Since August, each blog post we’ve written has been another chapter in a journey we are taking couples on: how to create healthier marriages. And boy, have we ever used a step-by-step approach to get you there, too. We preached to always start with the heart, then take personal responsibility, practice self-care and self-talk, add good things into your marriage, learn how our differences don’t have to divide us, and look into ways to reduce hurtful or damaging interactions. Now we’re on to Repair Hurtful or Damaging Interactions.
We hope you found value in those tips and put them into practice. But the journey isn’t over. No matter how hard we try, conflict is inevitable. And surprising as this sounds, our goal is not to eliminate it. The key is what a couple does within a difficult interaction, so they keep it from escalating! This is what’s called repairing.
Prov 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
5 Steps to Repair Hurtful or Damaging Interactions
So, you just had a knock-down-drag-out argument with your spouse. Both of you just said some pretty hurtful stuff. What do you do? You try to make the next conversation better than the last one, and the best way to do that is through what is called repair attempts. These are statements or actions that prevent negativity from escalating out of control.
For example, have you ever considered …
- Taking a break
- Maintaining a sense of humor
- Soothing each other
- Asking, “Can we try that again?” or “Can we have a do-over?”
- Trying to say something again, but in a more positive way
- Using repair words and gestures to show you recognize where things went very wrong
To build off these repair attempts, there’s an exercise that the Gottman Institute uses to provide structure for couples to follow in the aftermath of a fight, miscommunication, or conflict. And it can be broken down into five steps. But remember, we do these with the attitude of: we don’t want to continue this, I love you too much to hurt you. Let’s change this together!
Identify underlying feelings
To repair any hurtful or damaging interaction, we need to allow ourselves and our spouse to share how the conflict made us feel individually. This can be anything from “I felt unfairly picked on” to “I felt misunderstood” and “My feelings got hurt.” More damaging feelings may be that you or your spouse felt scared, worried, unattractive, and morally outraged. Allow each other to express your feelings — get everything out in the open first.
Discuss each person’s subjective reality
All this is saying is to discuss each other’s point of view. How did you see the interaction? What is your spouse’s take on how it really went like for them? Remember, everyone’s point of view is different. For example:
“From where I’m standing, it feels like you are calling me lazy!”
“Well, from my point of view, it doesn’t seem like you even listen to me when I ask for your help with the children.”
Listening to each other’s viewpoints can give both of you some valuable insight into where the conversation went wrong.
Validating the other person’s subjective reality
This is the obvious next step. When listening to your spouse’s point of view, find all the things you can accept or make sense out of. Then follow with statements such as, “I see where you are coming from on XYZ.”
Take responsibility for your part in the fight
Perhaps this is the hardest part for a lot of people, but it’s so important if you want to repair hurtful or damaging interactions. No one is saying that you have to take all the blame, but taking responsibility for some of it will help. For example:
“I have been overly critical lately.”
“Perhaps I haven’t shown as much appreciation for you as I probably should be.”
“I haven’t been a good listener lately.”
Identify possible changes for the next disagreement
Notice how this says, “for the next disagreement.” After all, there will be another disagreement. It’s inevitable. But what you choose to do now will help keep that next conversation from escalating. Think of one thing you can both do differently moving forward, and then share that openly with your spouse. The dialogue that follows aids in the repair process.
To identify possible changes and truly repair moving forward, you must trust each other. Remember what we’ve said before:
Trust is not earned once and for all in a marriage. It must be continually established and maintained.
Your attitude, belief, and value for your spouse are also essential.
Treasure your spouse, and honor each other’s vulnerability.
All we are saying is that conflict is inevitable, and if your goal is to eliminate it, you will always spin your wheels. Repairing is an ongoing process that is necessary for any great relationship. It’s important to accept each other’s opinions, differences, and feelings, and find common ground. If you do, you’ll be blessed with the marriage you’ve always wanted.
Our heart is devoted to caring about people and marriages!
Our heart is devoted to caring about people. We want to ensure you have the tools to communicate better in your marriage. The best way we know how to do that is by spreading the word to more people and let them know that we are here.
Did we leave anything out? What are some ways you try to repair? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going. mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.