A number of years ago, my husband Steve and I were taking a marriage class with a counselor. We were learning how to teach certain marriage skills to others. As the day progressed, I remarked to this counselor how amazing it is that Steve and I get along so well because we are different in so many ways. We argued a LOT in our earlier years as we clashed over these differences. This counselor then said something I hadn’t thought of before. She said, “You and Steve must be good at relationship repair.” Curious, I asked her what she meant. She told me that couples that are successful in their marriages are good at fixing their relationship after they fight.
Marriage Relationship Repair
Now I was expecting a long explanation from her to explain this “method” —much like the other skills we were learning. But I was wrong.
She told me that it’s actually not a “method.” It’s an intentional interaction —one that can change from one time to the next. Yet because of the dynamics and strength of the relationship, it works. It can be as simple as giving a humorous quip or gesture. Or… It can be an apology that’s given at the right time. And/or it can be many other different ways of “fixing” the discontent where at least one of the partners is angry.
Here’s what The Gottman Institute wrote (that we agree with) on this matter, including a few tips:
“In relationships, just like with automobiles, repairs are essential to success. During conflict, they keep things from spiraling out of control. And they help bring you and your partner closer together. A repair attempt can be as simple as: Making a joke (without sarcasm!) – Giving a compliment or showing affection – Taking responsibility – Expressing that you understand your partner – Reminding your partner that you’re in this together. All couples fight, but what matters is that your repair attempts succeed. If you learn when to make repairs and how to understand and apply them, you and your partner will stay positive. And you can keep going for that lovely ride together.”
FYI: The Gottman Institute put together a short quiz you can take on this matter to help you in this area of marriage. You can find it at:
• LOVE QUIZ: How Well Do You Repair Your Relationship?
Additional Marriage Relationship Repair Tips:
Concerning relationship repair, here are a few more tips, which are given by Pamela Milam:
“Apologize with sincerity for the parts of the conflict that are your responsibility: ‘I can see what you’re saying about that first part of your complaint. You’re right. I do that sometimes, and I’m not proud of it.'”
“Make an offering to help repair the situation: Physically or emotionally, mend a breach, restore what’s broken, etc. ‘I see what I did wrong, and I plan to apologize to your mom.’ Or, ‘I botched my attempt at making you feel understood, but I’m listening now. Tell me more.’ Or something as concrete as, ‘I broke it. I’ll replace it.'” (From the Rewireme.com article, “How To Make Up After An Argument”)
I’ve seriously considered what this counselor said about our repair attempts. And I can see that she was right. Steve and I have become MUCH better at fixing our relationship snags and flare-ups than when we were first married. (Our earlier years were not good ones.) With intentionality, we’ve learned how to get through, past, and beyond our conflict issues in ways that have kept us together. It has been a long relationship repair journey. (It’s one we’re still on, and will be as long as we have breath.) But through this journey, we’ve learned a lot of important things.
Learned Relationship Repair Pointers
One of them is to resolve our differences quicker. Steve and I put effort into keeping our “accounts” shorter with each other. We don’t drag our arguments out over long periods of time like we used to—adding fuel to the fire with each passing day. That’s too unhealthy. We work the issue through as quickly and thoroughly as we can and get on with our love life with each other.
Another thing we’ve learned is once we resolve a conflict issue, we drop it. We don’t keep revisiting it over and over again. Being too hysterical and too historical over conflict issues just causes more damage. Here’s some advice that Stacey Feintuch compiled from some relationship experts that supports what we have learned on this aspect of relationship repair:
“Let it go. ‘If couples consistently rehash every fight they ever had, there will be never-ending feuding and zero time for love and fun,’ says Mike Goldstein.
“Plus, if the argument has really been resolved, then why bring it up again, says Leslie M. W. Doares. ‘Holding something over your partner’s head is not loving behavior and will not result in a healthy, successful relationship,’ she says. If something was said that bothers you, don’t keep getting in jabs after you’ve allegedly reached a resolution. You’ll only end up talking in circles and not resolving anything.
“‘By bringing up old conflicts, all you’re really doing is restarting the battle while also showing your partner that prior resolutions and agreements mean nothing,’ says Stacey Laura Lloyd. ‘In fact, when you bring up an old conflict, you’re well on your way to starting a new one.'” (From the Rd.com article, “What Not to Do After a Fight With Your Partner)
Another Relationship Repair Tip
Another relationship repairing point we’ve learned is something that Phil Carson also points out:
“Be the first to repair. The Bible says, ‘Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.‘ (James 5:16) Be the first to confess when you blow it. We all say things in the heat of the moment that we know are wrong. I learned about repairs from marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman. His research found that doing the right kind of damage control helps couples to have a better resolution.
“This means quickly apologizing and taking ownership of your poor behaviors. It can be statements like: ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.’ … ‘Can I take that back?’ … ‘I’m getting a little worked up. Can we start again?’ … ‘I know this is a tough subject, but I want to work through it with you.’ … ‘That was really hurtful, wasn’t it? I didn’t mean that.’ Anything that de-escalates an argument and helps to restore connection can help.” (Phil Carson, from the connectedmarriage.com article, “7 Rules of a Fair Fight”)
To restore our connection, sometimes we have to swallow our pride. This is a pretty big thing to consider doing. It starts out with a real bitter taste. But eventually, it’s worth it because it can lead to the sweetness of reconciliation later. And that certainly makes it worthwhile!
Another Relationship Repair Tip
Also, Steve and I pray together every morning. It’s difficult to hold hands and pray together if we haven’t repaired our relationship beforehand. Or we have to at least have a good working start on repairing it. I’m sure that commitment has helped us in MANY ways. This includes the fact that God answers prayer. The old saying is true, “The couple who [earnestly] prays together stays together.”
We also work on doing what Dr John Gottman calls, “stockpiling good feelings” towards each other. In his research, Dr Gottman discovered something interesting.
“The issue isn’t whether you fight with each other, it’s how you fight and how rich your stockpile of good feelings is about each other to weather difficulties and keep your basic attitude toward your partner positive.” (You can learn more in the article, It’s Not IF You Fight But HOW You Fight That’s Important, which we recommend you read.)
To Be Successful in Relationship Repair
Now when you think about it, that makes sense. HOW you fight determines whether you can be successful at relationship repair. This is so that you don’t annihilate each other emotionally. Plus you must feel good about each other beforehand so you give each other more grace. This way things can be smoothed over easier. But how many of us truly apply this concept to our lives together?
In marriage, it’s easy to take each other for granted. As a result, we forget to approach life as partners. And we’re not just talking about working partners. We’re also talking about loving, caring partners. Sometimes we KNOW we should do certain things, but we forget, or we overlook doing them. We forget their importance. Wherever you are… today can be a new beginning, if you approach it as one.
If you and your spouse are stockpiling good memories, resolving conflicts in healthy ways, and you do a good job of repairing your relationship, CONGRATULATIONS! Keep up the good work. But please don’t rest on your laurels. Keep building.
Take Care of Your Marriage
As Dr Steve Stephens says,
“It’s a sad state of affairs when we take better care of our cars and houses than we do our marriages. We change the oil, fill the tank, and periodically tune up our cars. We change light bulbs, wash windows, paint walls, unplug toilets, and re-roof our houses, but what do we do to maintain our marriage? The truth is: more damage is done than repairs are made. How important is your marriage?”
If it is important (and it should be —if for no other reason than the vows you made to each other and to God), then do what it takes to make it good and healthy. And keep it that way. Make the long-term and short-term repairs that are needed. It’s worth the effort you put into it.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
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