The Secret to Repair

It’s an odd feeling to miss someone living in the same house as you. It’s even stranger to sleep in the same bed and feel lonely. Disconnection arouses feelings of sadness, anger and confusion. Yet, trying to find your way out of the mental anguish of disrepair can sometimes make matters worse. It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating an inner inventory of everything that annoys you about your partner, including all the ways they fall short of your expectations. All day long, you gather evidence to justify your position. It’s no wonder that an argument occurs when you finally muster the courage to broach the subject.
 
Commonly, speaking words that express disappointment are received as disapproval.  If your partner feels criticised as you share your concerns, they will likely jump to defensiveness, shutting down the conversation before it begins or escalating as they add their objections. The criticism and defensiveness cycle is the number one reason relationships fail. Throw in statements of contempt and stonewalling, and you’ll find a slow demise is inevitable. Unfortunately, invalidation and arguments only make matters worse. If this happens regularly, you may become too scared to speak about your feelings. As you close off emotionally, intimacy falls away, and loneliness takes a deeper hold.
 
Carrying heavy emotions like loneliness and despair can impact your capacity to cope with day-to-day life. Most of us will go to great lengths to avoid these painful feelings. When talking fails, we may attempt to distract ourselves, escaping emotional pain with a strong drink, a block of chocolate or binging on Netflix (or all the above and more). In worst-case scenarios, disconnection eventuates in Googling legal advice. 
 
As you would expect, the cure to loneliness involves spending more time together. However, when the gap between you is vast, communication is the first step to re-establishing care. Just as a breakdown in words pulled you apart, the right words combined with active listening can glue you back together. The right words of repair at the right time can make all the difference to the mood between you. 
 
Words of repair are short statements that express care. For example:

Saying sorry

  • “Can I try again?” 
  • “I messed up.” 
  • “How can I make things better?” 
  • “I’m sorry.” 

Be open to saying yes

  • “I agree with part of what you’re saying.” 
  • “Let’s find a compromise.” 
  • “What are your concerns?” 

Calming down

  • “Can we take a break from this conversation for now?” 
  • “Please be gentler with me.” 
  • “I am starting to feel overwhelmed.” 

Taking a break

  • “Give me a moment.” 
  • “Let’s agree to disagree.” 
  • “We are getting off track.” 

Offering appreciation 

  • “That’s a good point.” 
  • “I know this isn’t your fault.” 
  • “I love you.” ​​​​

Expressing how you feel 

  • “That hurt my feelings.” 
  • “I feel defensive. Can you rephrase that?” 
  • “I’m getting worried.” 

Words of repair create a sense of balance from which you can begin more meaningful conversations. Essentially the goal is to use words of repair instead of words of defence, as this opens up the conversation and creates room for each of you to feel heard. If the topics you wish to discuss are challenging, my Empathy Cards are designed to assist couples to carefully listen to each other’s perspectives and find shared solutions.

With minimal shared downtime, carelessness and conflict are inevitable. When you are struggling to connect, it’s easy to get caught up in wondering if your partner really cares. Acknowledging that finding time to be together is hard assists you to rationalise the importance of planning light-hearted downtime at least once a week. However, when life takes over and you can’t make time for each other, words of repair are the glue that will hold your relationship together.

Communication is the secret of a successful relationship and kindness is the foundation of love.  When both of you actively stay open to each other by avoiding defensiveness and reaching for words of repair, loneliness dissipates and fondness returns.