Repairing Damage




by Sally Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

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When couples have a disagreement, it can be very costly to the relationship. Those in healthy relationships will have a lot of good will and positive sentiments about their partner and so, will find lots of ways to compromise, respect differences and let go of the argument soon after it is over.



John Gottman has noted the frequency of repair attempts during a disagreement in couples with healthy relationships. They generally interact as if getting along is more important than winning a point, so you hear lots of comments like: “I hope that when I say this, it does not hurt your feelings” or “I love you and do not want our differences to cause problems.” or “Let me see if I understand your point.” There is also a lot of humor, loving and playful touch, sometimes distraction, if tension mounts. The distraction might be something like a joke, a short story about a child or friend, an offer for coffee, anything to break the tension before returning to the subject on the table.
Bill and Sarah were excellent with disagreements. Her humor was wonderful and she could easily crack a joke whenever things got tense between she and Bill. The good thing about her humor; however, is that she never got ugly or disrespectful and Bill, who also had a good sense of humor was able to enjoy her wit.
 
Bill’s contributions to supporting the discussion when things were tense was to gently say to her things like, “Sarah, I do not think that you are really hearing me.” … Or “You may not have meant to say that in an ugly way, however, that is not how I heard it.  Can you say it differently?”

While they did continue to have differences, and sometimes hurt each other or made each other mad, they had a good relationship … and the commitment to find ways to get past their disagreements quickly.




Sarah and Bill also had an idea about each other and their relationship that promoted their belief that no argument was worth serious damage to the marriage. If you would ask them about the disagreement a few days later, often they could not even recall much about it … and would say things like … “no big deal”.


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