We started off the year by introducing the 4R’s - Rupture, Regression, Repair and Resolution. This helpful easy-to-remember model was developed to effectively deal with internal and interpersonal upsets: to figure out what’s going on and to regain emotional balance. Last month, we focused on a Rupture - an unexpected incident/event - that occurred between Barb and Tim. This month, we will explore Regression - the reappearance of long-buried feelings that were awakened in each of them by their rupture.
Rupture and Regression are the initial dynamics in personal and interpersonal upsets. The rupture between Tim and Barb occurred when he got drunk at a party and Barb found him flirting with another woman. Barb immediately left the party and told Tim not to come home. While this is an extreme example of a Rupture - an unexpected incident or event that sets off a spontaneous chain of primitive startle reactions - it helps illustrate how powerfully regression can reveal one’s deepest vulnerabilities. Regression refers to emotional and physical sensations ranging from mild and manageable discomfort (blushing with embarrassment, for example) to intense and overwhelming distress (such as blind rage) as unconscious connections to past memories and behaviors are awakened by a rupture. It is as if regression is an emotional snapshot that exposes messy emotions, beliefs, defenses, thoughts and feelings from earlier times.
As they recounted their rupture in the early moments of their first couple’s session, Tim’s unbearable feelings of shame and remorse changed him from a grown man into a little boy: he hid his tears, fearing banishment for his behavior. Barb appeared cast in stone as if she was in shock - unable to make sense of her isolation and confusion. Before each could regain adult composure, their moments of regression revealed powerful information to me about feelings each of them must have surely endured as defenseless children, long before they ever met each other.
In their second couple’s session, they were more able to connect with each other and talk about their feelings. Barb’s anger was palpable as she fired off questions at Tim. How could you pick her over me? Is it going to happen again? Has it happened before? In a moment of profound sadness she said “I trusted you so much and you broke that trust.” Tears appeared in her eyes as she added she wasn’t sure she’d be able to trust him again.
Tim admitted that nothing good had ever come from his drinking and that he felt nauseous when he thought about all the things he had done when drunk. He knew he lost her trust as he thanked Barb for letting him come home and for giving him a chance to get things right. He started crying and said “I wanted to grow old with you; everywhere I go, I see older couples together - that’s what I want with you.” Barb replied, “I know you want us to grow old together, but sometimes I don’t feel like you love me - your actions that night didn’t show love for me.”
In their first two couples' sessions, both Barb and Tim took significant steps toward repair. Barb said she wouldn’t kick him out again and yet added she couldn’t get past feeling stupid for trusting him. Tim pledged to correct the damage and pain he caused her.
We are only as strong as our weakest links - the lowest common denominator of our vulnerabilities. We often find ways to work around our limitations with such success that the original liability appears to become an asset. These illusions of security become the power behind our strongest defenses. It is hard to believe that the parts of ourselves that we believe would destroy us are often the aspects of ourselves that - if known, understood and accepted - can actually develop secure connections. Barb and Tim both put their best selves forward in their courtship and marriage. Barb experienced Tim as responsible. Tim experienced Barb as confident and independent. In their marriage, their weakest links were exposed over and over again in small ways that could be excused away with moderate doses of denial or even be transformed into endearing qualities.
This rupture could no longer disguise their weakest links. Tim’s reckless acting out and Barb’s cool detachment revealed something fundamental in them that neither could overlook. What caused Tim’s lapse in being responsible? What drove Barb to believe that cutting off from Tim was her only option? As their couple’s therapy continues, the personal feelings, attitudes and behaviors that regression uncovered can come into focus and they can begin to appreciate how the roots of their early emotional burdens shaped them.
Attending to the depths of vulnerability that surface in Regression, however, is difficult and daunting work that requires stamina. Can Tim uncover and tackle what drives him to act irresponsibly? Can Barb understand and address her reactive dismissiveness? Are they willing to give verbal expression to their unspoken disappointments with aspects of their individual lives and with each other? Will they avoid the work of healing their marriage, either because they don’t think the other is worth the effort or because they fear moving toward repair might only make things worse? Will they be able to tolerate experiencing the regressive dynamics of ruptures as they appear again and again in the forthcoming work of repair and resolution? Is each of them motivated enough to make and keep a commitment to delve into the roots of their difficulties as exposed in the initial stages of the 4 R’s?
Subscribe now to follow Barb and Tim as their work continues through the 4 R’s’ in the coming months and track Tim and Barb’s progress through repair and resolution.