by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
My husband and I were arguing the other day about something. At the time the argument seemed vitally important to us both—no doubt a matter of personal integrity and emotional security—but now I can’t even remember what the topic was.
What I remember was the repair. After conflict we take to our separate corners and lick our feeling wounds, sure that the other person is exactly every negative thing we have decided that they are. And me, I’m EXTRA sure, because gosh I really know. Just ask me!
Time passes and the intensity of feeling subsides. Then it is time to do that uniquely human thing: talk.
Repair work is the most important part of conflict.
I’m not a gambler, but if I was I wouldn’t bet on the marriage where the husband and wife never fight (which is good because I don’t personally know of any), I would put my money on the marriage where they fight and work themselves up to a lather and then talk it through, learning new things about themselves and their partner in the process.
Healthy repair looks like both people apologizing for their part in the mess, and offering forgiveness to one another. This is so simple, and yet it is tricky for a lot of folks. Why is this repair work so important?
Because after the pups are raised, the highest purpose of long term monogamy is emotional healing. When two people know each other’s gifts as well as issues and give one another the grace of acceptance, both feel truly loved and truly love-worthy.
Often when couples are struggling in their relationship, one or both are having trouble doing their part of the repair work. If this seems like it might be a skill you would like to develop here is a handy-dandy little cheat sheet for you:
- Cool off. If you are still fantasizing about spending the life insurance after the hit man kills your partner you are not yet ready.
- Pay attention to new information, particularly the exceptions to your blanket negative judgments. If you think the big problem in the relationship is that your man is lazy and yet he is cleaning the house, make note of that in your mind.
- At a mutually convenient time ask, “Can we talk?”
- Initiate the conversation in one of two ways:
- The A-plus method is to say, “when we got into the fight I realized that I…” and take responsibility for what you did wrong.
*No attack-statements like “when we got into the fight I realize that I should have never married you in the first place.”
*End your explanation with “and I’m sorry for doing that.”
- The B-plus method is to say, “I realize I’m still really upset and I want to talk about it.”
- Then shut up and listen. Yes I know… this part kicks my backside, too.
- Be willing to consider how your specific mistake(s) fit into a larger picture of your character flaws. Are you judgmental? Impatient? Controlling? Passive? Noncommunicative? Own it, baby! Here’s a little hint if this specific part seems challenging: your partner? They already know anyway. Admitting it out loud is just a favor to you both.
Now, here is your turn to share: what do you do to repair your relationship after conflict?