In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman introduces the concept of “repair attempts” to keep conflict from derailing your marriage. According to Gottman, the success or failure of a couple’s repair attempts is one of the primary factors in whether their marriage flourishes or flounders. Along with Dr. Gottman’s principles, I’ve included my own practical applications for your marriage. Practice these reparative strategies regularly and watch your friendship grow.
A repair attempt is defined as any statement or action—silly or otherwise—that prevents negativity from escalating. Here are a few examples of phrases that can be effective repair attempts. Keep in mind that the absence of repair attempts is a strong predictor of marital failure.
“I over reacted, I’m sorry.”
“I can see my part in all this.”
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Saying you’re sorry when the apology is not genuinely “heartfelt” can be damaging. Be sure that as you apologize, you are sincere. It will make a big difference in helping you move past your conflict.
2. Taking a time out
“Let’s take a break.”
“Give me just a moment. I’ll be back.”
“I think we are getting off track. Can we start over?”
Agreeing to temporarily step away from your conflict when emotions intensify is important. If you feel there has been a shift of direction that feels unsafe, regroup and reconvene when cooler heads prevail.
3. Calming each other down
“I need things to be calmer right now.”
“Can I take that back?”
“I don’t feel safe right now.”
Don’t be afraid to correct course and admit if you’ve said something incorrect, hurtful or inaccurate. Be aware of and sensitive to your partner’s emotions. Loving words and actions can help keep you both on a path towards resolution.
4. Maintaining a sense of humor
“Do you think we should get out the boxing gloves?”
“We sound like two little kids right now, don’t we?”
“Am I whining enough for you?”
If you get too serious, you’ll experience greater obstacles. By making sure you can still laugh with each other, you may provide avenues or ways to a breakthrough that you might not have seen before.
5. Affirming each other
“I know this isn’t your fault.”
“You are right.”
“You have a good point.”
“I think what you are saying makes sense.”
Affirming your spouse’s feelings and point of view can go a long way in keeping them engaged in constructive dialog. By affirming them, you demonstrate that you understand and value what they are saying.
What repair attempts have you used in your relationship to either avoid or repair the damage unhealthy conflict can create? Let us know what works for you!
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Linaman is a psychologist and executive coach providing counseling and professional development services to individuals, couples, work teams and organizations.