03 Aug How To Repair After A Relationship Bad Patch
I spend a lot of time talking and writing about how to minimise relationship disharmony, and for good reason: I’ve seen that it takes not just love, but actual skill and expertise to keep a relationship on a really healthy and loved-up track.
But for now, I want to focus on relationship repair, because it’s an essential step in the cycle of all relationships.
The degree to which partners are skilled at repair makes a huge difference to whether they will thrive as a couple, or fail.
Here’s my pick of the 4 most crucial things couples must do to enjoy efficient and healthy relationship repair:
1. Prioritise your relationship over all else – including your own pride
You won’t be able to repair after a relationship bad-patch if one or both of you are more invested in defending yourself over defending the relationship that you share.
You may be certain you’re right and have a point really worth making! Or your partner might have really stuffed up, hurt you, or been imperfect in some other way. But you can still address these things whilst sending a very clear message to each other which essentially says:
“No matter what dramas or difficulties we face together, I am on your team, working with you to build an awesome relationship together… Good times or bad times, our relationship comes first”
Cut to the chase by getting into “problem solving mode” by using active requests, rather than complaints. Remind each other that the relationship comes first. Treat each other with kindness even when you don’t feel like doing so. Staying focussed on what you want to create (which I assume is a really happy relationship) is crucial for swift relationship repair.
2. Assume the best from your partner
If you expect that your partner is basically a good person who wants the same thing as you do (a healthy happy relationship), then this expectation will become the foundation of everything that happens between you – including the challenging times of relationship disharmony.
Unfortunately for many couples, an assumption of goodwill deteriorates over time to create an assumption of “bad-will”… when things that happen between you will be seen in a negative light. When you assume “bad-will”, you’ll misinterpret each other, jump to negative conclusions, and become more focussed on defending yourself than the process of repair and moving forward.
If there is abuse happening your relationship, your assumption of “bad-will” may be well founded: speak to a trusted friend or professional so that you can assess whether your relationship has what it takes to be healthy for you. But for most relationships, an assumption of goodwill is totally well founded and totally crucial for effective repair.
Treat your partner as you would if you assumed he or she really loved you and wanted only the best. Assume the best from each other by trusting that you each want a healthy and harmonious relationship, and are prepared to do what it takes to make it happen.
3. Make and receive apologies, without reservation
The most obvious prompt for relationship repair is an apology. But if an apology is offered, it then needs to be accepted before repair is possible. Without both, repair can’t happen.
Unless you are a perfect partner (and I’ve never yet met one), you’ll need to apologise at times, so make sure you do this with sincerity. Forget the half-hearted or sarcastic apologies, or ones that start with “I’m sorry” but go on to imply that you’re not actually acknowledging fault. When you say sorry, be authentic, dig deep, and say it from the heart.
When you’re receiving an apology, be gracious, respectful, and kind. Then immediately let go. Repair can’t happen if apologies are made and received but grudges and resentments aren’t released. You can return to harmony together in a second, but you’ll need to make this a conscious choice.
4. Be responsible for your own emotions
Your partner may do stuff that makes you feel sad, or mad, or bad… but you are ultimately responsible for how you feel. Partners who blame each other for their own emotional distress say things like “I’m mad because you’ve made me mad!”, “Look what you’ve done to me“, or “See how much I’m suffering, and it’s all because of you!“…
Partners who take responsibility for their emotions know how to stay in their “adult” self even when they’re not feeling happy. They realise that it’s their job to soothe themselves after relationship distress and to be emotionally stable and healthy. If this isn’t happening in your relationship, take steps to change. It’s crucial not only for your own psychological wellbeing, but also for effective relationship repair.
Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. She has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive for 25 years. Thanks is due to the work of Terry Real at Relational Life Therapy for inspiring her to think about some of the concepts discussed in this article. Contact Pamela here.