The Happy Couple’s Secret Weapon


John Gottman, one of the foremost researchers on marriage, says happy couples have a secret weapon they use during arguments called “repair attempts”.

Most couples fight. And, many spouses wish they could take back something they said that caused the argument to spin out of control. If this sounds familiar, what if you and your mate could develop a habit that would keep arguments from becoming destructive?

The following exercise may not seem fun, but I promise it will be helpful.

I invite you to think about the last fight you had with your mate. At what point did things quickly go from bad to worse? Was it when one of you used sarcasm? Was it when you or your spouse got defensive? When you raised your voice? How about when you said the one thing you swore you would never say again? Or, how about when your spouse raised their voice and said the one thing they promised they would never say again?

Rewind your memory to the moment right before the argument quickly became unproductive. Now imagine you had a secret weapon you could use in that moment to keep negativity from spinning out of control. Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not.

John Gottman, one of the foremost researchers on marriage, says happy couples have a secret weapon they use during arguments called “repair attempts”. He defines a repair attempt as “any statement or action—silly or otherwise—that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” A repair attempt can be as simple as saying to your spouse, “Let’s take a break.” Or, “We are on the same team.” Or, “Could you say that more gently?” A repair attempt can also be a goofy smile or funny face.

But the magic isn’t in a phrase or funny face; the magic happens when two people agree on a repair attempt, then use it when the timing is right. Most of all, it works when each spouse gives and receives repair attempts for what they are: “I am attempting to repair our relationship because I love you, because I love us.” Solomon suggested the same thing in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (NIV)

So, here’s one little, big thing to do today to improve your marriage: Talk with your spouse about what your repair attempt needs to be. 

Pretty easy. You don’t have to have a fight today to test it out. But, the next time you are about to get into a fight, I invite you to use your repair attempt with your mate, then let it do its magic. It may not feel like magic in the moment, and it might be hard to say or receive. But you will be glad you did. . .eventually. 

What repair attempt do you–or would you like to–use in your marriage?


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