Many couples spend years engaged in never-ending verbal arguments which usually end in what therapists call emotional disengagement, or when a feuding couple can simply ignore each other for days on end. Emotionally, these couples are simmering inside and lonely for each other, but are unable to reach out and communicate their feelings, waiting, instead, for the other to make the first move to melt ice and work toward reconciliation. In addition, many couples lack the skills necessary to repair emotional damage done to each other. According to studies, almost every couple fights but what separates the “masters” of marriage from the “disasters” of marriage is the ability to repair the subsequent damage.
Having the emotional and mental toolkit necessary to repair damages done when they fight is critical to the success of the marriage. It also provides couples a positive path toward recovery from the mistakes made and wounds they’ve inflicted upon one another. These critical skills heal the emotional damage and anger couples inflict upon each other and themselves when attempting to communicate with each other causes emotional hurt to one or both of them. Whether you have been the cause of the damage or the recipient of the hurt, it is possible to repair your relationship, heal the wounds and build a stronger marriage. Here are the tools in the relationship repair toolbox:
1. Apologize! A simple, sincere and heartfelt apology goes a long way towards healing a relationship, especially if, from your partner’s standpoint, you are not one to admit to being wrong or at fault. It does not have to be fancy; on the contrary, simply look your partner in the eye and clearly and honestly state, “I am sorry-I don’t know what got into me! Will you please forgive me?”
2. Confide in your partner. It is crucial that both partners be honest and share their underlying feelings, such as fear, embarrassment and insecurity, which are appearing as anger. Your partner may respond to you quite differently once they see not only the underlying emotions but the vulnerability in them, instead of just the anger. Anger toward another puts the receiver on defense, showing vulnerability put the receiver on offense. Confiding what is in your heart and on your mind makes a huge difference in promoting understanding, closeness and intimacy and goes a long way toward improving the state of your marriage.
3. Acknowledge your partner’s point of view. Keep in mind that acknowledging your partner’s point of view doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. On the contrary, it will likely decrease tension and reduce or eliminate conflict because your partner knows you are hearing them, that you’ve listened, which is very important, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. It also demonstrates empathy which assures your partner that you are considering their feelings and that your priority is your relationship.
4. Accept some of the responsibility for the conflict. There are very few conflicts in which the blame lies entirely with either partner. Instead, most conflicts find both partners having made equal or near equal contributions to the problem. The inability to accept any portion of responsibility for a conflict indicates immaturity and leads to defensiveness; it also inhibits the openness required for good communication.
5. Work to find common ground. It is important to focus on the issue at hand and what you have in common rather than your differences. For example: you might both agree that raising healthy children is a common goal but your parenting styles differ.
6. Each partner must commit to improving their behavior. Repeated apologies bear little weight without a change in the behavior which prompted the apology. Verbal apologies go a long way toward healing when you back up your “I’m sorry!” with positive changes in behavior and coping techniques. This shows your partner that you are truly committed to repairing the relationship and making permanent positive changes. Showing concrete evidence that you will try and change will show your partner how important they and your marriage are in your life.