Have you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere? Have you ever been in a fight that you knew was going nowhere AND you wanted it to end, but couldn’t figure out how to stop bickering? The way a couple ends a fight says a lot about the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage. Dr. John Gottman, the foremost researcher on marriage, calls these fight ending techniques “Repair Attempts” and says the way they are delivered and whether or not they are received can predict the longevity of the relationship!
Tony and I agree that in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the overarching ideas really come down to having good manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books on marriage, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? None of the research out there says that couples should avoid fighting. Instead, Dr. Gottman and researchers like him concentrate on how couples fight. One thing they’ve noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive these repair attempts.
I threw out this idea to some friends and asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Here’s what some of them said…
• Even if he’s grumpy, he’ll say, “I love you.” What am I going to do? I have to say it back. Even if I’m still mad, it definitely diffuses things.
• He hugs me. I usually resist at first, but ultimately it softens me up and we both calm down.
• We hold hands. We heard about this somewhere… that you can’t stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with. We’ve tried it, which is hard when you’re mad, but it makes a big difference.
• He farts. No matter how mad I am, I turn into a fourteen year old boy when he farts. I can’t stop laughing!
I DIED over that last one! First of all, who can do that on command?
What is a Repair Attempt?
Foundationally, a repair attempt is any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Gottman says that even if someone says, “Ugh, I need a break,” it can come across as stonewalling, but it is actually that person’s repair attempt to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight.
What he’s noticed with couples whose relationships eventually dissolve is that either they aren’t willing to make repair attempts, or if one spouse makes the attempt, the other spouse rejects it. For instance, if Farting Husband was rejected by his wife as being rude or gross instead of received by her with laughter – that would be a failed repair attempt. Or if the wife reaches for her husband’s hand but he rejects her and refuses to hold hers back, it is a failed attempt.
Can you think of your own common repair attempts? As I think of ours, I’m embarrassed to admit I have rejected Tony’s repair attempts a time or two. I’ve been frustrated or hurt and not willing to believe or remember that he and I are on the same team. I remember him trying to crack a little joke and responding to him with, “Don’t try to change the subject!” Those fights took a lot longer than necessary to de-escalate. Reading through this book and thinking about our own history of fights and arguments, I can see Dr. Gottman’s point. Making and receiving repair attempts well could do a lot to bring us closer together.
There is a long list of repair attempts found in Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. These can feel forced at first, but as you and your spouse begin to learn some damage control language, you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. These are just some of the repair attempts found in his book.
Pin this list so you can come back to it later!
So, how about you? Since some kind of fighting is inevitable, what do your repair attempts look like? Are you willing to receive your partner’s repair attempts? Are you likely to reject them? Take some time over the next couple of days to talk about these with your spouse. We’d love to hear about your own unique versions of repair attempts in the Comments section below. You never know, another couple might read your repair attempts and they could be just the thing to help them de-escalate their own fights and #staymarried.
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Interested in more posts like this? You might like…
♥ What would happen if we did not argue?
♥ Soften Your Startup – A New Way to Approach an Argument
♥ Podcast Episode #10 – The Five Methods of Problem Solving
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The #staymaried Book is a 52 Week Couples Devotional, each chapter exploring how our faith works together with our everyday lives and with relationship research to give a fuller picture of how we can create a marriage that doesn’t simply last, but fulfills our lives and helps us pursue our dreams. Find out more about the book here.