When I hang out with my friends Jacqui and Matthew, it’s always a good time. They’re very passionate, opinionated and playful. Sometimes they may say something to the other that crosses the line. But what they usually do next is something I love to watch – they say, “Take it back.” Not “Take it back jerk!” or “What the hell, take back what you said right now!” Just a “Take it back” with a smile on his or her face. The other one then can’t help but smile either and says, “Ok ok, I take it back.” Sometimes they may even go a step further and share a quick kiss.
Why do I love this exchange so much? Because Jacqui and Matthew use what marital researcher Dr. John Gottman calls “repair attempts.” A repair attempt is anything that you do to decrease tension between you and your partner and that stops negativity from spiraling out of control; any words or actions that calm each other and where you can still use reason instead of sniping and calling each other names. Jacqui and Matthew repair the hurt that the other person felt.
You or your partner can call a timeout, say “I love you,” hold hands or hug each other. Phrases like “Let me start over,” “I’m sorry,” and “You make a great point” are also effective. Some other repairs include jokes and humor or being silly. Jacqui told me that they used “Take it back” as a joke because it sounded so childish, but it stuck – and the important thing is it works for them. When my boyfriend and I have a heated discussion, sometimes he raises his hand for a high five. It always brings a smile to my face and serves as a reminder that we’re still a team – and it gives us some time to put things in perspective.
It’s not only important that you make repair attempts, but also that you receive them as well. Jacqui or Matthew could respond with “Stop being so childish!” or “Grow up!” But they don’t. Instead, they accept that olive branch to make sure things don’t get out of control. It’s a big part of what keeps their relationship solid.
What do you and your partner do to de-escalate your conflicts? Share in the comments below!