How to communicate for success

Anyone who is married can tell you that conflict is a daily part of it. To keep intimacy alive, you’ll need the proper tools to make up after an argument. Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist who works in marital stability and divorce prediction, has done a great amount of research on couples over his 40-year career. One of my favorite concepts from him is this: Arguments are not the problem. Disagreements are bound to happen. It is the giving and receiving of “repair attempts” that determine and predict the success of the relationship.

Here are some ways you can make repair attempts:

  1. Try to insert humor: Be funny, not in a barbed or sarcastic way. Invoke the memory of a private joke or shared sense of the absurd.
  2. Touch your partner: Be gentle and compassionate. Offer a hug, with permission.
  3. Remind your partner that you’re on the same team: Speak in terms of “we,” saying things like “We can get through this. We can learn more about each other.”
  4. Validate your partner’s emotions: “You sound angry, and I can see why,” or “You’re sad about this situation; of course you are.”
  5. Apologize with sincerity for the parts of the conflict that are your responsibility: “I can see what you’re saying about that first part of your complaint. You’re right. I do that sometimes, and I’m not proud of it.”
  6. Show empathy: Ask, “What must that be like for you? I imagine you might feel…”
  7. Make an offering to help repair the situation: Physically or emotionally, mend a breach, restore what’s broken, etc. “I see what I did wrong, and I plan to apologize to your mom.” Or, “I botched my attempt at making you feel understood, but I’m listening now. Tell me more.” Or something as concrete as, “I broke it. I’ll replace it.”

I’ve seen and heard enough to know that Gottman’s research (applied to non-abusive relationships) is right on target. If someone offers you an olive branch or even a tiny smile in the middle of an argument, take it. Accept the repair attempt, and let it be the beginning of the end of that particular fight.

If you offer and receive repair attempts with grace, you’ll be well on your way toward acquiring the behaviors that Gottman considers predictors of relationship success.

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