I’m betting at some point in time you’ve made a mistake and felt really bad about it? If it’s a stranger maybe you feel bad for a bit but then shake it off and try to move on. But what if it’s your partner? That really does not feel good. Recently I was really tired from work, hungry and just wasn’t feeling like myself. When I got home my poor husband was waiting to start dinner and serve me my favorite meal. In the mood I was in, I snapped and said some things I definitely did not mean and pretty quickly regretted. In the moments following all I wanted to do was to be able to repair the hurt I had caused and apologize.
John Gottman, PhD, and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, conducted research on what increases couples chance of divorce. He discovered a few things made couples more likely to divorce, one of which was failed repair attempts.
Fortunately for me, my husband is a forgiving man and was willing to accept my apology. It got me thinking – what if he had been in a bad mood too or exhausted from his long day? There are times when it can be really hard to repair the hurt that we inflict upon the people we love the most. In a perfect world, we would never hurt our partners but no one is perfect.
Below are three tips to try and ease the road to recovery when you need to reach out and reconnect.
Repair the Hurt Early
This one is big. Repair as soon as possible. If you make a mistake and say something you don’t mean or can see that something you said hurt your partner, address it immediately. Try to repair the hurt before it gets out of control. Ideally you can do this right as it happens. This would sound like “I’m so sorry, I can see that hurt you, let me try again”. By doing this right away, your partner sees that you care about them. They can also see that you can be insightful enough to recognize that you may have done something hurtful.
Don’t Make Excuses
This one can get a lot of people in trouble. You see your partner hurting but instead of repairing right away, you make an excuse. In many cases, this will only make your partner even more upset, if not angry. In this situation take the advice my father always gave me as a child “if you’re in a hole, stop digging.” You’ve already upset your partner, so stop digging. Check in with what they are experiencing so that you can repair the hurt. This looks like “I’m so sorry I hurt you, I did not mean to, I’ve had a really long day, how can I help or make this better?” instead of “Ugh, I’m tired and hungry and just don’t want to deal with you being mad at me too.” See the difference?
Find What Works for Your Relationship
Every relationship is different, and what works for one relationship may not work for another. The same is true for repair attempts. Some couples may find humor can repair the hurt whereas some may find humor offensive in difficult times. Even if you think you know what works for your partner, check in with them. Ask about how they would want hurt feelings or hurtful moments to be repaired. Then share with them how you would as well. This way, you are both clear and know in the future the best way to help your partner and yourself.
If you are interested in learning more about repair attempts or other research by John Gottman, the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is one of the best and most interactive I have found.