You've just gotten into an argument with your partner, you feel frustrated and not sure how what to do. What choice do you make?
- Take that much needed break to calm down and get some perspective.
- Come right back and resume where you left off.
It's really hard to stop mid-fight yet it works. Here's my rule. If you can listen while being upset, then keep going. If you can't, it's time to leave.
Because when you don't leave things can escalate fast. Before you know it, you're arguing over the little things that don't really matter. It becomes a vicious cycle of 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 break and depending on what you do with it 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 Couples Institute defines repairs as an effort to reconnect after an argument by doing something to "repair" the relationship. Basically you attempt to make up and start over.
Accountability is key. That means taking responsibility for your actions, not groveling or being a doormat. By owning your part of the argument you stop the cycle of blame. You set the example for your partner to do the same but even if they don't -keeping on your side of the street will help.
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. This is where you put your big girl/boy pants on and just do it.
When you start using repairs, the energy shifts from blaming each other to being accountable. The cycle of destructive fighting has the opportunity to transform into healthy conflict.
What are repairs?
- Using humor (not sarcasm)
- Breaking the silence
- Validating what's being said
- Giving a smile
- Acknowledging your behavior
- Gently suggesting a time out
When repairs are rejected out of hurt or spite, 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 by denying what happened
- Flinching when affection is given
- Blaming the other to avoid responsibility
- Not accepting an apology or "repair"
Responding to repairs takes a willingness to be open. You may still be hurt but not responding makes matters worse. Taking a break helps.
Knowing the 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 acknowledged and worked through. Otherwise, partners become emotionally distant. Remember that accepting a repair doesn't mean accepting the behavior. In receiving it you take the first step towards forgiveness and 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.
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