Every couple fights. It’s a simple fact common to all relationships. Sometimes these fights are big (hiding financial problems), and sometimes they are seemingly insignificant (whose turn is it to walk the dog).
It’s important to fight fair, but another crucial aspect of conflict is knowing how to repair. Repairing can prevent a discussion from turning into a full-blown fight, or can help you reconcile after the fight has occurred.
According to marriage researcher & therapist Dr. John Gottman in his book What Makes Love Last?, emotional repairs “attempt to lower the tension level by understanding and then acknowledging the partner’s feelings.” Repairs work best if used as soon as you realize you neglected your partner in a moment of need.
The following list illustrates some repairs that work well (adapted from Gottman’s book).
Accept that your partner was right in some part during your conversation. For example, if you and your partner are having a heated discussion about who should walk the dog, you might offer the olive branch by saying, “You did walk the dog this morning, so now it’s my turn.”
Meet in the middle by finding a solution you can both agree on. “You walk the dog in the morning and I will walk the dog every night.” This shows you are willing to work towards a real solution, and that you aren’t just out to “win.”
This repair is as simple as holding your partner’s hand or verbally expressing appreciation. A kind word can help diffuse tension by shifting your focus to the person you love rather than the topic of the disagreement.
When used properly, humor can be an excellent form of repair. A joke that is funny to both you and your partner can instantly ease the tension. Self-deprecating humor may be just the ticket. Being able and willing to laugh at yourself is a valuable skill in marriage, especially during an argument.
5) Take responsibility
Simply state your part in the problem and admit you are not perfect. “I have not been taking care of the dog like I said I would.” This not only helps your partner feel validated, but also shows your partner that you are truly listening.
Communicate you understand what your partner is feeling. “I can see you are stressed. I imagine walking the dog on top of taking care of the house and our child is wearing you thin, so it must be really frustrating when I don’t help by taking care of it myself.”
Showing your partner that you can see from their perspective lets them know you are looking out for their best interest. Conversely, a lack of empathy makes it appear you only care about yourself.
7) Remain United
Even though you may not always agree, you are committed to each other and it helps to acknowledge this from time to time. Remind your partner that even though you encounter conflict, you will find a way to get through it together.
Repair attempts are essential skills that are easy to develop and are invaluable for your marriage. Learning to repair during disagreements will allow you to build positive interactions and increase your confidence in dealing with conflict. These repairs will not prevent all conflict, but they can be a great way to build trust in your relationship.