The goal in a relationship is not to eliminate disagreements and arguments, rather, to do them well. Arguments provide a couple with a great opportunity to learn what is important to their partner and in their relationships. However, too often, arguments are taken over by anger (a physiological response) or ego (self-defence). In his book ‘The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work’, John Gottman (The Gottman Institute), Ph.D, talks of the secret weapon of repair attempts. He states that repair attempts are “any statement or action, silly or otherwise, that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” The use of the word ‘any’ provides plenty of scope for creativity. Gottmans’s research indicates that successful couples use repair attempts often. In ‘The Brain on Love’, Dr. Stan Tatkin PsyD, MFT suggests that nothing good happens between injury and repair.
Repair attempts offer a method by which we can help keep disagreements from escalating. In the absence of repair attempts, our communications can move from a place of clear conscious thinking to our innate threat response of flee, fight or freeze. When we are in a threat response, we enter the fog of war where more harm than good is often done. Importantly, repair attempts show a mutuality. They show that you respect your partner and relationship, that you care for your partner or that you can own your mistakes.
The next time you have a disagreement, be aware of the cues your partner is giving. Your partner’s cue’s will indicate injury or that they are becoming more emotionally aroused. For this, serious disagreements should always be discussed face-to-face. If you sense that your partner is escalating to a place of threat, back off, take a break, chat about something else. This process requires knowing your partner and the patterns you have together when arguing. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is worth the effort.
Craig Thompson, Achieve You
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