I think you’ll agree with me that relationship repair is not easy.

I hear this a lot: “Oh come on, are you kidding? Don’t tell me I need to tell him I’m sorry, he’s the one who…”*      *This is not a direct quote, but this kind of thing happens fairly often in my office.

Okay, quick: take a guess at the age of the person who said this in my therapy office. Is this person 10? 16? 25? 34? 48, 72?  Did you guess? Ok, the last four are correct (Since I don’t work with kids or teens, it was kind of a trick question…)

My point is that waiting for the other person to initiate repairs in relationships is human nature, at any age. We want the other person to say they’re sorry first, to admit they were in the wrong. We have a bias towards our own point of view, and tend to hold tight to our own hurts, priorities, and justifications, don’t we?

That’s often all too true for me — ask my husband– and I study human behavior and interpersonal relationships and mental health for a living (and have studied and read and worked in this field for more than 30 years)!

Breaches and hurt feelings and misunderstandings happen in little and bigger ways, every day. In fact, research done through the Gottman Institute shows that close to 70% of interpersonal interactions are misaligned in some way, and represent essentially “unsolvable” differences. That’s the vast majority!

Before you throw up your hands and say “Then I give up”, wait a minute…

If that many of our interactions are misaligned, or miss the mark somehow, and we have that many unsolvable differences between us, then we probably need to start seeing this as the NORM.

We need to be less thrown off and surprised by disconnections, and treat them as inevitable. We really have to stop feeling like failures in our important relationships when we experience these kinds of breakdowns in connection. They. Will. Happen. Regularly. Even in the most positive and loving relationships! 

It turns out that it’s not the fact that people have misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disconnections that causes such trouble in relationships– it’s that they don’t know how to repair those misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disconnections effectively!

We have to get better at recognizing, moving through, and repairing the inevitable disconnections, misunderstandings and hurt feelings! When Dr. John Gottman in his book Principa Amoris: The New Science of Love looked at the mathematics of relationships (yes, I know, but that’s really a thing), he found that couples who were masterful at repair rarely divorced. Couples who were bad at repair had a much higher incidence of eventual divorce, regardless of their level of overt conflict.

So it really is a good idea to learn how to repair, and to do it efficiently.

Also, as parents, we want our kids to learn important interpersonal skills, right? So that when or if they get married or have a life partner, they will have a good foundation of skillful relationship behavior to help them succeed in creating a healthy love relationship for their own family some day.

When your kids observe you and your spouse or partner repair effectively, you’re giving them a fantastic real life lesson in how to do relationships well!

So let’s cut to the chase . Here are some concrete examples for how to repair breaches and disconnects in your important relationships.

For this part, you’ll use your tracker not to set goals ahead of time, but to keep track of how many times you initiate a repair attempt, or accept the other person’s repair attempt after the fact.  Download your copy of the Healthy Relationship Jump Start Tracker here.

I’ve outlined a step-by-step for how to initiate repair attempts, and how to make your repair attempts more easily accepted by your partner (or your child or teen – if you’re targeting a parent/child relationship in your Healthy Relationship Jump Start)!

  • Accept that you have a part in the problem
  • Identify what you believe is your part of the problem
  • Listen to what the other person tells you about their experience of you during the interaction, including what they didn’t like about what you did
  • Find a kernel of truth in what they said, and acknowledge it sincerely
  • Don’t be defensive or turn it around on them and say “Well you …”
  • Apologize for hurting their feelings, being insensitive, or fill-in-the-blank
  • Don’t sulk — make an effort to reconnect immediately by using gentle humor, saying something encouraging, or redirecting the conversation to something else (once the issue is resolved sufficiently according to the other person)
  • Don’t harbor a grudge. Let it go
  • Repeat as needed

If you’re the one whose feelings were hurt, or who feels upset, here’s what you can do to help along the repair process

  • Settle yourself down physically (take deep breaths to help you reset), and remember your goal is to repair this breach or misunderstanding
  • Tell the other person that you’re upset, and why (without blaming or shaming)
  • Accept that you have a part in the problem
  • Identify what you believe is your part of the problem
  • Acknowledge your state of mind or sensitivity or other external reasons why you reacted the way you did
  • Accept the other person’s apology, and tell them it’s okay or that you forgive them (this has to be sincere, so make sure you help the other person understand your feelings before you accept the apology)
  • Don’t sulk — make an effort to reconnect by using gentle humor, saying something encouraging, or redirecting the conversation to something else
  • Don’t harbor a grudge — let it go
  • Repeat as needed

Now I realize that this process is simple enough to describe and write down in a bullet point list, but in real life, it can be quite difficult to master.

In my psychotherapy practice, I work with couples on this aspect of their relationship skill set probably more intensively than any other.  Partly because it’s so important to master, and partly because people have such a hard time doing it consistently. And it’s not because they’re not trying – it’s because it’s hard to do.

So please don’t be discouraged when attempting to apply these skills in your important relationships. You might want or need more help or guidance than you can get by just reading about these conceepts, and that’s okay. 

Don’t be afraid to seek help in the form of individual or couples therapy or counseling! It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy”, or that you’ve failed if you need additional help. It means you’ve recognized you could benefit from expert guidance, and you’re wise enough to seek it out! Good for you.

If you like what you’re learning so far in this Healthy Relationship Six Day Jump Start, and feel you want or need more of an in-depth understanding of these concepts, plus an opportunity to practice and get expert coaching, please consider taking one of our upcoming Together Better Stronger with Dr. Beth Schmit classes or workshops!

For parents and teachers, there’s the Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting class to help parents develop skills as an Emotion Coach for their kids and guide kids and teens towards improved emotional intelligence.

Research shows that emotional intelligence is more predictive of success than IQ, and that in this era of technology overload and interpersonal disconnection our kids are going to need more coaching from parents and teachers in order to master higher level interpersonal and relationship skills.

This class equips you to equip them with those essential skills!

Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting — meets from 6:30-8:30 on four consecutive Tuesday evenings, and when you bring your spouse or a friend, you get a discount! All materials included.

Check out the registration page and sign up today, because we only have a few seats left and time is short for signing up for the first session (Jan. 9, 16, 23, and 30th). I’d love to see you in class ūüôā

In this 4 week class you’ll learn:

  • The best ways to respond when your child or teen is sad, angry, or anxious
  • How to help your child or teenager develop resilience and coping skills
  • How to transform power struggles into win-win solutions
  • To recognize emotions as an opportunity for connection and teaching
  • How to help your child or teen label and identify their emotions
  • The best ways to effectively communicate empathy and understanding
  • How to set limits with your child or teen and problem solve effectively
  • How to manage your own emotions and reactions in frustrating parenting moments

…and much more!

For couples, there’s the Complete Marriage & Relationship Toolkit Workshop, which is also on four Tuesday evenings, 6:30-8:30, starting on Feb. 13th.

Sign up today for this comprehensive and fun workshop where we use research-based material and concepts from John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work as our main text. There’s also a fun workbook (yes, I said fun), and you’ll have time to practice the skills you’re learning with expert guidance and feedback from me! Don’t worry, the practice part is just between you and your spouse or partner – no group sharing needed! All materials included.

We’ll dive into these important and helpful concepts more deeply so that you can

  • Deepen & solidify your friendship
  • Nurture fondness & admiration
  • Turn towards each other- instead of away
  • Learn how to allow mutual influence
  • Solve solvable problems & overcome gridlock
  • Work together on creating shared meaning
  • Keep your positive momentum going
  • Identify signs of getting off track & learn how to get back on track quickly

**Important Note: **Classes and workshops are not therapy, and are not a substitute for individual, family, or couples counseling or psychotherapy.

If this feels like a good fit, I hope you’ll join in and come to one or both of these classes! I look forward to seeing you soon! 

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