One of the secrets of marriages that work is using and receiving repair attempts.

According to John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, repair attempts are a way to put the kibosh on escalating tension between a couple.  Think of it as an adult time out, a tool used to bring emotions under control.

Repair attempts can be communicated from one partner to the other in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it’s a request (“let’s not fight, OK?”).  Other times it’s an apology (“sorry I jumped to conclusions”).  And other times they can be a humorous gesture, like sticking your tongue out or making an Elvis face.  When one partner makes a repair attempt it is a signal that they don’t want to feel the pain of yet another argument.

It takes insight and courage for someone to make a repair attempt.

The receiver of the repair attempt needs to accept the gesture and re-focus their emotional energy as well.  They need to understand that their partner doesn’t want to fight.  This is a  critical component of learning to de-escalate a fight.  If the receiver refuses the repair attempt and continues to push for an argument, their partner will either engage in a  full blown knock-down, drag-out fight or they will simply disengage, neither of which will help to improve the partnership.

Once both parties take a breather and calm down, then it’s time for the fair fight.  All couples argue and the point of a repair attempt is not to squelch all communication but to redirect energies into talking and listening, rather than screaming and defensiveness.  Learning to discuss differences with respect and not pushing each other’s buttons is a skill  employed in the healthiest of unions.  Using and receiving repair attempts is a sign of cooperation and ultimately builds stronger relationships.

It’s important to realize that most conflicts are not resolved.  That may seem defeating but  Gottman’s research shows us that 69% of the time conflicts go unresolved.  What is important though is the willingness to let go of another pointless argument that erodes the relationship.

When your partner uses a repair attempt you have a choice to make:  escalate a fight or de-escalate to a conversation.  Arguments in couples are less about being right or wrong and more about respect and understanding your partner.

So the next time you and your partner disagree, think very clearly about how you want the scene to go.  If you are interested in being right you will not use or receive repair attempts.  If you are interested in a healthier relationship you will find a way to de-escalate the tension.

 

Mary Beth George
Mary Beth George is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Gottman Therapist, Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and co-owner of Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates. She is an empty nester with a passion for rescue dogs, traveling and spending time with people that make her laugh.