You don’t need to stop arguing - learn this one skill and your relationship will be stronger
Despite what people think, it is not a lack of arguments in your relationship that makes it strong. It is what follows the argument – the repair.
In fact, couples that repair after arguing are 80% more likely to have a secure, contented, happy relationship. (Gottman Institute)
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If you’re feeling worried about the fights, arguments or tense moments between you and your partner. If they seem to sit there, looming like a big unspoken white elephant in the room, causing even more tension, don’t stress.
All couples fight and argue.
Instead of focussing on avoiding it, focus on repair; the most important skill you can learn in your relationship.
NB: If your feel your relationship goes beyond the normal tension and gets violent, manipulative or over-controlling then this is not okay. Get help from an expert.
So let me tell you more so that you can get the benefits of this skill in your relationship.
What is repair?
Repair is basically making up after a tense exchange or argument. The aim is to come to an effective, mutual understanding about the tension or, even better, to feel more connected with and understanding of your partner.
Why is repair so important?
Repair is important because:
- It helps you avoid a build-up of anger and resentment which, overtime, is a killer of intimate affection.
- It helps you understand your partner’s triggers, values and needs more deeply, which is a constant learning factor of relationships.
- It helps you clear the air.
- It shows that you care about the well-being of each other and the relationship.
How do we repair?
Repair can happen in many ways. It can look like all or some of the following;
- Apologising for your part in the tension
- Sharing your deeper values and past experiences and why it triggered you so much (and asking for the same from your partner)
- Listening to your partner and acknowledging their experience
- Asking for your partner to tweak things so that there is less tension next time
- Asking your partner what they need next time to manage their experience better
- A hug
Frequently asked questions about repair
What if I am too afraid to repair?
Firstly, it is scary because you are revisiting a point of conflict and tension – generally something you want to run from. Secondly, it’s scary because you have to swallow your pride and own up for your part in it. Never easy and often a vulnerable thing to do.
Repair takes courage but it is worth it.
Ask yourself "Would you rather tension hanging over your relationship and building up, or to feel an understanding and release bringing you closer together?"
Doesn’t revisiting the argument make things worse?
No. Generally, you and your partner will both feel relief. Repair shows that your relationship really matters to you.
Obviously, you don’t want to revisit the argument while you or your partner are still emotional. Leave it a while until you feel you have both calmed down (at least an hour, sometimes days).
Be sure to approach the repair from a loving and respectful place and to share that you really want things to feel better between you. It is important that you create a safe place to repair. It should not be a time to criticise, or prove that you are right and they are wrong. It is a time to go deeper and get to know and understand each other better.
Experiment with finding a way to repair that works best for you both.
If I need to repair, does it mean I have failed?
People tend to think that if they need to repair then it is a sign they have stuffed up and repair then gets mixed in with the negative feeling of failure which makes them want to avoid revisiting it.
Relationships are not a flat-line of perfect relating, instead they are an experience of continually and constantly tweaking and rejigging the way we relate to our intimate partner as we get to know them better.
The aim in your relationship life is not to get to “tension free”, it is to keep exploring and to continue learning.
You haven’t made a mistake - you are just learning the particularities of how you and your partner are together. Now you know, you can modify, shift, heal, grow, change, care, nurture or accept so that it is not the same next time.
What makes a relationship fail is a repeated lack of repair.
What if my partner won’t repair with me?
That is okay, you can still do it.
Many people are afraid of revisiting old tensions as they fear the conflict arising again. If this is your partner, they may need to be shown that repair is a safe and beneficial practice that brings you closer together. After you lead the repair a few times, you may find they start to join in.
My advice is to start small, stay caring and respectful and offer them what you would like in return.
If you are concerned your partner won’t respond well to repair, then take it slowly. I would like to remind you that one of the reasons we are doing this is to show that our relationship is worth it and we care enough about its health and well-being to bother. What partner does not want to feel cared for?
If you and your partner need extra support, find a professional to guide you.
When is it too late to repair?
It is never too late.
I recently dredged up an event that hurt me 20 years ago as I realised it was still there, creating resistance and tension between me and my husband. It is never too late to learn these skills and it is never too late to repair a hurt.
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I hope that helps.
Repair is a way of showing love to your partner. It is a brave step but it is worthy of taking as it makes sure that you and your partner are both doing well together and that your relationship is healthy.
For more guidance on repair and how to keep your relationship clear of tension, check out my online workshop: Release resentment.