After a fight, you basically have four options: you can exit the relationship, you can be patient and loyal by waiting for your spouse to change, you can neglect your spouse, or you can repair. (Branau-Browna & Ragsdale, 2008)
We’ve discussed fighting in the last few topics: why fighting for your marriage is good, different fighting styles couples use, and basic ground rules for use in a fight. This last topic in our series, about how to repair after a fight, is definitely the most important of these four topics!
Really, thinking that the repair comes after the fight isn’t really accurate. To set your marriage up for success, repair also needs to come before and during a fight!
Start with way before! Stafford and Canary (1991) list five factors that gauge the quality of a relationship and that you want to make sure are in your marriage long before a disagreement occurs.
- Positivity – create a positive atmosphere for communication.
- Openness – practice the habit of being open and honest with each other. Don’t put up walls.
- Assurances – use statements designed to reassure your spouse of the well-being of the relationship (like “I’ll love you forever”, “I will never leave you”).
- Task Sharing – share the daily work-related for a family and home.
- Support Network – involve family and friends in the relationship (not someone you’ll go complaining to your spouse about, but someone who will support and help you both through whatever comes)
We want to challenge you to be strategic on the long term, visionary sort of basis! Build these qualities into your marriage and set yourself up for success before a conflict is even on the table.
As another researcher says, “the quality of the friendship between husband and wife” predicts whether repair attempts will work. Foster that friendship multiple times daily!
In 2010, Driver et al found that “all couples attempt to repair during conflict.” It’s a natural thing to do, but what we need to learn is to initiate repairs sooner and more often, and recognize and accept when our spouse is offering them!
During a fight, down-regulate your negative emotion or try to dial down how upset you are! This does not mean you may not be upset; you just need to contain it for a reasonable amount of time. When you are stuck in negativity or dish it right back when you receive it from your spouse, you get into the zone where relationship damage occurs.
Bloch, Haase and Leveson (2014) found that down-regulating was directly correlated to marital satisfaction over the long term. They reported that when you’re in a place of prolonged negativity and high emotionality you can’t understand each other, you can’t respond well to your spouse’s repair efforts and you are not going to get to collaborative problem-solving.
Try to calm yourself down when you’re feeling flooded with emotions and know that you’re getting negative. To do this, stop and take a few deep breaths – in through your nose, out through your mouth. To ground yourself back to reality, try running your hands down the side of your pant leg, or along the arm of your chair. Pay close attention to the feel of the fabric under your fingertips.
These actions will remove you far enough from the overwhelming emotions so that you can think more clearly.
To attempt repair during the conflict, try some of the following tips:
- Take a break (“I need some time to calm down”)
- Use humor when appropriate (very powerful)
- Reaffirm the security of the relationship (verbally or physically [reach out])
- Validate your spouse’s position (You might be right)
- Offer a compliment
Remember, if you don’t have the previous mojo of positivity, there may be a backlash against repair attempts during a fight. Repairing before the fight is so important!
Apologizing, offering forgiveness, reconciling with each other and showing affection are a few things you can do to “make up” after a conflict.
But really, this is very little literature on repair after a fight. The time to repair is before and during the conflict. So, don’t get the idea what you can go at it like wildcats and then apply a few band-aids at the end to jump back into marital bliss!
Focus on creating positivity in your marriage, building a solid friendship, and then in the conflict, looking for ways to repair.