When we commit to saying ‘I do,’ we are going to make some mistakes and need to say I am sorry. Crafting an apology is indisputably a skill, even a fine art which will leave your relationship much better off, like gleaming lacquer to sturdy wood, adding brilliance to the function of our relationship. Knowing how to repair after a disagreement will enhance the longevity and warmth of our marriage, family, and even friendship bonds. Many couples are overwhelmed with stress and hurt after having had a series of conflicts, they hope that they can forge a path to forgiveness but do not know how. When we practice strong relationship skills, we grow from our challenges, conflict is ve
no different. All relationships have conflict and the strong ones know how to process it. Here are some of the things that have helped the thousands of couples I have worked with create repair after conflict.
1. Acknowledge what has happened from your partner’s perspective
This may be the hardest part because acknowledgment requires us to accept some blame and have accountability. Often with couples, this is facilitated by doing a communication exercise. The person who has been hurt speaks first and shares exactly how they have been affected by the preceding event. I am careful to coach them through issuing their feelings in a gentle constructive way and by not using attacking or aggressive language.
The alternate partner then gets a turn to speak by following the format of summarizing everything that their partner has just shared, they want to capture an understanding of the experience of the person who they have hurt. This part is all about The Other, they do not add in their own defense or reason for their actions, we encapsulate the experience of the person who is speaking. Ie “I was waiting outside for 3 hours and repeatedly called and I couldn’t find you.” The partner would say “You were alone and needed me to pick you up from work.”
2. Conveying empathy
The second step builds upon the previous point, this step is to help us to convey empathy. How did this person feel when this situation occurred? This moves us to the feeling level, beyond the behaviors of what has happened and now describes with gentleness, the emotional state underlying the actions. When we relate to feelings with understanding, connection and empathy are fostered. To achieve this, follow the script, “You felt__________, and I understand that because of _____________(the points from step 1) it makes sense that you would feel this way.” This makes an empathetic conjecture, it says ‘yes, your perspective makes sense and you makes sense.’ Validation has power. It is the opposite of the toxic patterns of blame shifting and gaslighting which are the undertones of unhealthy relationships. I.e, ‘You were angry that you were stood up and afraid that something had happened to me, it makes sense that you felt that way because I wasn’t there as I said I would be.”
3. Offer assurance
The final point of understanding the others person’s perspective is to offer some assurance that everyone is committed to doing their best to ensure that the behavior or event will not happen again. Yes, empathy and validation are very important but they only go so far with the repair. We must put in our most valiant effort to not replicate offensive and hurtful behaviors, with our repairs we are working on a better future. I.e “In the future, when I have an emergency meeting with work, I am going to check the schedule first to see whether I am going to pick you up from your office that day.”
Also watch: What Is a Relationship Conflict?
Using these three steps we are sure to reinforce our relationship bonds and walk the path of creating true and meaningful forgiveness. It is not the existence of disagreements and oversights which puts our marriages and relationships at risk but the inability to process it, by following the above exercise we are able to repair conflict and find ways to grow stronger and more connected from our troubles.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Stephanie Wikstrom, MS, LPC, NCC is The Founder of The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh and is a crusader of the modern family. Stephanie is passionate about providing marriage counseling to couples of Western Pennsylvania.