Even with the best of intentions, every couple will experience conflict in their relationship. From small insults that are spoken in the heat of the moment to loud screaming matches, every conflict-based interaction has the potential to cause long-term damage.
At the same time, initiating the repair process after conflict in relationships can prevent lasting damage from happening. Although there’s no fixed method for succeeding, one landmark study from relationship expert and psychologist Dr. Gottman provides some useful ideas.
The Conflict Repair Checklist
Gottman’s conflict repair checklist isn’t complex. It features many of the conflict resolution techniques that come naturally to most adults, which can prove useful following an argument. Among his tips for repairing after conflict, you’ll find:
- Using humour appropriately (but without making your partner the target).
- Recognising your partner’s feelings and expressing that you can see they’re hurt.
- Delivering a sincere apology that acknowledges your role in the argument.
- Asking them what they need from you right now.
- Giving them the option of taking some space.
- Reminding them that you love them.
- Reminding them that together you are a team.
Interestingly, Dr Gottman’s study found that there’s no definitively effective method for succeeding in your repair attempts. His research focused on 3,000 couples, with an observational approach. After the study concluded he found that a spontaneous, emotion-based attempt at repair following conflict can in fact be just as successful as one that’s well planned and thought out. However, he also found that repair tactics weren’t always successful, which suggests that persistence and resilience are crucial elements here.
Delivering and Receiving Repair Attempts
Sometimes it can feel frustrating being the first person to attempt a repair action. It’s important to recognise that your attempt at repair isn’t about declaring that you or your partner is in the right. Instead, it’s an acknowledgement that your love for one another takes priority over continuing the conflict. As such, when you try to repair you should keep your love for the other person in mind and let it take over any feelings of pride or hurt. Additionally, Gottman noted that the timing of a repair attempt is central to success, and advised making a repair attempt as early as you can.
When you’re on the receiving end of a repair attempt, acknowledging it and embracing it are the cornerstones beginning a mutually beneficial healing process. Just like when you’re the one trying to repair after conflict. you need to remember that maintaining a loving connection is not about trying to win. Repairing requires a lot of emotional effort, which means big emotional steps, and a lot of understanding, from both sides.
Although the road to recovery after relationship conflict can often feel rocky, it leads to great rewards. With each successful repair, you’ll find your relationship strengthens.