Jason Carrasco MSc., RP, RMFT
The Secret of Successful Relationships: Rupture & Repair
This month, we have been focusing on connection and desire. We have already introduced you to the seven principles that help keep that spark alive - and really, help to maintain that feeling of closeness and connection in your romantic relationships (click here in case you missed that post). Though those principles are great - there will come a time when you either forget to abide by them, or simply let your “human side show”. What I mean is - as a person you will inevitability let down your partner and “screw up” in some way. What is it that you can do during those moments to repair the hurt that has been caused - and does it even matter? Does an apology matter? If you have ever been disappointed, hurt, or let down by someone, you may know how painful those experiences can be. Equally, if you have been able to experience a successful repair - you may also know how liberating those conversations can also be. In the office, I often hear comments like “it feels like a weight has been lifted from my chest” from clients after we have processed relational injuries. Going back to the question of, do apologies matter - the answer is simply, yes they do. We must understand what an apology is, as it is more than a socially prescribed “thing to do”. An apology is a ritual - relationally, it can be a ritual for connection! It is a way of expressing and embodying some of those relational principles of empathy and respect as we demonstrate this to the person we have wronged - be it our romantic partners, our family members, or our friends.
An effective apology, or a relational repair attempt, is also going to be our way of explicitly making reference to an act or a behaviour that has the potential of negatively impacting the relationship. An effective relational repair has the ability to validate and lessen the anger and hurt being held onto by the wronged person, while also creating an opportunity to prevent misunderstandings in the future. While the apology, or repair attempt, itself cannot undo the harm caused by past actions - it can certainly help undo and repair the negative effects of the actions themselves, if done authentically and effectively. How to engage in effective relational repair? There are going to be many things that you’ll read about online that speak to this. You can easily find things to do, or specific things to say that will help start this process. However, I think that there is a lot more value to be had in focusing less on the specific things, and rather making the relational principles things that we live by.
What I mean by this is: what are the principles that guide you and have helped form this relationships? In what ways are you living by those very principles, or how can get back to following those principles. Again - these principles are talked about in our post from last week, click here to read.
A great way to get started in this area is going to be to think about your relationship goals overall. What is your current goal? To increase intimacy, or perhaps to strengthen trust? Those goals are just the starting point! I wonder, what difference would it make if you were to turn those goals into habits?
For instance, if the goal has been to strengthen trust, make it a habit to openly talk about your needs and desires with your partner! Research shows that intimate conversations help to build emotional connection - which leads to more trust in your relationship and passion in your sex life. If your goal has been to be more connected, the habit has to be to engage in effective conversations that focus on repair! When you are engaging in a reparative conversation, make sure that you are asking yourself this question “in what ways am I adhering to our relational principles”. Ideally, you would need to be able to both express yourself effectively as a speaker, and understand curiously as a listener when engaging with your partner. Here is a good framework to consider when structuring your apology:
Express remorse for the mistake
Empathize and Validate the emotions shared by your partner
Collaborate on ways to prevent this from happening again
The Gottman’s have a great resource to help keep reparative conversations structured and helpful. The tool is the Gottman Repair Checklist (you can find a free copy if you search on Google). The idea here is to focus on six areas: expressing your emotions, taking accountability, being on the same “team”, expressing appreciations, focusing on your need to either stop/pause or diffuse the emotional tension in a conversation. I would like to invite you to think about, how have you been sticking to the principles of your relationship and how have you been showing up to effectively repair. Remember, when repairing, the idea is not to either convince the other person or resist being convinced by the other person (this is fight waiting to happen). Rather, repair is about understanding and coming to a mutually agreed upon solution. If you would like to hear more about this, check out this month’s podcast episode where we discuss this topic in more detail.