Think of a repair attempt as slamming on the brakes when you see a red light. You do this to avoid a collision that could harm your marriage.
The difference between stable, emotionally intelligent marriages and unhappy ones is not that repair attempts are better, but that the repair attempts get through to the spouse. Repair attempts require two people – the person offering the repair and one accepting it.
Repair attempts often start before a repair is made. It is dependent on the state of the relationship. Happy couples send and receive repair attempts with ease. In unhappy marriages, even amazing repair attempts fall on deaf ears.
Sometimes repair attempts seem negative, “That’s not what we are talking about” or “Stop! This is getting out of control.” If your relationship is swimming in an ocean of negativity, repair attempts will be difficult to hear.
In The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman has a list of repair attempts that may feel unnatural at first but provide you the vocabulary to naturally repair conflict before it harms your marriage. I’d recommend starting with a low-intensity conflict when practicing repair attempts to help you resolve an issue in your marriage.
Step 3: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
In unstable marriages, conflict discussions can lead to flooding, which make repair attempts physically impossible to hear. If you or your partner feel flooded, take a 20-30 minute break and focus on the positives of your relationship by yourself. This “forced” relaxation will do wonders for your marriage.
I recommend learning how to soothe each other.
Ask yourself and each other the following questions:
- What makes us feel flooded?
- How do we bring up issues or complaints?
- Do we hold things in, rather than share them? If so, why do you think that is?
- When you feel flooded, is there something I can do to soothe you?
- How do you think you could soothe me when I feel flooded?
- What signals can we send each other when we feel flooded so we can take breaks and soothe each other?
Step 4: Compromise
Compromise is the only way to solve marital problems. Compromise is not one person changing. It’s about negotiating and discovering ways to accommodate each other. Compromise is impossible unless you accept your partner’s flaws. Marriages can be weighed down by the “if only…” my partner was richer, sexier, or more emotionally expressive. Unlike cherishing your partner, which nurtures gratefulness for what you have, “if only” nurtures resentfulness towards your partner. This makes conflict impossible to solve.
Compromise is about accepting influence from your partner. Research shows that men tend to struggle with this more than women. If you are willing to accept influence, working with each other becomes way easier.
Step 5: Address Emotional Injuries
Arguments can leave emotional wounds even when a couple resolves an issue. This is perfectly normal and requires talking about or “processing.” Sometimes it’s about how you were fighting, not what you were fighting about Dr. Gottman has a powerful exercise on page 188 in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that will help heal these emotional injuries.
Mastering these general problem-solving skills will lead you to discover that many of your problems will find their own solutions. Once you can overcome the barriers that have prevented clear communication, difficulties are easier to resolve. But remember: these solutions work only for problems that can be solved. If compromise seems impossible, then the problem you are struggling with is likely perpetual.
If you want more tools to help solve your solvable problems and manage the perpetual ones, then get your free copy of the popular guide 7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last here.