Repair – After the Fight
In our previous installments, we have been looking at helpful tools for improving communication for new parents. But the fact is that all couples, even the most skilled communicators, will sometimes miss each other’s bids for attention or say something that they may later regret. In the context of the addition of a new family member, namely the baby, these situations become even more common as new parents struggle with sleep deprivation, financial concerns, change of roles, and many other dynamics. We are all human. Sometimes we say or do things that we may later regret.
The difference between the successful couples and those who are not is that the successful couples will engage in some sort of repair afterwards while the couples who struggle often neglect to repair or are unsuccessful in their repair attempts.
How do we repair? John and Julie Gottman from the Gottman Institute describe a process they call “Aftermath of a fight.” In this process, they suggest beginning by “stepping outside the fight.” This means rather than jump back into the conflict to articulate and argue your position, you take a step back and try to view the conflict from a new perspective. This new perspective can involve four steps.
First it is important to understand and be able to articulate the feelings of your partner. This can be done through reflective listening, which we discussed earlier in our series. Each partner takes a turn and summarizes their feelings and point of view. Then each partner will reflect back to the other what makes sense about their point of view, doing our best to get inside their perspective.
Second, we must admit our role in the fight. How did we contribute to the problem? In what ways were we selfish or disrespectful? Were we critical, defensive, or playing victim? Have we been depressed or taking our partner for granted? It is much easier to identify and own our own faults rather than have our partner point them out.
The third and final step is to each (gently) let your partner know how they might act differently in the future to avoid fighting over this issue. Next, identify how you might act differently in the future to improve discussion on this issue.
Through effective repair, you can actually become closer and avoid getting into similar arguments in the future.