I was in Cleveland working in a group of therapists when someone asked Mari Creelman what to do about this impossible task of mistakes when parenting. She looked at him and responded, “Be honest about your mistakes, that’s how trust builds.” I believe this advice works for all relationships. It is very ordinary to make mistakes, be silent and hope they go away or we drift apart.
What is it that keeps us silent? Shame. We are ashamed of ourselves and don’t want to make it any worse. Shame interferes with repair within ourselves or with others. The pinch of shame is why so many people can’t say they’re sorry. Learning to make shame more bearable in order to repair relationships is important to learn. As human beings we are likely to hurt the people we love. So repair is important because it is turning towards each other. Anger and hurt is a splitting apart.
Resentments that build up over time or a resentment that is irrevocable as in Neil Labute’s play “Reasons to Be Pretty,” can be powerful enough to destroy a relationship so there is no turning back. I notice this is especially true for women. Men often beg women to let go and move on, too often prematurely. Resentments are often nurtured by people who don’t say enough about what they want or about their hurt. Resentments are dangerous and devisive because repair is too fragile to carry the weight of a long unspoken history.
Repair means reaching out, risking vulnerability, and taking ownership of hurting another, if it is to be authentic. Remember how long it can take for you to heal after a physical injury and hang in there with the process.
Repair is not a word we think about enough and yet it is so important. Push through your shame and practice repair more often and you will be more trustworthy in relationships. Consider college roomates, colleagues at work and relatives all people to practice with. It’s so easy to be annoyed, and then do an impatient dump on others. Be awkward, make an effort and take a stab at repair. In both our humility and ability to repair, we all can afford to improve with practice.