One of my favorite contributions of Melanie Klein is the idea of reparation. It is the belief that one’s love is stronger than one’s destructiveness, and any destruction caused by hate has the potential to be repaired. If we believe our potential destructiveness does not have to permanently destroy a person we love or a relationship, then we are much freer to go through the cycle of loving, frustration, aggression and repair. This cycle can even deepen our capacity to remain connected to others and deepen the intimacy of the relationship itself.
In fact, the reality of relationships is they do move through cycles of intimacy and discord. Attachment research tells us intimate relationships go through rupture and repair repeatedly. As long as there is a belief in one’s capacity for reparation, relationships can rupture, repair and then flourish.
But many of us have difficulty believing conflict and rupture can be repaired. We fear conflict because if we permit anger from ourselves or from others, it may permanently destroy the relationship, which is too precious to risk. In fact, Klein believed the central struggle of psychic life is the management and containment of aggression.
But what if our capacity for love exceeds our aggressive impulses, and reparation is possible? In psychotherapy, and particularly in group psychotherapy, we experiment with just those ideas. Many people find for the first time conflict can arise, reparation is possible and intimacy as a result can deepen. As we are learning from attachment literature, both wounding and healing occur within the context of relationship.