Written by:
The Freemans
A photo of Aaron and Jocelyn Freeman

5 Conflict Repair Mistakes in Marriage and Exactly How to Do Better

Conflicts are going to happen in marriage. That's part of two different human beings try to do life together.

Some couples believe that conflict is a "bad thing" and so they try and avoid it. But studies have proved that divorce (or even just dissatisfying relationships) aren't linked to the fact that conflict happens....it's that they go UNRESOLVED.

So that's why we provide couples with tools and skills for before, during, and after conflict. This article is about the "after conflict" stage where repair really needs to happen.

You’ll want to read all 5 mistakes all the way to the end because the LAST one is typically why the conflict comes up AGAIN.

Mistake #1: saying "I'm sorry, but...."

Following the word "but" is usually some: excuses for why you said or did those things, reasons that the other person is wrong and should also apologize, or trying to explain or justify yourself. The reason that "I'm sorry, but..." usually triggers your partner or escalates things further, is because it isn't a totally "clean apology" and can feel as though you're deflecting some/part of your responsibility.

#1 Skill to Do Better: just apologize for your responsibility without any BUTS

Look, we're not saying you don't also likely deserve an apology from your partner. But just give them an opportunity to do that. You can focus on your responsibility in the situation and take ownership of how your actions impacted your partner. It could sound like, "I take responsibility for the tone I used and the fact that I yelled. I can imagine that had you feel disrespected and I'm truly sorry for that." There, that's a clean apology.

Mistake #2: waiting too long to initiate repair

In our work with couples, we often hear that it will take 12 hours, 2 days, or even sometimes a week for them to finally initiate repair. OR, they actually don't come back to talk about it at all and just "let the dust settle." But you MUST come back to a conversation and repair things...otherwise you drag around emotional clutter moving forward. The longer you wait to repair, the more you slowly erode the feeling of security and love in the partnership.

#2 Skill to Do Better: take some time to reflect, but initiate repair ASAP

We know this is a hard one because your ego mind is mad at them and wants them to repair first. But you only have control over yourself, so you do the work to initiate repair faster and hopefully they'll start to reciprocate their efforts. We recommend trying to cut your normal time being disconnected after arguments in HALF. So if it's normally taken you 2 days, make it 2...if it's been a week, make it 3 days....if it's been 12 hours, try to make it 6. Keep making it shorter and shorter to lessen the time that you are disconnected and hurt by each other because it's unresolved.

You know that preventing conflicts requires great communication, right? You can improve your communication at The Couples Workshop coming up LIVE ONLINE.

Mistake #3: giving a "complaint yes" rather than a "commitment yes"

So you know how sometimes you're trying to resolve things so you say you'll change something, do something, or start to do something....but then, one or both of you DOESN'T follow through?" This degrades the trust between you two and likely the argument comes up again. This is likely because it was said out of "compliance" and just wanting to move on, rather than being truly "committed" to the promise/change you said to resolve things.

#3 Skill to Do Better: only say things you're actually COMMITTED to doing

Look, your integrity is mission critical to the partnership. Trust is built by making and keeping small promises to each other. And we don't want to hear the excuse of, "I forgot."....It's your responsibility as a partner to create whatever reminders you need so you can follow-through. In the repair conversation, be super mindful about what you're saying you'll do or not do, otherwise you just rewound your partner when you don't keep your word.

Want some step-by-step exercises to get better at expressing your feelings and needs?  Check out The Couples Workshop coming up LIVE ONLINE.

Mistake #4: trying to “fix it” when your partner just wants to be emotionally understood

We get it, you’re trying to help. But you’re focusing on logic, when your partner is in their emotion. You can kind of consider those two different conversations: logic and emotion. When you try to “fix it” by giving solutions, talking about what makes sense, or even accidentally pointing out reasons they ‘don’t need to feel that way because of x, y, z,” it can you trigger your partner in not feeling safe to just be emotionally validated. 

#4 Skill to Do Better: find out how they’d like you to listen first

Becoming a better listener is critical to becoming a better human in general. Many times we assume what the other person is wanting in that conversation, rather than checking in first. Try to ask: “how can I best support you right now, would you like me to just listen or would you like feedback?” or “are you wanting me to just hear you or did you want to hear some ideas I have about this?” They will then get to choose what they’d like next. 

Do you want some guidance on how to prevent conversations from escalating? Check out The Couples Workshop coming up LIVE ONLINE.

Mistake #5: rehashing the details of the argument

Rehashing the details sounds like, "well first you said X, then I said Y, then you yelled, and that's why I stormed out." Then your partner goes, "No, that's not what happened. You called me a name, then yelled, that's why I said X and then stormed out." You very likely re-trigger the conflict because you're focusing on the details...which you're going to remember differently. SO MUCH research has done to prove that: #1 we always remember things in a way that's biased in our own favor, and #2: your memory becomes more and more inaccurate as the hours pass. You're now wasting time arguing about the details, which you're very likely not going to come to an agreement on what happened, and when.

#5 Skill to Do Better: focus on the emotional impact on both of you

Instead of focusing on who said what, when, and why....focus on how you two were impacted and feel from the argument. This is much more productive because it's the EMOTION that either lingers or feels resolved as you move forward. We are emotional creatures and part of healing from an argument is feeling like your partner gets how you were impacted. IMPORTANT: it does not matter whether you agree with how/why your partner was emotionally impacted. You are two different human beings, so just acknowledge what they say is how they felt and why.

So, these are 5 common conflict repair mistakes and the skills to do better. The key here is committing to practice these tools with each other and making progress week by week. Now we know that you want to feel progress in your marriage, especially around how you communicate. Improving your communication is FOUNDATIONAL to both preventing conflicts and repairing more effectively.

Truthfully, you are NOT alone. That’s actually the #1 reason that over 900 couples have attended our Couples Workshop in-person. But guess what…..now YOU can attend from anywhere in the world because we’re hosting in LIVE IN STUDIO. You will be guided through step-by-step exercises, get to ask questions, watch us model the right and wrong way to communicate, and end the day feeling like you’ve made more progress than MONTHS of counseling or just trying it on your own. Don’t miss this date coming up, so read the details and save your spot here for The Couples Workshop

Author: The Freemans

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We are excited to connect with you both soon. With Gratitude, The Freemans
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