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. This Friday, your Weekend Homework Assignment focuses on practicing the repair attempts we discussed in our last blog, so that you will be prepared for next week’s discussion of the last two skills of Dr. Gottman’s 6 Skills for Managing Conflict.

As we’re sure you’ve noticed, the language that we’ve been using in the blog this week for discussing repair attempts and de-escalation has been rigid, maybe seeming inauthetic 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. Gottman makes a very good case for conquering these doubts and sticking with these outlined repair attempts. We suggest that you attend to his reminder that 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. 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.”

This weekend, try keeping these words in mind while putting together the steps we explored this week in our Managing Conflict postings. 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 we provided you with in Wednesday’s blog post, 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 the exercises we described on Monday may have an unforeseen benefit: Using new (and potentially foreign sounding) 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 spouse (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. 

Next week, look forward to the completion of our short tour through Dr. Gottman’s 6 Skills for Managing Conflict with the last two skills: Physiological Self-Soothing andCompromise. Have a relaxing weekend!

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Weekend Homework Assignment: Repair Attempts

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.