Learning to Make and Receive Repair Attempts in a Marriage

By Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW

Many problems in a marriage are solvable, but some aren’t. Some problems are perpetual and are due to fundamental differences in values and beliefs between partners. These perpetual problems don’t have to ruin a marriage. Instead of focusing on the unsolvable aspect of these relationships focus on how to repair any conflicts with humor and compassion.

A repair attempt is when you diffuse a tense situation or argument with any statement or action (this can include kindness, humor, etc). For example, let’s say there is an unresolvable argument about money. One partner may use a pet name and stick out their tongue to end the argument. By using repair attempts effectively, you can avoid the conflict spiraling out of control.  In happy marriages, couples send and receive repair attempts with ease. If you find your repair attempts aren’t working with your spouse, try the steps below:

1. Soothe yourself and each other. In the middle of a heated argument, you or your spouse might get so upset that compromise and understanding are no longer an option. In this case, it’s important to end the discussion. Take at least a 20-minute break to calm down before restarting the conversation. Try to pick something that is soothing to you and distracting.

2. Compromise has to involve both people changing and negotiating to accommodate each other. In order to consider your partner’s position ask each other the following questions.

  • What do we agree about?
  • What common feelings are the most important feelings here?
  • What common goals do we have?
  • How can you understand the situation or issue?
  • How do we think we should accomplish these goals?

After you come up with a compromise, agree to try it for 3 months. If the compromise isn’t satisfactory to both of you, go back to the drawing board and try another option. Contrary to popular belief, conflict is normal and healthy in a marriage. Try the above steps to solve or discuss your problems and see results in your relationship.

Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW is a founder and lead therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are having problems with communication in relationships visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.