Learning how to do relationship repair will improve your life more than just about any other skill you will ever learn. Tension and conflict are normal parts of every relationship. Relationship repair, however, can be tricky.
Because most people don’t know how to tackle common relationship issues, minor problems can quickly snowball into resentment, detachment, and lingering conflict. Luckily, with successful relationship repair — the process you go through with a partner when a challenge arises — it doesn’t have to be this way. Learning how to transcend beyond walking on eggshells, criticizing each other, or feeling distant can give way to deeper bonds with others.
Ready to unlock happier relationships? Here are 9 steps for successful relationship repair.
Why Is Relationship Repair Important?
Practicing relationship repair whenever you or your partner are upset can exponentially increase the likelihood of getting to a better place of understanding, which deepens trust, connection, and support. This will ultimately translate to spending more time in pleasure, love, and intimacy.
Comparatively, if you address relationship conflict like most people do — blaming, shaming, defending, explaining, apologizing, demanding forgiveness, or avoiding all conflict altogether — the trust and intimacy in your relationships will inevitably erode over time.
How to Do Repair a Relationship in 9 Steps
1. Recognize You’re In An Emotional Conversation
It’s important to recognize when you move from a regular, positive, or logistical conversation to a triggering or challenging one, so bring awareness to it. You might say something like, “I’m feeling tension inside me from this conversation,” or “I’m triggered.”
2. Gauge Your “Activation” Level
Avoid having conversations and making decisions when you feel overly agitated, or, as we like to call it, “activated.” When emotions are high, switching into relationship repair mode can be tough.
Whether you’re feeling rage, a desire to flee, or disassociation – decide how intense that emotion is on a scale of zero (“neutral”) to 10 (“my head is about to explode”). If you or your partner are feeling anything beyond a “three” on the activation scale, we recommend using the following tips to calm down and reconnect.
3. Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
During tense conversations, it can be challenging to remember that you and your partner are both good people with good intentions. This feeling can be exacerbated by your partner accusing you of doing something wrong or saying hurtful things.
Instead of immediately defending, explaining, deflecting, or shaming, take a moment to remind yourself that you and your partner are doing the best you can and deserve the benefit of the doubt.
4. Decide Who Goes First
It’s essential for both partners to feel heard and take turns sharing their thoughts. That said, it’s impossible to get both your and your partner’s feelings heard at the same time, meaning one must be the listener first.
There are different ways to approach this — perhaps the person with the higher trigger number goes first. Ultimately, you and your partner should alternate being listeners throughout the relationship. And even if only one of you started out with a trigger, once you get done with one side of the repair, always check in to see if the other person needs to share their feelings as well.
5. Share Vulnerably
Sharing vulnerably means talking about your feelings, and not about what happened or about the other person. If you are the person sharing first, try to speak neutrally in a non-shaming and non-judgmental way.
This means explaining what the other person is doing and telling them how it makes you feel. For example, you might say, “When you decline my invitations for sex, I feel rejected and start to shut down or give up.”
6. Listen and Respond Empathetically
Listening empathetically involves stepping in your partner’s shoes to understand their feelings, then responding appropriately.
Continuing with the example above, you might respond with, “Yikes! I can imagine how rejected and shut down you must feel when I say ‘no’ to you.” At that point, your partner may elaborate more on their emotions. You’ll want to continue listening and empathizing with each new thing they say while tracking your own feelings in the process. If you’re starting to feel triggered, let your partner know.
When listening and responding, you never want to parrot back what the other person says or say things like “I feel that way too”. Even if you harbor similar feelings, your life experiences (and subsequently, your traumas, triggers, and survival strategies) are unique.
7. Acknowledge Your Patterns
Once you’ve listened to your partner, it is time to address the impact of your behavior that may have caused their feelings of frustration or resentment. We like to call this the “cop.”
For example, your cop might involve saying, “I know one thing that is hard about me in relationships is that I often feel like my freedom is being encroached upon, so I might say ‘no’ even when I’m more of a ‘maybe’. Also, when I say ‘no,’ I can be harsher than I want because I feel protective of my freedom.”
Copping is not an apology for a specific thing you did. Instead, you’re copping to a particular way you behave in general. That said, make sure you only cop to something if you feel it’s a pattern of behavior you engage in. Don’t cop to things you know aren’t true of you, or your partner will never be able to see their own fears and projections.
8. Provide Reassurance
Once you’ve acknowledged the underlying issue, it’s time to reassure your partner. Reassuring them before you know why they’re upset will likely exacerbate their emotions. Most importantly, only provide reassurance if it’s true, not just to de-escalate the situation.
Here’s an example of how reassurance could look: “I know that I have a much lower sex drive than you, which might make you feel unwanted. I want you to know that I deeply desire you and, when I am in the mood, I love having sex with you.”
9. Reconnect With Your Partner
The last step of relationship repair is reconnecting with your partner. You might ask for a hug or go on a walk together.
If, for some reason, you are not feeling better or more connected to your partner at the end of this process, there might be some lingering feelings that weren’t addressed. In this case, check in with them to see if both of you feel heard, understood, and reconnected. If not, consider doing the exercise again to tackle residual problems.
Start Practicing Successful Relationship Repair
The best way to make relationship repair part of your daily life is to commit to practicing it as best you can. This means always being vulnerable about how you’re feeling, what is challenging about you in the relationship, and treating your partner the way you want to be treated.
Looking for more support in your relationship challenges? Check out this directory of Somatica-trained relationship coaches. Get started today!