Josh Killam, LPC
4 Ingredients to Relationship Repair
The main topic for couples who choose to pursue couples work with me have one main thing in common, conflict. Most couples begin couples work with the question, "how do we resolve our fighting?" This plays out in several ways depending on each individual coping style. You might get the quiet, reserved, shut down partner or the partner who can't go to sleep until they have had the last word. Whichever way your arguments might begin and end, there are a few things to consider about conflict. First, the conflict will happen. Secondly, conflict is necessary to come to a resolution. You must engage in conflict with your partner if you are going to come to a solution, no matter how small. Thirdly, conflict strengthens any relationship that engages it healthily. Conflict can bring back the fire lost in a relationship, help each partner grow, and bring families together. The list of values learned from healthy conflict is limitless. A conflict is a healthy form of struggle in relationships.
Once I have asked couples to engage in conflict, they typically come to me and ask, "what do we do when it goes poorly?" This is such an excellent question. The answer is very similar to what I mentioned previously. You allow conflict repair to strengthen your relationship. Falling short, hurting feelings, and making mistakes will happen. They are a part of life and relationships. Having the tools to practice healthy conflict repair is just as vital as having the means to practice effective conflict.
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind when practicing conflict repair. Reminder, these tips are not solely directed at intimate relationships. TheseThese tips can be used with any relationship you have, whether it's personal, professional, or someone you run into on the street.
1. Understand the hurt you have caused
2. Show genuine remorse
4. Identify how you were able to cause the harm that you did and the steps you are taking to change.
When it comes to understanding hurt, the first thing that should come to mind is empathy. The critical point here is to listen to understand how your significant other is hurt due to your behavior. The intention is not to understand what you did wrong. Instead, the focus should be on understanding how your partner was hurt by you. Focus on the specific feelings and less on the actual wrongdoing. Rectifying the wrongdoing will happen later. Instead, paraphrase back to them what feelings you heard them tell you were hurt. Focus specifically on emotion words. A deeper understanding can occur when you tap into your empathy and relate to their feelings rather than the behavior.
Number two is kind of a tricky one. This is where guilt can come into play. Just a quick note on shame and guilt. Shame is very different than guilt and NOT helpful in repair. Showing remorse is a bit different from just saying you're sorry. There is a reason it is number two on the list; you need to walk through step one first to experience remorse. Feelings of remorse or guilt are born from understanding someone's hurt. Empathy is a peek into someone's feelings. Having a sense of how someone is hurt allows you to relate your life experience with the other person, giving you a sense of what it feels like to be in their shoes. That coupled with an understanding that you caused the hurt leads to remorse. How do you show remorse? This is difficult to put into words. It is more of an experiencing thing. Everyone shows remorse in different ways. The critical point to remember is that you must empathize with their hurt and recognize you had a part to play in this hurt. When experienced correctly, this can often generate remorse.
Step three seems easy. However, if you lead with step three before going through steps 1 and 2, you will find that your "sorry" might fall flat and feel empty. Apologies can be a symbol that repair is happening. However, there must be depth in the apology. It might not be received as genuine if it's a simple apology without understanding and remorse. I frequently hear from my couples, "you always say you're sorry but do the same thing again. So your sorry doesn't mean anything to me." When you accept an apology, we must feel that change is occurring. How do you know if there is a potential for change? Through steps 1 and 2! You will feel understood and sense that your partner feels remorse. Pay attention to your feelings! They are a good indicator of repair.
The last step is vital to fully round out the repair. This step focuses on working to understand how you could do what you did, whether it be because of ignorance, resentment, or simple negligence. Being able to express why you were able to do that helps your partner get to know you more. It allows them the opportunity to understand more about you. If you are hurt or scared by something, you must understand it thoroughly to move past those feelings. It makes them safer. It takes them out of the dark and into the light. In short, it is making sense of your behavior. This is not only helpful to the one you hurt but also to yourself. Often we don't know why we do the things we do, and thinking about what you did is a great mental exercise in self-growth.
Conflict will happen in relationships. Hurt feelings will happen. Mistakes are a part of life. Learning to have healthy repair is part of how we make the most out of our mistakes. It always does wonders for the passion in the relationship. Everyone knows about the idea of "break up sex." Well, "repair sex" can be much more meaningful. :) I don't know if repair sex is a thing, but it felt right. The point is, repairing conflict is a healthy necessity in any relationship. So why not take advantage of these 4 ingredients to conflict repair.