The most important factor in a healthy relationship is what Gottman calls: successful repairing. This is when both people work hard to ensure that the argument does not escalate and if it does, they are able to make up and reconnect afterwards. A repair attempt is like a peace offering or an olive branch during a fight.
Examples of repair attempts include showing appreciation of their partner or using humor. It is important to note that the humor here differs from the humor used during contempt, because during a repair attempt, the goal is to reconnect and not to express disgust.
Here is an illustration of a successful repair attempt:
Jyoti and Sagar** had been arguing for 20 minutes about how to spend the upcoming weekend. Sagar loved to go out, be around friends, and try new things. Jyoti was more of a homebody and preferred to stay at home and watch a movie with Sagar. Sagar thought Jyoti had become “boring” and was becoming increasingly frustrated that she did not match his enthusiasm for socializing. Jyoti was becoming resentful that Sagar seemed to want to spend time with everyone else in the world but her.
At that point, Sagar took a deep breath and acknowledged, “I know the only reason you don’t want to go out this weekend is because you want to spend more time with me and these days with work being so busy we don’t get a lot of time together.” He looked at her tentatively, hoping she had understood his attempt at reconnecting and diffusing the argument. Jyoti smiled and teased, “I think this weekend we should tie ourselves together like we had to do during our wedding. That way we have to stay near each other!” They both laughed and hugged.
While most couples do try to repair the conversations, couples in healthy relationships accept the other’s repair attempts (e.g. Jyoti backing down from the argument and teasing Sagar in a way that she knew he could appreciate). Had Jyoti and Sagar been a more unhealthy couple, after Sagar’s acknowledgement of the strength in Jyoti’s point of view, her response would have been more like, “Finally you get it. It only takes 30 minutes of me yelling at you to get you to understand.” By being sarcastic, possibly rolling her eyes, she’s not matching Sagar’s efforts to repair and reconnect with each other and is further damaging the conversation and ultimately the relationship.
** The couple in the illustration is a fictional couple, is not based on a real couple and in no way are intended to represent a real couple. Any similarities between this couple and one in real life are purely coincidental.
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