Repair your relationship by re-building trust. Day by day, interaction by interaction. Devoting the time to get back in each other’s good graces.
Gottman’s research tells us the quality and resilience of the Friendship System in a marriage provides the bedrock for repair. Conflict is inevitable in marriages. It’s even healthy. But your abiding degree of trust and friendship will help you navigate conflicts and understand each other more deeply.
Relationship repair #1: Sweat the small stuff
Much of the research in science-based couples therapy is counter-intuitive. Take repair attempts. It doesn’t matter how carefully worded, sincere, or heartfelt a repair attempt is. Those factors don’t predict the success of any given repair attempt.
It’s the balance of the emotional bank account, the sentiment override, that determines your success. Positive sentiment override is like lubricating the moving parts of your relationship. When conflict occurs, all the fondness and admiration, turning towards, and positivity you have deposited in your emotional bank accounts allows repair attempts to be impactful. The small stuff really matters.
Relationship repair #2: Keep it soft with a softened start-up
I can’t emphasise this enough. Softened start-up is the Holy Grail of effective communication. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your spouse, you will end up with at least as much tension as you started with, and maybe even a whole lot more.
The habit of using a softening start-up to your complaints is crucial to resolving your relationship conflicts. If your arguments start gently, your relationship is far more likely to be solid and intimate, and your Friendship System will become more resilient.
Also, I think couples therapists don’t talk enough about developmental trauma and softened start-up. If your partner has developmental trauma, their nervous system might tell them that you’re yelling when you don’t think you are at all.
If this is a problem in your relationship, agree to use a phrase such as “I love you, and I am on your side” or “Could you please say that lower and slower?” Repair your relationship by offering immediate Feedback on issues like pitch, timbre, and tone. This one shift can go a long way to preventing escalation, particularly with a traumatised partner. If your relationship needs to work on communication book in for a session with Matt at Redlands Counselling Service.
Relationship repair #3: Be cool… But don’t withdraw
Research shows that how the recipients of criticism, especially husbands, behave in the first 12 minutes is pivotal. Don't allow anger to rule your relationship, sometimes we need a pause, calm down and rejoin conversation.
If you can be cool, calm and collected, and present an open and neutral stance, particularly during the first 5 seconds... it will go a long way toward preventing escalation. It might even be the most important thing you do
Relationship repair #4: Stop playing defense.
Repair your relationship by watching your knee-jerk defensiveness. Can you see your partner’s point of view? Can you admit to dropping the ball?
A softened start-up, met by a neutral and patient consideration of your spouse’s complaint can lead to empathy, humour, and self-disclosure. This is where the ongoing quality of you Friendship System really pays off. Emotions are here to guide us in life and especially in your relationship.
Relationship repair #5: Take 20-30 minute time-outs when needed
Knowing when and how to ask for a time-out is important. Diffuse Physiological Arousal (DPA) is a measurable change in the body which results in a cascade of bad stuff that lowers your IQ dramatically. DPA tells us that our spouse is the enemy. Our heart races, we lose about 30 IQ points, we basically are in a fight, flight, or fawn mindset.
This can happen so fast that our pre-frontal cortex doesn’t even get a chance to weigh-in. It’s important for us to notice the signs that our reptile brain is taking over and ask for a brief time-out. Repair your relationship by getting out of eyesight and earshot of each other.
Go off by yourself, close the door, and breathe deeply…but return to the conversation faithfully once you have calmed down. Men tend to ruminate when they should be calming down. They do this more often than women do.
I suggest when you take time out to connect with something soothing, play a game, go for walk, just do something where not ruminating!
Angry husbands are different from angry wives. Men enter DPA more quickly than women and tend to exit DPA less quickly. But women may hold onto anger longer.
Relationship repair #6: Conduct ongoing fight autopsies.
At the end of the day, you have to have a way to process a bad fight where repair attempts failed to gain traction. In our Couples Retreats, we teach you how to deconstruct a fight to see what actually happened.
Exercises like “aftermath of a fight” we do in session help our couples to unpack the triggers which informed the thoughts, feelings, and actions that took us to the dark side.
You can repair your relationship best by understanding your partners enduring vulnerabilities while disclosing your own as well. A conflict that is well-managed can lead to greater intimacy, and repair attempts that land well will keep you both on track.