The last vital ingredient that marks a healthy relationship is the ability to adequately repair relational ruptures.
Repairing ruptures refers to the concept of intentionally dedicating time and energy to healing wounds or mishaps that happen in a relationship. A common (incorrect) application of repairing ruptures is assuming that time will heal all wounds that arise with your loved one (PSA, it doesn’t). Another misapplication is letting your partner or loved one “just get over it” without re-engaging painful fights, important conversations that turn sour, or general feelings of neglect or misattunement.
Repairing relational ruptures is going down the treacherously hard path of leaning in and searching, describing, and owning what went wrong.
What follows is doing whatever is necessary to mend the dynamic. (Mending doesn’t refer to bending over to make the other person happy. It refers to really understanding what is required to make the relationship better and healthier - sometimes that means boundaries, less enmeshment, and temporarily more pain/awkwardness.)
To truly mend relational wounds requires you to say now is the time to deal with this. It is saying that you’re not putting it aside (if that’s usually the pattern - sometimes health can also mean letting things cool until a later time, so long as it is actually returned to at a later time). It means that you're not using a substance (alcohol, marijuana, sugar, carbs) to dull the ache that you’re feeling within you as a result of the fight or lack of connection. It also means that you are not going to pretend everything is okay and instead silently seethe in your own quiet agony (or resentment or bitterness or fury).
Resmaa Menakem describes this concept of clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is taking the road less traveled in regards to not avoiding awkward or painful discussions. It is engaging in the wound directly, inevitably increasing the sense of pain initially, so that the wound doesn’t cause long-term internal bleeding. Dirty pain is ignoring, denying, minimizing or pretending the relational rupture did not happen. It temporarily relieves you from feeling the agony or awkwardness or distance, but it prevents you from truly healing and clearing the mess away. It creates internal bleeding that leads to unsatisfying, disconnected, and fragmented relationships over time. Dirty pain is only considering, “what will make me feel better right now,” rather than thinking through what will achieve closeness long term. Dirty pain also assumes that maybe true closeness isn’t possible, that intimacy isn’t actually worth it, and that you might as well numb out or pretend anyway because true reconciliation is a pipe dream.
Once you trust certain relationships in your life, you can risk saying, “this hurt me,” without fearing that a defensive reaction will be thrown at you, or that more harm will be done, or that the relationship will dissolve. The difficulty is that going from dirty to clean pain, or going from intentionally repairing relationships ruptures from previously letting them go (IE ignoring them) creates a ton of distress (initially).
Having a boundary, or saying, “I am really upset about this part of our relationship,” when you haven’t said much before, creates what feels like an even bigger rift than you were previously feeling. Sometimes, that rift gets so huge that the relationship doesn’t make it.
But to not name the rift is to live in the illusion that you’re fine when you actually aren’t.
And to live in illusions kills our spirits over time. It kills our drive, our courage, our raison d'être. It also kills our physical health. Research over the last decade has depicted that loneliness kills us as if we’re habitual smokers. It invades our bodies and tells us from the inside out that life isn’t worth living. It doesn’t mean we become suicidal necessarily (though it might), it simply means that we stop engaging our lives like they have sacred meaning.
Taking the risk of honestly naming relational upsets and disappointments, however, is still that: a risk. And yet the risk of not doing so has way higher consequences long term (less overt ones in the short term). Ideally, in our most intimate relationships, we are free (and invited) to name our grievances openly and with kindness and in a way that results in a growth in closeness. Does that happen in your closest relationships right now? If there is an area where it doesn’t, how comfortable would you feel about naming that dilemma with your loved one?
Starting this process can be as simple as saying, (during a time of relative peace), “we struggle to engage kindly about politics [sex] [finances] [your family]. I want to get better at that. Would you feel open to discussing ways we can love each other better regarding that topic?”
If they aren’t, you have an answer. If they are, you have a more hopeful one.
Here’s to the tough lesson of learning how to have vibrant, playful, fulfilling relationships. It is so difficult but so worth the intensive amount of time, effort, and energy.
Do you have any questions about how this looks in your life?