You've just gotten into an argument with your partner, feel frustrated and not sure how what to do. There are two possible choices...
- Take that much needed break to calm down and get some perspective?
- Come back and resume where you left off?
By continuing the fight, things escalate quickly. Before you know it, you're yelling, calling each other names, and sometimes it even gets physical.
At that point, you feel mortified and ashamed that it's gone this far. It doesn't have to.
Taking a time out gives you a much needed break and hopefully changes your perspective. If you want to read about time outs, read my blog Managing Anger with Time Outs.
After an argument, you or your partner will make an attempt to "repair" the fight.
The Gottman Institute defines repairs as an effort to reconnect after an argument by doing something to "repair" the relationship. It's an attempt to make up and start over.
The key here is accountability. That means taking responsibility for your actions, not groveling or being a doormat.
You may be thinking, why should I admit my mistakes, my partner never will!
I'll tell you why! Because it builds integrity and confidence. If you face your mistakes - and let's face it we all have them - you will be stronger as a result.
I'm very passionate about this because I've seen the lack of accountability destroy more relationships than anything else. Know that this is where you put your big girl/boy pants on and just do it.
When repairs are practiced, the energy shifts from blaming each other to being accountable. The cycle of destructive fighting has the opportunity to transform into healthy conflict.
Examples of repairs
- Using humor
- Break the silence
- Validating what's being said
- Giving a smile
- Acknowledge your behavior
- Gently suggesting a time out
If repairs are rejected out of hurt or spite, the hurt continues and nothing gets resolved. When repairs are continuously rejected, the partner stops trying.
When repairs go unnoticed, the conflict intensifies but when they are accepted, the healing can begin.
Examples of rejecting repairs
- Giving the silent treatment
- Purposely not answering your partner
- Responding with criticism
- Making them feel crazy
- Flinching if affection is given
- Blaming the other to avoid responsibility
- Not accepting an apology or "repair"
Responding to repairs takes awareness and practice. Taking a break helps.
Paying attention to early warning signs of anger prevents the argument from becoming abuse. Read my blog called When Conflict Gets Messy for more help with anger.
Recognize that repairs are attempts to reconnect so the hurt can be addressed and worked through. Otherwise, partners become emotionally distant. Remember that accepting a repair doesn't mean accepting the behavior, it's about moving on.
- If still upset, tell your partner you need a break.
- Do something to handle your anger.
- Notice your partner's effort.
- Admit your behavior. This invites your partner to do the same.
- If your reaction was intense, write what factors led to it (outside stress, painful memory, not speaking up, etc.) to gain clarity.
Recognize your partner's repairs and make an effort to acknowledge them. Use humor if appropriate. Everyone has a unique way of making repairs so treasure those qualities that make your relationship unique.
That goes a long way in creating more intimacy.
If you were able to respond differently to your partner's repairs, how would that improve your relationship? Are your own repairs working? Share this blog with your partner and talk about what kind of repairs work best for you.