Happy Couples Secret Weapon: After a Big Fight, Gottman’s Repair Attempts for Increased Communication and Relationship Intimacy

John and Susan felt hopeless after their latest argument. As is usual, they went to their separate corners in the house to simmer down and get away from each other. When they started talking again, it wasn’t good, just short, cryptic words, not a very good connection. Both of them were hurting from ANOTHER big fight, and both thought this could be the straw that broke the camels back in their marriage. John felt terrible for verbally attacking Susan, and was amazed at his poor delivery. Susan couldn’t believe she blew up, and wished she had approached things differently. Inside they were both wishing they knew how to fight fairly without flaring up in the same old patterns! So they both shut down a little bit more of themselves, and imagined the fight didn’t happen, while underneath they both knew fighting this way, then ignoring each other, really undermined their relationship connection!no intimacy, don't know how to recover from a fight!

Sound a little familiar?

Tips for Healing the Connection
Repair Attempts:Dr. John Gottman’s “happy couples secret weapon”

So often I see couples where the negativity builds up, and RESENTMENT towards each other grows; the unresolved sadness or anger at things said or done (years) before escalates, which creates disconnection. Then it resurfaces during fights. You can learn how to move beyond this resentment, anger, and disconnection trap so fights don’t keep recurring, and don’t last forever!

How to Repair from a BIG fight!
1) Take a step back and take responsibility for your part in the fight, and your behavior. “I need a minute to collect myself.”
2) What about apologizing? “I really lost it back there, that was extreme on my part. I’m sorry.” Important that you’re sincere.
3) Use “I” statements. “I’m feeling blamed right now, could you say it differently?” “I don’t feel understood right now.”
4) What about trying to see it from THEIR perspective, or acknowledging them? “Some of what you’re saying makes sense to me.” “I didn’t think about it that way.” You could write them a personalized card.
You could talk about how you lost it, and how you aim to work on it not happening again.
5) Ask them what they need to reduce the sting of their wound. “Would you like to talk more, or do you need a little time?” “What could I do differently next time?”
6) Practice showing appreciation for each other. “I see what you’re saying now.” “That’s a good point.” “Thank you for…”

Since this can be appealing, go with it and notice how repair attempts can become contagious. Your attempt will lead the way for your partner to try one! Maybe the problem won’t be altogether solved, but you’ll be enjoying a more collaborative conversation, which can over time replace the attacking, negative, adversarial habits.

To sum up, repair attempts are a good way to recover from an argument. They can help you go from attack-defend to more collaboration and productivity in your relationship. They tend to cause people to smile because they can get contagious. You could give yourself an aim to recover AFTER a fight next time. Then someday try some of this DURING a fight. The highest aim is to practice dialoguing well with your partner, communicating without making what they’re saying bad or wrong. This prevents fights. It’s very adult, satisfying, and meaningful as your relationship grows its skill sets.

How To Keep Things from Escalating!
1) Apologize in the moment.
2) Remind yourselves you’re on the same team!
3) Use humor (not sarcasm).
4) Try to see it from their perspective.
5) Tell them “I get you.” (shows empathy)
6) Touch gently. (a safe place, like a shoulder)

Optimally, the best way to avoid problems is to notice when fights are escalating, but this is easier said than done. When words do get heated, remember you can still repair things. Any communication, whether verbal or non-verbal, that tries to address the rift and begins the recovery process to restore THE CONNECTION WHICH WAS LOST, is a repair attempt. Through counseling, repair attempts can become second nature as the old attacking, defensive fighting style fades through understanding and learning new tools. Doesn’t this sound better than the old way of trying to wait out your partner, believing they’ll just forget about the fight, and you both pretend it never happened?Reconnecting through repair attempts!  Intimacy increases!


Jim Bowen MA LPC has been assisting individuals and couples since 1992, with offices in Boulder and Denver. Contact Jim with email or call him at 303-534-8717. Why not call for a free consultation?