Many years ago, I took a course in geology during my undergraduate. At the end of the semester, the class took a three-day road trip to look at geological formations in person. There was so much to see in the landscape that I would never have noticed or understood without someone pointing it out to me. I remember the professor talking about “frost wedging” and how it can break apart rock over time. I know, this seems like it would have nothing to do with my work as a psychologist in Orange County, but give it a minute and you’ll see.

Frost wedging is when water enters into a fracture in rock, even if it is microscopic, then freezes and expands. If you’ve ever put a drink into the freezer to cool quickly and then forgot about it, you’ll understand what frost wedging is. Just as you’re frozen coca-cola expands in the freezer and often breaks the bottle, water in a rock expands when frozen and pushes the rock apart. Even if it starts with only a microscopic crack and expands just a fraction of each freeze/thaw cycle, you can see the consequence over time in the picture with this blog. Where I grew up, this would happen on rock cliffs, and every so often there would be a monumental rock landslide as an entire rock face would fall and wipe out a bridge or cover a road for a week. All that from just a little bit of water freezing.

It got me thinking about the couples counseling I do, and how so often the really large breakdowns for couples are often the result of something small. But over time, the small things that are repeated can create big cracks and distance in the relationship. As an Orange County psychologist, I hear this from couples who have become indifferent to one another and talk about “falling out of love.” The spark has gone out after years of avoiding confronting hurts and staying silent about unmet wants or needs. Little by little they politely move a little bit further away from each other to avoid feeling as hurt the next time the same scenario plays out. Given enough time, they don’t remember why they are together. Eventually, there is a landslide, like a separation or a divorce, and it seems so shocking since there was no obvious indicator that there was something was wrong.

A car company, in response to the 2008 market crash, said that “neutral is the new growth.” Just to not be going backward financially was a mark of success. Unfortunately, relationships do not have a neutral. They are either moving closer or apart. Any problem or need that is not talked about and worked out WILL create distance in the relationship. Whether a couple or a friendship, that distance only compounds and grows when it happens again the next time.

Unlike a rock, which doesn’t go back together when broken, relationships actually gain strength and closeness from fractures that are brought into the relationship to address in a healthy way. Kind of odd sounding, but I believe that there is no possibility of trust and deeper connection in a relationship without there being a hurts or problems to work out. When you talk and work through a problem in a relationship, you will naturally have more confidence in the other person, the relationship’s strength, and your freedom to be who you are with the other person.

So the next time you see a broken rock, marvel at the wonders of the geological process at work. Then, use it as a reminder to look for anything in your relationships you’re not talking about that may be driving a wedge. If you think of something, please say it to the person while there is still something to lose, because eventually, little by little, there will be nothing left that you want to keep.