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The Benefits of Rupture and Repair in Therapy

You might think that the word “rupture” couldn’t possibly be included in the lexicon of therapeutic terms. “Repair,” sure, because that’s the business of therapy. But, rupture?

In fact, “rupture and repair” is an often-used clinical phrase, which applies to a breach in the therapeutic relationship followed by its restoration and positive continuation. A rupture may be caused by an overt disagreement between therapist and client, a client holding onto negative feelings about something a therapist said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do, or any disturbance in their cordial equilibrium. This dynamic is not something that client and therapist need to avoid. In fact, it’s something they should both welcome as proof of the strength of their connection and bond. Moreover, the repair part of the process is not only about fixing what’s gone awry with therapist and client. It’s a way of illustrating through new, healthy experiences that no matter what happened when there was a breach in previous relationships, most often in childhood between client and parent (or primary care-takers), that relationships do not need to remain broken.

“Rupture and repair” is a normal, natural dynamic in any kind of healthy long-term relationship. It happens with friends, co-workers, neighbors, siblings, children, spouses, partners, and people who hang around together for any serious period of time. Unfortunately, many people didn’t get the benefits of rupture and repair in childhood. They didn’t see it modeled and they didn’t experience it. Mom got angry and gave her child the silent treatment for days or parents continued low-level fighting that never seemed to abate. Children weren’t forgiven for their mistakes or failures and therefore carried around bad feelings. They lived in terror of upsetting people they loved because that love was so easily lost and not easily gotten back.

Most of my clients and I do fine at R and R. I don’t mind it happening when we’re strongly connected, and I believe our relationship will weather a storm. After one or two of ruptures, clients too feel more secure and become bolder about disagreeing because they know that ruptures will be repaired. This is a very new experience for many people-pleasers and approval-seekers whose parents left open wounds after disagreements and never tried to close them. No wonder so many clients shy away from relationships.

Therapy is the perfect petri dish for growing strong and sacred bonds, a place to learn to speak your mind, and a safe setting for experiencing rupture and repair. Once you’re comfortable with the dynamic, it just might change your life. At minimum, it will change the expectations you have in relationships and draw you to healthier ones.



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