I’ve seen many attempts to process a regrettable incident fail because excuses and explanations get in the way. “I didn’t mean to” won’t make your partner feel better. Empathy and understanding will.
Often there is a particular reassuring phrase that will re-open your partner’s heart. It’s like fitting the right key into a lock. A phrase like, “You are the most important person in my life,” or, “I love you just the way you are.” It’s a simple way to soothe the insecurity triggered in your partner’s brain. Adding anything more, like an explanation, will dilute (if not delete) the power of your key reassurance.
Processing an emotional injury is a two-way process, as partners usually trigger each other. So next it was Julie’s turn to repair the impact of her criticism.
This had to start with Mark’s own courage to discover what made him insecure with her, a fear deep inside that She was unhappy with him, that he failed her.
As he vulnerably admitted this, Julie began to understand the insecurity at the root of his defensiveness. In repairing their upset, her key reassuring phrase for him was, “You’re good enough just the way you are.”
Practice makes good enough
Learning to process fights can feel awkward in the beginning, especially when you are peeling back layers from years of unresolved conflicts. Go slow and repeat key reassurances enough times to be absorbed and integrated.
You are building an emotional vocabulary, which is really like learning a new language. Stick with it. Instead of “practice makes perfect,” adopt the motto, “practice makes good enough.” You will never be perfect because you will always make mistakes.
I encouraged Mark and Julie to dedicate time each week to air their grievances. Dr. Gottman calls this the State of the Union Meeting. It took some time, but they got better at arguing. And that has made all the difference.
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog.
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By John Grey, Ph.D