Behaviour & Emotions

Rupture and repair: Responding to disrespect

Rupture and repair2

In every family, it’s typical to get upset with each other from time to time. Relationships, even with those we love the most, are not all group hugs, jokes and harmony. We all have our off moments – it’s part of being human. One of our very important jobs as parents is to demonstrate to our offspring that we can get over ‘ruptures’ in our relationships, as Dr John Gottman calls them.

A beautiful thing about being in a family is that even though ruptures can happen, so can repair.

Rupture and repair

A beautiful thing about being in a family is that even though ruptures can happen, so can repair. Our aim as parents is to model this to our kids, and show them that relational repair does and will reliably happen. This is a great security that we can give our kids.

Repair means that we fix up the hurt and damage in the relationship. It is wonderful to be modelling repair to our kids from an early age, but if you haven’t done this before, it is never too late to start – even if your child is 16... even if they're 36! Repair does wonders for getting the ‘warmth’ back.

Repair means apologising and making it better again, so you can get back on track. In my own parenting, repair is needed if I have overreacted, been in a bad mood and spoken in a very grumpy way with my kids, lost my temper or yelled about something. If there has been rupture in my relationships with family members, it’s healthy to now demonstrate that the work of repair can be done.

But how? Repair is hard to achieve if you are still angry. Any peace-making efforts won’t land well when offended parties are feeling hot and bothered. Wait until you are calm, so that your apology does not turn into more cross ‘telling off’. If you’ve had a bad morning with one of your teenagers before school, you might say to them after school, “Look I’m sorry I got mad at you this morning. I really hate starting the day like that and I know it doesn’t make you feel good either.”

At times it might be appropriate to go a bit further and have a teaching moment – “Can I ask you to please just unload the dishwasher every morning – without me asking – because it will help to take the pressure off”. You could also try getting them involved in problem-solving the conflict, empowering them to consider how they might help get things back on track. "How do you think we could run our mornings better so that we can all leave the house feeling calmer each day?”

As with all relationships, it's good to have a little chat to clear the air, rather than waiting for the wind to blow it away.

It might feel easier to just let things ‘blow over’ and not really address the rupture incident. But as with all relationships, it's good to have a little chat to clear the air, rather than waiting for the wind to blow it away (wind that might one day just blow it right back at you again!).

When the ball is in the other court...

It is not only us parents who stuff up and behave badly – sometimes it will be our teen who really needs to repair with us! We may have been a picture of peace and calm, and it was our teenager who overreacted or was rude and disrespectful.

Our kids do not automatically know how to repair with us. They need guidance. We need to recognise that tweens or teens will often make a ‘bid for connection’ after there has been a rupture. This might look like a short text message – “Have a good day Mum”. It might look like trying to be helpful with a chore. It might be a nudge into you, asking you for a hug.

If you are still feeling upset by your teen, you might be inclined to ignore their bid for connection. Coming in with a nudge for a hug doesn’t feel like it makes up for the disrespect or rudeness you just endured. You might not feel like a hug with this particular teenager at this particular moment, because – let's be honest – you might have been really offended by their behaviour and it still kinda stings.

Tweens or teens will often make a ‘bid for connection’ after there has been a rupture.

However, fellow grown-ups, this is our moment to shine. It is up to us as adults to be the bigger person and to accept the bid for connection, to embrace it even, and to recognise that our teen is trying their best to repair.

We can use this time as a teaching moment about the finer details of repair. We might say “Sweetheart, I can see that you are being helpful with offering to help me with cooking dinner. Are you wanting to say sorry? I would actually like to hear the words from you that you are sorry, because that was a really rude way to speak to me and I feel pretty upset.” (This is not forcing an apology, which can lead to resentment, rather it is empowering our kids to understand genuine apologies and how to repair relational damage.)

If the child says, “Sorry Mum” you can ask them – “Okay, I need to hear what you are sorry for?” (It is good for our kids, especially as they get older, to learn how to articulate what they understand was out of line.)

Tomorrow's another day

If your teen kicks off again, you have addressed the need for repair too soon. Wait until the situation is truly calm and the rage is genuinely just cold ashes. It might need to be another couple of hours, or the next day. There is no emergency about this repair, even though both you and your teen will be feeling the need for it.

Some people say “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”. This is a lovely principle, and it would be great if repairs can be achieved for all involved before bedtime each night, but sometimes everyone is genuinely too tired to do a good job of the repair work, so it is enough to just say something like “Hey, I hope you know that I love you all the time, even when we are a bit cross or really mad at each other. Sleep well, we’ll chat about it tomorrow. Can I have a hug?”

If you can coach your young person to repair with you properly, you will feel great – and so will they! But remember, this is a long-game. As adults, we are often still learning how to repair graciously. But it’s so worth it. And it’s a wonderful life skill and gift you are giving your kids for their future relationships, too. Ultimately we're giving our kids the confidence to know that while conflict is inevitable, it can be resolved in a healthy way that restores a ruptured relationship.


Kristin Ward

Kristin Ward manages the Family Coaching team and enjoys working with tricky dynamics in families. She loves supporting parents to see how they can be on the same team as their kids, no matter what challenging behaviour they are facing. A mum-of-three, Kristin is passionate about seeing whānau thrive and strongly believes there is lots parents can do to build close and warm relationships with their children.

Recommended Content

Get relatable parenting advice and inspo for your family, direct to your inbox

Subscribe now