Gottman’s (Learn more about Gottman in this post here) book,Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise- that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” You can read about this directly from the source at Gottman’s Own Blog. Repair attempts can be anything. Anything that stops the chaos or negativity from rising. Anything from a joke, to a hug, to a distraction like focusing on the kids, to an apology, to a time out.
I’ll be honest that this one is hard for me. I like to hold onto things a little longer than my partner does. It has taken a lot of effort for me to not make things worse or be rude when he comes to make a repair attempt. Sometimes he’ll give a soft touch. When mad, I’ll want to push away. Sometimes he’ll say he’s sorry, I’ll use sarcasm, “yeah, I bet you are”. Sometimes he’ll switch to the kids, “jackson did this the other day”. I don’t know why I want to hold on to the anger, I know it doesn’t do any good for me, him or the relationship. Times that I can accept his repair attempt, we have a better day/evening. This doesn’t mean we push what we are arguing about under the rug, we just are letting our system cool down long enough to refocus and realign with the goal – to work through whatever we are struggling with.
It’s important to discuss things that are bothering and frustrating us, but going into an argument just wanting to fight or let things escalate is not helpful either. One of the things I tell my clients, is that my goal isn’t to make it so they never argue again, but that when they do argue, they are more effective at it, and don’t cause irreparable damage. Allowing repair attempts to occur and accepting them is one way to navigate toward this.
Remember – our overarching goal is to be happy within our relationship. If we focus on this, it allows us to put aside our own stubbornness and accept repair attempts.