By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.
In your romantic relationship, after a disagreement or fight, how long do you spend disconnected from your partner?
Are you quick to repair? Or do you spend a lot of time upset with your partner, mentally reviewing what they did wrong? Do you consider your part in the breakdown?
Couples trigger each other often – in minor as well as significant ways. One of the biggest secrets to relationship success is that the speed of repair is a crucial factor, especially when you are dedicated to improving your relationship.
When there is a quick repair, trust can be strengthened, and love can blossom. When an argument or hurt lingers in the air, it creates a toxic atmosphere, and both people suffer.
Arguing about who started the fight is as useless as arguing about who is right. The right/wrong game creates hostile feelings between you. Love requires a pro-relational “win-win” attitude that allows for mutual understanding, which both partners need.
Many of the couples I counsel come to a session with a long list of grievances about how they were hurt by their partner. And they have no clue how to heal the rupture in their connection. They feel confused because they want to restore the loving bond they had, but they don’t know how to get past their resentment and pain.
I created a practical step-by-step formula for couples to “Care, Own and Repair.™” All three steps are required, especially after a significant argument that has fueled a prolonged period of disconnection.
To change a couple’s reactive communication dynamic, it’s important each person commits to take on a new behavior as a conscious practice. This requires agreeing on a new way of relating, addressing your considerations to make sure you are aligned, and then practicing the new skill over an agreed period of time.
Awareness is not enough. You can learn all about music, but to master the skill, you must study and practice it repeatedly over time before it becomes natural and easy.
Same with communication snafus. Even when you fail and fall back on the old thoughtless pattern, you can recommit to continuing the new practice. This is the best way to rebuild the trust that has been broken by the default pattern.
The gift of “Care, Own and Repair” is that when you do slip into old reactions, you have a safety net of remembering to repair as quickly as possible. Either partner can lead the practice and inspire the other to join them. New behaviors are built “incident by incident.”
The goal is to rewire the old reactive tendencies into new patterns of positive bonding and heartfelt communication.
Why is healing attachment ruptures quickly so important?A secure relationship can handle a lot of stress because you feel loved most of the time, so you can handle the normal ups and downs of daily living.
It’s like having positive emotional money in the “love bank.” An unresolved disagreement feels like a withdrawal from the relationship account. An upsetting fight is a bigger energy drain and reduction from the love account.
When there’s an affectionate repair, it is a deposit back into the love reservoir. If there are too many fights without repair, the relationship can become emotionally bankrupt. There are no more good feelings left to draw upon. Distance and disconnection can become the norm.
Here is the 3-step practice that will enable you to resolve a disagreement or fight swiftly: Care, Own and Repair.
Step 1: Care
This is a good moment to remember that you care about your partner and love them. They’re upset and so are you. You want to help each other de-escalate your reactions that feel hurtful or threatening. You need to care about how THEY are feeling, as well as how YOU are feeling.
Your goal is to get back to mutual feelings of warmth and positivity. A few simple words of apology for your impact (without blame or shame) will work – even if you did not intend to trigger each other. “I’m sorry I reacted that way. I know it hurt you.”
Step 2: Own
When owning your part of an incident, there is no need to explain or justify what happened in a defensive way. Just feel your feelings and own what happened within yourself, without blame or judgment.
There is no shame when you get hijacked in a reaction, especially if the other person feels that you care for them enough to own and repair the damage. “I know I reacted to what you said, and I did it in a way that scared you. I’m sorry.”
Step 3: Repair
Any genuine act of repair is when you make a positive bid to bring you both back into the loving feelings that were there before the triggers happened. “I would like to repair what happened. Will you join me?”
If you both make a commitment to the “Care, Own and Repair” healing path, the other person will (hopefully) remember to accept a kind-hearted repair bid.
Always try to accept the other’s bid, even if you still feel upset. Accepting the bid is saying YES to resetting back to a positive connection. Why deny yourself that possibility?
Even if the other person can’t receive your bid when you offer to practice with them, you can initiate your caring and owning first, and that may inspire them to soften and do the same. The practice will keep expanding your capacity to choose love over estrangement, even if one of you leads more than the other.
The intent of owning is not to judge yourself or the other, but rather to learn from the experience – so you can optimize the positive feelings and avoid the reactive behaviors in the future.
The goal is to mature together by learning each other’s trigger points, and finding new ways to express your feelings in more productive ways.
It’s perfectly human to have communication breakdowns. It’s what you do with the feedback you give to each other after they happen that makes a difference. You will either hurt each other again in the same way, or you can commit to using the hurt to heal each other incident by incident, when similar circumstances happen.
The purpose of the “Care, Own and Repair” practice is to learn how to love with more wisdom, as you navigate edgy issues more mindfully.
Keep informing the other person what you need in an empowering way. If you slip, which you will, it’s the next opportunity to “Care, Own & Repair” with more awareness… and more love in your heart