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From Rupture To Repair

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Ruptures and repairs are made of the same things: interactional moves or their absence.


A rupture is caused by any threat-raising move (or absence of move) that doesn’t work for a partner (that is, feels to them unsupportive). Here are some forms of move that may cause a rupture:

• a look or a glance

• a way of handling dishes, laundry, food.

• a scent

• time passing (without any moves to communicate)

• a noise

• a word

• behavior in public

• behavior in private

• An apology (done badly)


A repair is any threat-lowering move or absence of move that mends a rupture. Here are some examples

• a look

• a way of handling dishes, laundry, food, etc.

• behavior in private

• behavior in public

• a scent

• a noise

• a word

• time passing

• an apology (done well)


Since these are the same list, what’s the difference then, between a rupture and a repair?

• A rupture is a move that raises threat* to a level unacceptable to one of the partners, while a repair is a move that addresses the threat caused by a rupture.

• Whether a move is a rupture, repair, or neither, depends entirely on the partners’ perceptions. What raises threat for one may not for the other; what repairs a rupture for one, may not for the other.

• Therefore, couples need to work with each other to know what counts as rupture or repair for each other. They must recognize the fundamentally subjective nature of what causes a rupture for one or the other.

• The absence of successful repair means that threat will remain high, and will congeal around the particular rupture until such time as the relationship ends, in fact or in simply in its fundamental purpose, which is usually to provide protection and comfort to the couple. A reduced relationship may persist but at least one partner carrying the unrepaired act in memory will weigh both down.

• Couples must accept that ruptures will recur on a regular basis, in both directions, and what is troublesome is the absence of successful repair.

• This working out of rupture and repair is the fundamental work of the second phase of a relationship ( if by the first phase we mean the head-over-heels phase).

Working out of rupture and repair includes coming to know your partner well enough to know what is likely to cause a rupture for them. This in turn, requires attention and interest.

• An inability to do well in this second phase—by the couple’s reckoning—may mean the relationship should not continue. Threat is inevitable in romantic relationships, and so must be handled well.




*Throughout this blog, “threat” is meant in its small-t sense of an uptick in negative arousal, rather than big-T threat of physical or emotional abuse. In the case of the latter, big-T threat, the threatened partner should seek protection as fully and quickly as possible; usually this should mean ending the relationship. Small-t threat, on the other hand, is an uptick in negative arousal and is a normal part of the spectrum of human responses to uncertainty, and is inevitable in romantic relationships.


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