If something is broken beyond repair, we let it go and toss it in the trash. If the pieces can be put back together, we repair the item instead to make it appear as if a break never happened. Enter the Japanese art of Kintsugi, an intriguing metaphor for broken relationships.
Kintsugi means “golden repair,” and it’s the art of mending broken pottery with gold, leaving a permanent reminder of the pottery’s history rather than hiding the break with an undetectable repair. Some might view this repaired piece of pottery as ugly, but the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi considers the repaired pottery as stronger and more beautiful than the original.
Similarly, broken relationships can be repaired and the “cracks” filled in with the gold of new, healthy relationship patterns making your relationships stronger and more beautiful than before.
The “Cracks” of Damaging Conflict Styles
All relationships have occasional conflict — including healthy relationships. Using the Kintsugi metaphor, what are the cracks that lead to dysfunctional relationship dynamics or “broken” relationships? According to psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman, four conflict styles damage relationships and erode trust:
Criticism is damaging because it attacks the other person’s character. The target shifts from the issue at hand to aiming directly at the person with comments such as, “You always” or “You never.” Criticism doesn’t open the door to conflict resolution.
You may know what it feels like when someone rolls their eyes at you. Contempt is the most destructive of all conflict in relationships and the top predictor of divorce in marital relationships. Contempt can include mocking and condescending remarks. It communicates to the one on the receiving end that they are being viewed with disgust.
You can probably think of a time where you expressed a need to someone, and rather than hearing you, they defended themselves. How did you feel? You probably felt unheard and that your concerns didn’t matter. That’s why defensiveness is so harmful to relationships; we want to be heard and valued.
Have you ever dished out or received the “silent treatment.” It doesn’t feel very good. Stonewalling is not the same as stepping away to calm down; it’s about shutting down and communicating that the relationship isn’t worth working for.
Despite how these four damaging conflict styles can lead to broken relationships, help is available to repair them. The antidotes to broken relationships are like the gold that strengthens a Kintsugi pottery repair.
Broken Relationships: Can Counseling Help?
“Broken” relationships are relationships that have developed unhealthy relational dynamics, and they can be helped with counseling. There is a reality to acknowledge — like shattered pottery, not all broken relationships should be fixed. Fortunately, a therapist can help you evaluate your relationship.
At Eunoia Counseling, we can help you and your partner, or other relationship, with the healing “gold” skills you desire to nurture a healthier relationship. Before long, your relationship can benefit from counseling and set it on a positive trajectory. Reach out today to learn more about how counseling can help improve your broken relationships.