeat. Maybe the Japanese were right, better to commit suicide than feel shame.

Conceding that we were wrong can feel like we are being forced to own up to the fact that we are:

  • Even more idiotic than we already feel

  • Terribly unstable in an emotional sense

  • Selfish to an embarrassing degree

This is just too much for us to give away so easily.

So, rather than swallowing our pride, we dig the trenches and prepare for war. Anything to avoid raising the white flag.

We aren’t exactly happy with ourselves for doing this, but damn, we feel like shit. The pain we feel from the mistake is already so obvious to ourselves. How could a few words possible give us the mercy and compassion we so desperately need, yet feel we don’t deserve?

The Readiness of Forgiveness

Even for frogs, the lady is the forgiver.

Often, as hard as giving an apology, it is as difficult to accept an apology. Accepting an apology means that we have to dig deep to realize that decent people (including ourselves) can do some pretty awful things.

It isn’t because they are ‘evil’, but because they were weary or heartbroken or anxious or fragile. Being able to forgive gives us an ability to see how good people can sometimes behave a bit (or a lot) less than their prime.

When we aren’t capable of tapping into this magical well of energy called forgiveness we may resort to what psychologists call ‘splitting.’ We do this as a defense mechanism to divide people into either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rather than integrating their good and bad and realizing the fact that we are all a bit of both.

‘You can’t be both.’ ‘Watch me.’

By creating this imaginary divide, we think we can avoid the dangerous risk of being let down.

We say, ‘You are ideal and unadulterated and I can love you with abandon,’ or we are disappointed and throw them in the ‘you’re horrific and unforgivable’ category.

We hang on to the rupture and never forgive to repair because we’ve decided in our mind that this person is bad. We hang on to the story of how they hurt us, sadly, to keep these people in a place that allows us to feel safe.

Any major emotional commitment is too risky. People can’t be trusted. Hope is an illusion. We must accept we are alone and move on as such.

The Technique to Teach

Now, listen...

If we look closely at our ruptures, we often see that it is an unsuccessful lesson taught by one person to the other. One person was trying to get some point across when they lost patience and started getting furious or just gave up and went into frustrated silence.

It could be about many things, but here a few examples:

  • Respecting strange familial or cultural traditions

  • How to handle sex

  • Child upbringing

  • What to do about money

But along the way of talking about these issues, something went wrong.

A good teacher knows all about pessimism. How often I have learned this lesson personally when standing in front of a classroom of teenagers or giving private adult lessons. The stakes are raised even higher when investing into someone we care about.

The way I feel when I get in ‘teacher’ mode.

Yet, we often forget to carry a degree of respectable pessimism into our teaching. Quite honestly, we need to remember that someone may not understand all we want them to understand.

An efficient teacher knows that surprisingly wonderful outcomes aren’t too be expected. The human mind will resist new ideas like the plague. Frustration is inevitable, and a good teacher knows this.

In relationships, an incredible amount of calmness and positive attitude is needed for successful interpersonal communication.

It can be hard to not be pushy when we teach our partners, but not only must we be patient to give them the right amount of time to get the message, but we must also be aware of the defensiveness bound to arise as we wait for the message to sink in. And lastly, we must accept that we may just always live in two distinct worlds on certain issues.

In the end, if we are to be a good teacher to our partner, we must accept the fact that we will always be a little misunderstood no matter how much they love us.

The Intelligence of Learning

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

It’s hard to stop and listen when someone wants to teach us. It is way easier to get offended than to accept the possibility that they might have some crucial information or lesson for us. So maybe we get all defensive about how they are talking about ideas rather than just simply talking about fixing the immediate and present problem as if it is a mechanical issue that just needs a bolt tightened.

It isn’t fun or easy to consider the fact we may not know as much as our partner in certain areas of life. Yet, in order to be a good repairer, we must learn to be good learners.

By being a good learner, we are simply saying, in a non-demeaning way, that we might still be capable of learning a few things here and there. It isn’t the end of the world to receive a little criticism.

To be a good learner means we can see that the person trying to teach us actually cares enough about us and the security of the relationship to try to invest in our own development where we may come up a little short.

It is to realize they are offering us something most people never bothered to do for our benefit before: to give us feedback.

‘When this approach to couples therapy works, it does so?, at least in part, because the spouses have learned to be more open with each other, to listen with greater respect, and to learn to repair at least some of their misattunements. When they do, not only does the quality of their life together improve but they establish the relationship context in which individual growth may occur.’
Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. (Am J Psychiatry 2000; 157:1375–1378)


Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, often defined as an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.
'Perfection is inhuman. Human beings are not perfect. What evokes our love––and I mean love, not lust––is the imperfection of the human being. So, when the imperfection of the real human peeks through, say, 'This is a challenge to my compassion.' Then make a try, and something might begin to get going.'
Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss, p. 76

Our sometimes cracked and broken love stories could learn a lesson from the philosophy of wabi-sabi. It is very okay to have ruptures in a relationship. It is a great thing to take these moments and achieve a beautiful and worthy kintsugi of Love. To repair those hard-hit places with emotional gold:

  • Self-accession

  • Willingness to Endure

  • Humbleness

  • Heroic Audacity

  • And a lot of Compassion

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© 2017 Created by Warren Stribling