We enter into our relationships with internal working models of other significant past relationships, an individual worldview and different cultural expectations.

Relationships involve a complex, overdetermined combination of influences which interact in both powerful and subtle ways. It is inevitable that things get difficult, at times.

The first primary relationship, the one between child and caregiver is complicated. It is often not discussed, sometimes forbidden to acknowledge, but even that relationship can include guilt, disgust, hurt feelings, anger, disappointment, fears of rejection, the list goes on.

When relationships get particularly complex, feelings can easily get hurt. Arguments may come around, and a break down in communication or a rupture may result. A rupture can look like many different things, but primarily it involves some break down to the usually positively supportive experience of the relationship. It could mean an argument that ends in silence and hurt. It may be a sarcastic comment that’s intention is to cause emotional pain. It may be a failure to meet an agreed upon expectation.

Ruptures in relationships are unavoidable. Their absence is noteworthy. I am always quite interested when couples report that they never fight. It often suggests to me avoidance of conflict.

Most of us do not enjoy the fight; it can be tremendously painful. Often it is tough to feel anger or rage at the people that we are closest. We can find ourselves trying to swallow these feelings, sometimes it’s not possible, and we lash out with them. When a break down occurs, it can feel as if the relationship has been destroyed. If we find conflict particularly tricky, we will take significant steps to avoid a row because we may be very much terrified that the effects will be irreparable, and we fear that our relationship will be destroyed.

I often see couples who state that they want me to help them to stop the arguments. They do not mean that they have challenging fights that are deeply hurtful and they want to learn how to fight better. Instead, they often have an idea that, perhaps with therapy, they can find a way to avoid all arguments. Within this, there is a sincere desire to establish a relationship with no fights, no disagreements, no problems, the “perfect” relationship.

The process of the rupture is rarely, if ever, the critical part. It is the repair that is vital. Ruptures are often opportunities to strengthen relationships. If a rupture is repaired, it demonstrates to each person that the relationship is stable enough to withstand the storms of life. Reparation enhances the feeling that the relationship can survive problems. This is essential because all relationships will have difficulties.

Many parents experience deep anxiety that they must do everything right in caring for their baby and question whether they are doing it. This anxiety can cause an immense amount of guilt and suffering. Inevitably, however, something will go wrong. How could often we find ourselves being deeply critical of this in ourselves and those we love. We can berate ourselves when our baby calls for us, but for whatever reason, we do not hear her immediately. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if she is hungry, tired or in pain. Moreover, sometimes we accidentally drop them on the floor.

Developmentally it is necessary to not get it right all of the time. Babies operate from a necessarily narcissistic and omnipotent world. Their world is about their experience only, and they cannot yet empathise. Their need is the most critical thing in the world, and they need it at that very moment.

 

It is not, of course, possible to meet every need all of the time. As parents, we will fail, and this is okay. The infant may get frustrated, but to a tolerable degree, and through this experience develops greater awareness of others and greater emotional maturity and self-regulation abilities. Infants learn that the other is dependable most of the time and that things will be ok if they are not always so. This learning is essential because this is the nature of healthy adult relationships. The parent or our partner need not be perfect; they need to be “good enough”.

Donald Winnicott, a paediatrician and psychoanalyst working in the 1950s onwards developed the idea of the “good-enough mother.” This concept describes that a mother does not have to be perfect, as Winnicott knew that this was an impossible goal. Instead, if she could meet her babies expectations more often than not, try to understand what her baby needs, and give her baby what she needs as much as is possible then she was “good enough”. Enough of the infants physical and emotional needs would then be met to ensure a stable attachment. Moreover, this is what we need to be in our adult relationships too: “good enough”.

Rupture will occur in our intimate relationships. Sometimes, as explored, they are necessary and essential. Reparation requires humility, empathy, patience and perspective. Over time and practice future ruptures be more manageable and our relationships become stronger and more intimate as a result.

If you are finding it hard to navigate ruptures and the process of repair, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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