Rupture and Repair: What the Series "Catastrophe" shows us about Long-Term Love

Award-winning sitcom 'Catastrophe' tells the story of Sharon and Rob whose brief fling leads to an unplanned pregnancy. As their relationship evolves, what the couple illustrate is a central component in long-term relationships - the capacity to survive and grow through moments of rupture and repair.


Ruptures are moments of conflict, disconnection or miscommunication that occur in interpersonal relationships. The Japanese art of kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum, offers a metaphor for the way that damaged objects or relationships are not simply restored, but changed through the reparative process. Rather than hide the damage, the repaired cracks in the pottery remain visible and add to the beauty and uniqueness of the mended piece. When a couple make efforts to restore connection and understanding and heal from any hurt experienced, this process of repair helps to deepen their knowledge and awareness of themselves, each other, and their relationship. This capacity to heal and grow together is key to a lasting, long-term relationship. 

What helps Rob and Sharon repair their relationship following rupture?

1           The capacity to be vulnerable


Early in their relationship, Sharon declares that she can raise their baby alone, she doesn’t need Rob’s marriage proposal. He reminds her of the practical ways that she might need him, adding, “and can you accept the fact that I like you and wanna be with you?” Relieved, Sharon agrees that she doesn’t really want to raise a baby on her own.


Both characters, at different times, disown their dependency needs and repel the other’s attempts to reconnect, but what helps them overcome these moments of disconnection is to stay well enough in touch with their own vulnerability. Equally, they invite and appreciate their partner’s vulnerable side and respond to this without betraying their own boundaries. In doing so, they both make a new commitment to each other each time their relationship is repaired.


2           Negotiating distance and intimacy


Soon after they begin living together, Sharon asks Rob to go out for a walk on his own. “I just need some space, and you take up a lot of space,” she explains cheerfully. “How long do you need?” replies Rob. “Just a couple of hours, or half a day. Not long,” Sharon muses.


To thrive in a relationship, each individual needs to respect both their own and their partner’s needs for closeness and space. Our need for closeness and our need for separateness exist in opposition, so that we experience the push and pull of our own needs and the needs of the other person in constant tension. When Sharon asks Rob to temporarily leave the house, she is asking to break the connection with Rob so that she can reconnect with herself. Rob’s respect for her needs and generosity of spirit enables him to respond empathically and offer her the space she needs and in return she makes room for him by creating space for his belongings. Negotiating distance means cycling through moments of connection, disconnection, and reconnection, building trust and respect for oneself and one’s partner, necessary for the relational dance of rupture and repair.  


3           Curiosity and openness


In one opening scene, Sharon and Rob discuss whether they have thought about cheating. Both admit that they have thought about sex with others but conclude that the reality of the effort, messiness, and inevitable disappointment they would experience with another person would negate any fantasied enjoyment.


What is so funny and endearing about this exchange is the couple’s deep honesty, curiosity, and openness with each other. They show tenderness through their capacity to come close to difficult feelings, playing with the possibility of infidelities and exploring in fantasy their capacity to hurt, and be hurt by, the other. Through their humorous exchange they choose each other once again. They seem to say, “Despite my ordinary, muddled feelings and fantasies, I still choose you.” Far from the Hollywood notion of romance, the warmth and kindness come through their capacity to be curious in the other and accept the other’s attitude towards them as ‘good enough.’

What hinders Rob and Sharon's capacity for repair and reconciliation?

In her book, “Contented Couples,” Anne Power finds that one of the keys to contentment in the long-term couples she interviewed, is their capacity to cope with difficult feelings such as anger, hostility, and disappointment. When those feelings are denied, she says, they become “part of an unseen ticking bomb.”


As you’d expect from a series entitled ‘Catastrophe,’ Rob and Sharon’s relationship is often fraught as they cascade through one calamity after another. They grapple with financial troubles, job losses, suspected infidelities, alcoholism, their parent’s declining health, and family bereavements. They have enough resilience and life experience to muddle through, but not without heartache, anger and disappointment, and a succession of ruptures leads them to question whether their relationship is beyond repair. At times, they are not able to cope with their difficult feelings and their destructive attempts to find relief risks the stability of their family, health, and home. Rediscovering each other with courage, humour, and hope as they navigate each crisis, it might be their burgeoning capacity to cope with their troubling feelings that enable Sharon and Rob to hold on to their relationship, even when they appear to hold on by a thread.


At the heart of the show is a raw honesty which not only adds to its comedic success but anchors the couple’s relationship in authenticity, enabling the characters to plunge into emotional depths and meet with the darkness that lurks in their own shadow. “I love my kids. I wanna be around them maybe eight hours a day. The rest of the hours I wanna be somewhere else,” Sharon admits to her boss before breaking down and realising that she isn’t ready to return to work. Admitting to her limitations and difficult feelings helps Sharon find compassion for herself, and this is often demonstrated, by both characters, towards themselves and each other. Far from unhelpful depictions of romantic, idealised love, Catastrophe depicts a more realistic and pragmatic view of love, acknowledging that ruptures and conflicts are a natural part of relationships, where grief, frustration, and disappointment are part of ordinary, everyday experience.


  • Catastrophe (2015-2019) Channel 4. Directed by Ben Taylor & Jim O'Hanlon. Written by Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney. Available on Netflix, March 2024.
  • Anne Power (2022) Contented Couples: Magic, Logic or Luck?