Relationships can be wonderful sources of joy, companionship, and support. They are also the place where we are most vulnerable and easily hurt. After a conflict, it’s crucial to repair.
Repair means reconnecting, hearing each other’s perspective, and showing that you care. Even when we don’t agree or see a situation completely different than our partner or child, we don’t stop loving them. Sometimes, during an argument, it can feel like they’ve stopped loving us. They’ve said hurtful things, aren’t hearing us, or shut down altogether and walk away. Repair helps us correct these experiences and get the relationship back on track.
Here are three steps to repairing relationships after conflict:
ONE | Ask the person to explain their perspective – and really listen. Approach the conversation from a place of curiosity and empathy. Your only goal is to hear and understand the other’s point of view. You’re learning about their subjective experience. Be mindful not to interrupt, clarify a point, or focus on what you’re going to say in response while they are speaking. You will get your turn. If it’s helpful, you can even take notes while they talk. Let them know, “I really want to be able to hear you and remember everything you have to say, so I’m going to jot some things down.”
TWO | Validate his or her feelings. Validation means acknowledgment. You are acknowledging that you heard what your partner or child had to say and demonstrate this by reflecting back, in your own words, what they shared. You can say something like, “I’m hearing you say…” or “what I’m hearing from you is…” and then relay what you have heard. Check in with the other person to confirm you’ve got it right. Then, they have the opportunity to correct or add to what you’ve said.
THREE | Agree to agree (or disagree). After hearing the other person’s perspective and validating to confirm you’ve understand what they had to say, we want to communicate understanding. (Understanding is not agreement). Choose at least one small piece of what your partner or child shared and say something like, “I can understand why you felt upset when I… because you heard me say…” Your job is to show that you can put yourself in their shoes and feel the way they felt. Then, switch roles. The speaker becomes the listener, the listener becomes the speaker, and they start again from Step One.
This may seem time consuming, which it can be. Don’t underestimate the important of going through each step. This is the way to repair after relationship conflict and it is powerful. Consider the time spent an investment in the health of your relationship. With your partner, it will strengthen your bond and demonstrate the respect you have for one another. With your child, it will show how loved and valued she is. It’s a real life lesson in relationships for her to take with her into the future.
The next time you experience a conflict with a family member give this a try. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.