This Habit is one of the 10 Habits of Happy Couples Tina and Michael LeBlanc write about in their blog and in their book that will be released in the Fall of 2022. To check out the other Habits as they’re released weekly, check out the index below. To really use these Habits to work on your relationship, you can access their book – The 10 Habits of Happy Couples – which gives you complete examples of each Habit and exercises that you can do with your partner to develop these Habits in your relationship.
The 10 Habits of Happy Couples
Habit #2: Always Repair
Habit #1: Talk Openly and Tune In
Habit #2: Always Repair After an Argument
In Habit #3, we have covered the importance of understanding your negative communication patterns and catching your cycle. And also about taking a breather, so you don’t continue getting swept up by the emotions of the fight.
We now need to talk about “repairing”. The fact that you argue is not what’s problematic in a relationship. The “non-repair” is what causes the most damage long-term. While you may not be able to resolve all of your problems with your repair, if you follow the tips we give you here, you’ll get much better at truly understanding where your partner is coming from at a deeper level. That in itself can shift your perspective on the issue, even if it’s not fully resolved. It makes it more tolerable and is less heavy to carry.
For many couples, repairing is hard. Sometimes people don’t know how to get grounded in their emotions. Getting grounded is especially hard when they have felt disrespected or when they don’t believe their partner is on their side. In order to repair, we need to have respect and an understanding that you are two human beings who got caught in a vicious cycle that most couples get caught in when they love.
When we love, we are at our most vulnerable. And when we feel vulnerable, we can feel small. And when we feel small and vulnerable, it can be hard to show this to our partner, especially if we’ve learned in our life that it is not safe to show vulnerability. (See our other blog on how to become more vulnerable). Repairing can be made more difficult when we have not learned how to repair or how to apologize and forgive others for hurting us.
Shame can also get in the way. Perhaps one or both partners have a sense of shame that keeps them from taking responsibility for their actions. Whatever the reason, the lack of repair makes the pain bigger the next time disappointment happens in the relationship, then resentment builds, and trust gets eroded.
Imagine there is a situation where you didn’t repair after an argument, and it produced a brick. This brick gets placed between the couple. It’s made from hurt and fear and disappointment and is attached to their fight. The next time the couple fights, one might grab the brick and throw it at their partner – using it to support their points and cause pain. If this argument doesn’t get repaired, then there are two bricks. If enough negative interactions like these go unrepaired, a wall starts to form. This wall keeps couples apart and can be used as fodder for future “fights”.
Our goal is to ensure that after each argument, a repair happens, and no brick forms. When there are no bricks, the couple has a much greater chance of focusing on the current issue and not bringing the past into the current discussion.
Tips on How To Repair after an Argument
Of course, the first tip is to make a pact to always try to repair. Our suggestion is that you make an explicit agreement in your relationship that after each negative interaction, you will come together, when you are calm, to repair. This agreement helps to soften the other partner and encourages both partners to take responsibility in the repair process.
The first step in the repair is to reconnect before starting to talk in order to ease some of the tension. Do things like taking your partner’s hand or giving them a hug. Or just saying, “I don’t like it when we fight.” That statement in itself lets them know that you are open to working on it.
Take ownership of your step in the cycle and how you reacted. Acknowledge the impact that your reaction might have had on your partner. Recognizing and naming your part is key at this moment. This will likely soften your partner and give them a path to return the gift. If both partners take ownership and acknowledge their impact on each other, it builds a bridge where they can meet in the middle.
Next, try to express the softer feelings that were underneath your heated reaction in the moment. It might be hurt, fear, rejection or abandonment that you might have been feeling. The quicker you can tune into that, the easier it is for your partner to understand your reaction and empathize with you. It helps tremendously if you’ve already reflected on this PRIOR to trying to repair from the argument.
When things are calm, try to talk about what you will do or say next time something like this gets triggered. Prepare when you are calm, and you will see the benefits when you are not. It doesn’t mean it will work every time, but it’s important to troubleshoot together.
In loving relationships, there’s no such thing as “winning” an argument. Both people end up losing if this is the approach to repair. This is an outcome goal that is not a helpful goal to have in a relationship. The goal should be to focus on understanding each other more. If you aim to win the argument, consider the impact on your partner. Where does it leave them? But if you aim to understand your partner, think about where that leaves them. It will leave them heard and understood. That goes a long way in repairing.
The respect rule applies here as well. If your partner messed up, you must separate the intention from the behaviour. If you choose to be with this person, it’s highly likely it’s because you think they are a good person. So try and remember that they didn’t mess up because they are a bad person, or because they don’t love you, or because they don’t care about you. It’s simply because they are human and made a mistake. And actually, they were likely still trying their best. We are all just doing our best with what we have.
About the Authors
Tina and Michael LeBlanc have been happily married since 2003, are parents to two teenage boys, and have over 20 years of combined experience as Licensed Counselling Therapists. Being experts in the Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) model and using it to help couples in their work, Tina and Michael drew from the EFT model to create a list of 10 Habits of Happy Couples. In this series of articles, they take you on a comprehensive walk through the 10 Habits, and with each, they give you an overview followed by specific tips you and your partner can use in your daily life.