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  • Repair Attempts: How to Keep Your Relationship Flying

    69% of all conflicts in intimate relationships are unresolvable.

    This is because they are not issues of right/wrong, black/white, but matters of perspective — more like Democrat/Republican, chocolate/vanilla, or country/rock and roll. As passionate as people get about those things, they are not issues of right and wrong. They are preferences and matters of opinion. This is true of the vast majority of issues in your relationship

    So if you think getting along better is about learning to solve more of your problems, you’re almost surely wrong. Even the couples that communicate best will resolve only around 30% of their disagreements.
    It is not primarily problem-solving skills that are needed to thrive in relationships, but the skill of recognizing when you’ve hurt your partner and being able to reach out and say/do something to move the relationship through it with some measure of grace.
    A stone skipping across the water will hit the surface here and there and either sink to the cold, dark bottom of the lake, or launch back into the open air and keep flying. Like that stone, your relationship will occasionally encounter moments of difficulty where it could either descend into nasty, murky conflict, or launch back up into the freedom of  connection and companionship. It all depends on you.
    Efforts to recognize conflict or hurt starting to flare up in conversations, and turn things around, are called “repair attempts.” Here’s an example of a repair attempt.
    Her: I’m so tired.
    Him: Why? The house doesn’t look like you’ve been working super hard today.
    [He notices the angry look she shoots at him.]
    Him: [Makes a stupid face and looks at the floor.] I’m a total idiot. (repair attempt made — attempt to launch the stone back into the air)
    Her: I don’t know. Maybe not a TOTAL idiot. I’m hungry, wanna grab dinner? (repair attempt received)
    End of conversation.
    It could also go this way.
    Her: I’m so tired.
    Him: Why? The house doesn’t look like you’ve been working super hard today.
    Her: What? Did I just hear you say, “I know baby, you’ve probably had a really hard day today, let me rub your back for a few minutes”? (repair attempt made)
    Him (picking up on the cue): Close. What I said was that you’ve had a hard day and I’d be happy to give you a massage because you work so hard and it’s the least I can do. (repair attempt received)
    Her: (Lying down on the bed face down, and getting comfortable) That’s what I thought you said.
    Does this sound unrealistic? It’s what couples who manage conflict well actually do! Instead of partners being touchy, oversensitive, and defensive, quick to make an argument out of anything, they do the exact opposite, looking for opportunities to actually head off potential arguments. They find ways to inject lightness, warmth, sincerity, vulnerability, humor, compliments, and/or positivity into the very places where negativity, hurt, and potential conflict are flaring up, thereby containing it (first example) and perhaps sometimes even neutralizing it (second example).
    This is what distinguishes satisfied couples from dissatisfied ones. Not frequency of fights. Not intensity of disagreements. Happy couples don’t necessarily fight less or less intensely than unhappy couples, they just know how to not get bogged down in negative emotion and keep things on track. They have learned, when their relationship slams into the water, how to make it fly again, and prevent it from descending into the murky depths of conflict and hurt.
    If your relationship suffers from constant conflicts, or frequent icy silence in attempts to avoid conflict, you and your partner will need to learn the skill of making and receiving repair attempts. One way to do that is by making an appointment with me and letting me teach you.

    Is your relationship struggling?

    – Sick of perpetual conflict?
    – Frustrated and feeling like you’re not being heard?
    – Wish you could learn to turn things around like the example couple in this post?

    …Read more, or get in touch!