Reaching Out – The Power of Repair

All relationships have conflict. We will wound each other, often withtout even realizing the depth of the hurts we inflict. When our partner protests, often with anger, we recoil and defend ourselves. We think, “You’re saying I’m a bad person. You’re wrong and here’s why.” We so want to protect ourselves from the bad feelings that arise when our partner protests, that we can’t hear their own pain through their anger……and so it goes, until each of us reacts to the other’s anger or withdrawal, distancing ourselves further from the one person who can provide us safety and care. How can we slow and reverse this distancing? Many suggest that it is through the power of Repair. What is Repair? One way of thinking about it is that Repair is the word, act or touch that says, “I don’t like what’s happening to us, here. I don’t want to be hurt, angry or distant.” It can be stated in those simple words. It can also be the soft touch of concliation or gesture that moves towards the lover rather than away (helping with a task; making a cup of tea; giving a small, but thoughtful gift). It can be with humor. It can be with an admission of our part in the painful exchange. A colleague, and therapist trained in Gottman’s work suggested to me that the most powerful of John Gottman’s ideas is the power of repair. This is a useful idea in this time of gift giving.