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Repair your relationship

We all do and say things that negatively impact our relationships. We blame, yell, distance, get defensive, and the list goes on and on and on… After we do these things, we need to make a repair.

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The ability to make and receive repairs in partnership is one of the most crucial factors in creating healthy, long-term relationships

The reason is that we do things that require repair so often. Humans mess up. A lot! And, if we don’t clean up our messes, things get messier.

Imagine if something broke in your car and you didn’t get it fixed. After a while, that small problem would lead to other bigger problems, which would lead to the car eventually not running at all. It is the same in relationships.

If you ignore the injuries in your relationship and don’t properly tend to them, then they grow, fester, and create bigger problems.

When you do something that is perceived as injurious to the relationship, it requires attention. Think of your relationship as an entity that is separate from you and your partner. Tending to your relationship is vital. When the connection is ruptured, you need to reconnect.

Repairing is the process of restoring a connection.

Silhouette of a young couple standing close, face to face with a night sky and city lights in the background illustrating that couples counseling can help you repair your relationship.

Initiate a repair

It doesn’t matter who initiates the repair. What does matter is that you are ready to reconnect with your partner. And, the sooner the better. As the initiating person, you want to let your partner know that you are ready to reconnect with them. Don’t demand that they reconnect with you at that moment. They may not be ready. Just indicate that you are ready.

Some couples develop an agreement about how they do that. Perhaps you can light a candle in a certain place that indicates that you are ready to reconnect. Maybe you can place an object that is special to both of you in a certain place. Or, you could simply tell them or send a text. Whatever works! Then, the other partner could light their candle or respond in any agreed-upon way when they are ready to restore the connection.

After you are both ready to reconnect, the initiating party first takes responsibility for what they did. For example, “When I spoke to you like that, I really messed up. I bet that really hurt. I’m sorry I did that. What was that like for you?” Or, “I’m sorry I forgot to tell you about that work meeting. I know it is important to you that I keep you in the loop about my schedule so you can make plans. I’m open to hearing what came up for you when I did that.”

In these example repairs, the partner takes responsibility for what they did, demonstrates regret, refers to the incident that was triggering for the other person, and checks in with the other partner about how they felt and what needs were not met.

You don’t need to robotically list off these items in repair. The most important thing is that you sincerely turn towards your partner with a desire to understand them and reconnect. Read more about how to do that here.

When initiating a repair, we recommend that you don’t justify why you did what you did. Usually, that creates more distance. Rather, focus on understanding their experience and authentically communicating your regret. If you think it would be important for your partner to know more about your perspective, we recommend waiting until they indicate that they are ready to hear more from you.

For example, it may be really useful for your partner to know that you didn’t tell them about your work meeting because you didn’t know about it beforehand and were surprised yourself. But, your partner may not be ready to hear that until they feel understood by you.

Opening up to receiving a repair

Opening up to a repair is allowing yourself to reconnect. Let go of things you are holding onto. Forgive your partner. Understand their perspective.

When your partner apologizes to you, thank them. Take it in. Understand that they are trying. Allow their repair attempt to be good enough. Share vulnerably about what your experience was like. Talk about your hurt and sadness. Allow your feelings to be expressed and released. Feel what it is like for your partner to care about you and your experience. Allow that feeling of care to ignite your feeling of care for them.

When letting go is hard to do

Perhaps you have a hard time getting over things. Maybe small actions that your partner does weigh on you for extended periods of time and you avoid reconnecting. This is when opening up is especially important. If you don’t open up to your partner when they try to make a repair, you are guaranteeing that your relationship will become more distant. It may be time to consider how your attachment wounds may be playing out in your relationship, and whether this relationship is important to you.

If your relationship is important to you, then please find a way to open yourself to your partner. We often close ourselves off to our partners because we are trying to prevent ourselves from feeling more pain. Our rationale is, “If I close out my partner, I won’t get hurt again. I hurt too much already.” This response suggests that you don’t believe that positive change is possible in your relationship. And, this perspective indicates that you have resentments and unresolved conflicts from the past that need additional attention.

If you can’t open up 100%, then open up 10% at a time, or as much as you are willing. If your partner makes a repair attempt and you don’t open up, they are less likely to try to make a repair in the future. So, practice opening up as much as you can. If you still find it impossible to open up, it may be time to reach out and get some support so that you can decide whether this relationship is right for you or learn how to move past whatever blocks you may have.

When you fully open yourself to your partner during the repair process you allow the connection in your relationship to flow freely again. And, your connection becomes more resilient after facing these challenges with openness and curiosity.

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