You’ve been fighting for hours about the same thing. Your tired, your frustrated, your blood pressure is shooting through the roof, and you start yelling. What comes out is cruel, off topic, and so not helpful to resolving the fight. You feel bad, your partner is even more mad, and now the two of you have taken a step backwards in working through this fight.
We’ve all been there. When this happens it is painful for sure, but not impossible to fix.
When things become escalated during a conversations and you can see that it is going no where good you have some options - one option being to try and give a repair.
There are a couple of types of ways that you can give a repair to your partner after you’ve said something you regret or when you see that you words have escalated the fight.
Affection: Remind your partner you love them, offer them some reassurance. Often times when we are in a fight we can have our fears triggered. Things like “they’re going to leave”, “they don’t love me”, “this is impossible, we can’t work through this” can come up and make it harder for our partners to work through conflict. Examples of affection include; “Hey, I love you and were going to get through this”, “I see that you are really trying to work this out with me, thank you”, “you are doing better with the dishes, thank you”.
Agreement: If your partner has successfully persuaded you in their argument, agree and move on. A simple statement like “true, you do have a good point” is often enough to move the conversation along towards resolution.
Compromise: Try and meet your partner part of the way towards their needs and see if they are willing to compromise to meet your need. To do a compromise, you need to be in the position to be able to understand your partners point of view and what they need. Example of a compromise: Partner 1: “You spend all day at softball, we never do anything on the weekends because of that”. Partner 2: “That’s not true, we have all day Saturday to do chores and grocery shop”. Partner 1: “Exactly! How is that time together?” Partner 2: “I see what you are saying. How about I pick up the groceries on Thursday night, and we come up with some kind of chore system where we get the chores done little by little throughout the week. Then we can have Saturday together.”
Defining the Conflict: It is not uncommon for one person or both partners to get lost in a conflict. With emotions, defenses, and issues that keep popping in and out of a conflict it can feel as if the 2 of you are talking about 2 different things. When things get heated in a fight it can help to take a pause and define the conflict. Example: “I just want to check in and make sure I understand why you are upset. You’re upset because ____. Is that correct?”
Guarding: This is when the conflict has risen to a point where one partner is feeling as if the other is approaching dangerous territory. Guarding can be used to gently set a boundary - “Careful, you know I get mad when you talk about my mom”.
Humor: Always a good thing. Humor can be used to laugh at the situation. Never laugh at your partner.
Making Promises: Make a promise to try and work on the issue. For example, if the issue is housework, say “How about I try and work on doing the dishes each night. It would help me too if you reminded me to take out the trash because I forget”.
When doing couples therapy I often work with couples on identifying moments, signs that their partners give them that let each partner know that the conversation or conflict is heading in a bad direction - one where resolution might not happen. I then work with the couple to help them identify helpful repair strategies, strategies that their partner might be most receptive too. I work with the couple to help them understand that it is each persons responsibility to help manage the flow of conflict, help their partner to manage emotions, and to work towards resolution. Repair attempts are just one of many strategies that couples can work on in therapy.
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