“Repairs are the ‘life jackets’ of all relationships. Their effectiveness determines whether a relationship will live or die.” -John Gottman
by Peggy Burns, LMFT, Director of CCC San Francisco
All relationships have their disagreements. But people who are successful in their relationships practice the art of repairs! Gottman describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” Couples who are “Masters” unlike couples who are “Disasters” practice repairs early and often.
A few years ago my husband and I attempted to take a canoe down the Russian River. Neither of us were adept at rowing, however, initially it looked like it would be a simple venture. Little did we know how important it would be to know something about rowing; instead we struggled with the strong currents that were determined to drive us into low-hanging trees. Towards the end of the day we became irritated with each other as it was growing dark and we were cold, wet, and tired. We found ourselves blaming each other for the parts of the day that went wrong. Tensions began to rise and I knew it was time to make a repair or suffer on the long car ride home. One of my favorite repairs is to ask if I can have a ‘do-over’. So, I stopped, took a deep breath, and asked my husband if I could have a do-over. He agreed and I began to appreciate the things he did throughout the day and began to laugh about our misfortune of not knowing how to manage the canoe. This repair action changed the course of the evening. We still smile when we think about this day and now remember the good parts of the day.
During times of stress it is really easy to begin to feel unappreciated and find yourself arguing over little things. You may feel as if you have already been rowing hard in your relationship. Even happy couples have times when they argue or fight. Learning to adopt the practice of making and accepting quick repairs can be the lifesaver that changes your course. Repair attempts are simple messages one person sends to the other to calm the negative interaction between them. A necessary key to making a successful repair is for the other person to accept the repair when it is offered. Repair gestures can seem minuscule but in reality they are very powerful. Here are a few of my favorite examples from John Gottman’s “Repair Checklist”, found in his book “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work”:
- My reactions were to extreme
- I am sorry please forgive me
- I see your point
- Let’s find our common ground
- Let me try again
3 SIMPLE STEPS TO START MAKING REPAIRS:
1. Rehearse some of the repair scripted phrases which will help you be prepared to use one in the future.
2. Don’t forget to bring the power of laughter into your situation.
3. Agree with your spouse that you will learn to give and receive a repair attempt during disagreements.
Disclaimer: This article is intended as an educational resource only, and is not intended to be a replacement for treatment. For evaluation and treatment, please contact a qualified mental health professional.