For this blog, I thought that I would dig deeper into the Magic 7 from a previous blog of mine. In particular, I want to take a look at the last 2 points: Learning to repair and letting it go. Here’s what I said in the last post on the two topics:
Learn to repair and say you are sorry: It’s important to own your mistakes. If you hold grudges against your partner, then there is no room for making amends. And then you must learn how to say sorry in a way that your partner will hear it. Don’t know what I mean? Check out the book by Gary Chapman called “When Sorry Isn’t Enough”. All that energy that you are (literally) wasting on holding that grudge, that negativity is space you are not holding for your partner and your relationship. This ties in very nicely to:
Let it go: Tallying the bad never gets you ahead. In anything. Again, if you are looking for the bad, that is all you will see. Are you looking for how often they leave dirty socks in the bathroom? Then you will surely find evidence. Focussing on the minutiae is losing perspective on the bigger picture. Is this petty record keeping really worth how it chips away at the foundation of your relationship? Choose to let it go. Every moment when that irritation creeps in, take a breath and let it go. Shift it out of your body. It is an ongoing process.
I am a big fan of John Gottman who often talks a lot about repairing and how important it is for relationships (https://www.gottman.com/blog/r-is-for-repair/).
Our motivation in repairing relationships comes from our belief that our relationship has the ability to withstand the tests of time – we are truly committed to this LONG TERM. Maybe this current challenging situation is a blip on the radar. Or an opportunity to clear out and clean out the debris and dust from not paying attention and being in tune with your partner and vice versa. Further, wanting to repair means the relationship is worthy of a repair. It is not so much that we fight, argue, or disagree with our partner but that we repair the breach or the transgression. If repairs do not occur we run the risk of a relationship fatality. Another one bites the dust.
Sometimes the fear of conflict overrides the need for repair attempts. However, in my work with couples, I support them to reframe conflict as an opportunity for growth and deeper connection. Can it feel vulnerable and risky to do? YES! But, the depth of risk you take in becoming open, naked emotionally and vulnerable has a direct correlation to the depth of connectedness you will achieve in your relationship. It builds trust and faith in your partner and your partnership. We take ownership of our choices and our actions/behaviours based on those choices. Then we find a way to repair that fits with the person we are making amends with.
It’s so important to our intimate relationships that Gottman compiled a list of how to repair according to 6 different categories: feelings, need to calm, apologies, stopping actions, getting to yes and then appreciations. Not everybody and not every couple repairs things the same way. (see link above) And, it is nice to have a few options in the heat of the moment if one of these options don’t work.
Why must you repair and let go? In Dr Gottman’s research, the consistent failure of repair attempts is a sign of an unhappy future.
I recently read the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and it had an incredible impact on me. It has inspired me to dig deeper and to speak with integrity, not take things personally, not make assumptions and do the best I can. All solid advice for stepfamily life. One area profoundly impacted me. It was in the section that made me wonder: why is it that we feel the need to continually punish our partners for a past mistake? It seems that we punish our partner then we forget but when we remember again, we punish AGAIN. Have you ever brought up a past transgression in the heat of a fight? How is that supportive to your partner, how is that supportive to your relationship, how does that help you come out ahead and together?
If the need is still there to punish, then there is obviously something in us that hasn’t let go of the pain or anger at the indiscretion. Big or small. Do we feel justified in the punishment? What are we winning in that moment of punishing? Do you feel justified? Do you feel entitled in your anger? But, more importantly, what would we be gaining if we let it go? AHHHAAA right?!
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die” ~ Buddha
How do we let it go? Step by baby step. Making a choice in the moment. What will you choose? Asking: will this be building on the foundation of our relationship or chipping away at it?
Another important relationship success skill to have is the ability to de-escalate. What do you do to de-escalate rising tensions? De-escalation is “any statement or action — silly or otherwise — that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” Humour is one of my favorite ways to de-escalate a tense situation. I often crack jokes about me and my quirks and my reaction to the situation. Make sure to pick a topic to laugh about that is totally unrelated to the topic you are disagreeing about. And NOTHING personal or it will be viewed as an attack (an important side note: do not make a joke at the expense of your partner, that will only make things worse.)
Try to keep neutral tone and language- sarcasm, may be hard to avoid but must be avoided where possible and as often as possible. Make it a no swearing or name-calling zone when you do argue. Rules of engagement are a good idea. So you and your partner know where to draw the line and to maintain respect for each other. Again, the point isn’t you should never argue or fight, but rather that you are not creating new wounds or deepening the old ones.
Finally, we cannot hang our hats on how often the repair attempts have failed in the past or who is always the first person to apologize first. Having a “what’s the point” mentality is destructive: The whole point is relationship repair and relationship longevity. That is a punishing perspective to take.
My hope is that these insights support you in shifting your perspective and giving you a clearer focus on building on your strengths as an individual and as a couple in an intimate relationship. Even for me, this is a work in progress. But the effort is worth the outcome!
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach and the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.