Homework Assignment: Repair Attempts

Homework Assignment: Repair Attempts


By Ellie Lisitsa

Make repair attempts a priority with your partner and the way you communicate and manage conflict will change for the good.

Ideally, successful conflict management in your relationship ends with both of you hearing each other’s positions and understanding the dreams hidden beneath the surface of your disagreement. 

Realistically, without repair attempts in your conflict discussions, this seamless ending is often impossible to reach. Here’s an opportunity to practice the repair attempts discussed in this blog.

The language in the blog for discussing repair attempts and de-escalation has been rigid, maybe seeming inauthentic or uncomfortable. When trying to put the brakes on what feels like a train-wreck of a discussion with your partner, using such formal terms may seem like the worst move you could make, as your attempts to stop its motion appear awkward and forced. 

While these feelings are natural, Dr. John Gottman makes a good case for conquering these doubts and sticking with these outlined repair attempts. Repair attempts are often missed in arguments because they are hidden in a whirlwind of escalating negativity. Focusing on their wording and making sure that they are clearly recognizable is vital for successfully managing conflict.

According to Dr. John Gottman’s research:

“Formalizing repair attempts by using these scripted phrases can help you defuse arguments in two ways: First, the formality of a script ensures that you will use the type of words that work well for putting on the brakes, and second, these phrases are like megaphones—they help ensure that you pay attention to a repair attempt when you’re on the receiving end.”

Try keeping these words in mind while putting together the steps explored in our Managing Conflict postings here and here. It is best to start practicing with low-intensity topics and to take the training wheels off gradually as the two of you begin building confidence in your approach to conflict. Start using the phrases and methods of communication in the blog post on Repair and De-escalate and when you notice your partner making a repair attempt, accept it and acknowledge it clearly.

Though conflict discussions have the potential to throw us into a negative place, ranging from frustration to great distress, practicing may have an unforeseen benefit: Using new terminology may be a source of amusement in the midst of a stressful conversation. If the two of you feel the urge to interrupt your conversations with “This is repair attempt #735!,” don’t fight the urge to laugh. After all, these exercises are intended to bring the two of you some relief in the midst of what is otherwise an incredibly draining activity. Moments of affection and laughter in the midst of the storm bring warmth and light into even the most difficult conversations!

Remember to practice the first four skills of Managing Conflict in your conversations with your partner (and others!). Don’t feel discouraged if they don’t immediately succeed in entirely transforming your social interactions. These are tools that have the potential to help you navigate difficult conversations enormously, but as with anything else, they require patience and practice. 


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