Healthy Relationship Tip #6: Repair and Reconnect

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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  1. My boyfriend always tries to make a joke when we’re fighting and sometimes it makes me laugh but sometimes it makes me really mad. Is he trying to repair?

    • Parijat Deshpande

      Thank you for your comment. Using humor can be a repair attempt if it us used appropriately. If your boyfriend is making a joke about you or saying something sarcastically to upset you, then it would not be a repair attempt. However, if he is doing it to try and reconnect with you and help diffuse the situation, then that would be considered an attempt. The question then is, how come it makes you angry? Are you upset that he is trying or is it actually about something he said?

  2. Thank you, MySahana. These relationship articles are great!

    • Parijat Deshpande

      Thank you for your feedback! I’m so glad you are enjoying these articles. Please continue to provide us feedback, ask questions, etc. with previous and subsequent articles! We love it! And just fyi, if you put your email address, it will never be posted with your comment but you will automatically receive updates for anyone who comments on an article that you’ve also commented on. Thanks again!

  3. This is such an important skill to learn and practice for healthy relationships. I really like your clear example. And one thing I want to emphasize is that if you can “get” the concept but are not good at applying it when you are “reacting,” it is a skill you can learn and practice and improve. Sometimes Gottman (I’ve read two of his books and heard him speak at a couple of conferences) sounds as though these are “traits” that a person either has or doesn’t have. I want to emphasize that I don’t know if that is accurate in any way, and I have great respect for his work, AND I am convinced from experience that “repair and reconnect” are skills one can learn if one is motivated to make the effort to learn new behavioral and consciousness skills.

    Also are you familiar with Dan Siegel’s writings? Particularly, THE DEVELOPING MIND: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are; PARENTING FROM THE INSIDE OUT: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive.
    If not, I highly recommend them to you. As I’m writing this, I’m even thinking that when you’re done sharing Gottman’s work (which I think you are doing so artfully and accessibly), I think doing something similar with Dan Siegel’s “how the brain/mind works” from Parenting from the Inside Out (the how the brain/mind works principles he shares there apply to any relationship — not just the parent child relationship).

    The reason I mention him is because he shares the concept of “repair” in relation to how the brain/mind works and how the lack of “repair” after you’ve “lost it” with anger/reaction, etc. is crazy-making for the other person.

    Great work you are doing. Keep it up. Hope you don’t mind my long posts — you inspire me.

    Tom Huntington

    • Thanks for yet another insightful reply and for your kind words! I definitely agree that these are skills that anyone can learn as long as they are willing to put in the work to change their habits of behavior within the relationship.

      I definitely have a plan to write about the brain/mind connection with relationships at a later date. I’ve read a couple of Dr. Seigel’s articles but never his book, which sounds very interesting. I’ll add it to my reading list and I’m sure I’ll continue to learn more about how the brain works with regards to relationships! Thanks!

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