Process incidents and move on
The reason that we hold onto “regrettable incidents,” and the reason they become festering wounds in our memory and in our relationships is that we haven’t processed them successfully.
Fighting itself is not a bad thing. There are ways that we fight that produce hurt that injure our partners. When that happens, the difference between couples who make it and couples who break up is simple: the couples who make it “repair” the relationship after they’ve hurt each other. The couples that don’t repair those hurts end up with festering wounds that grow bigger by the day, the month and the year until they finally break the couple apart. Repair is absolutely crucial in any kind of relationship, particularly intimate relationships.
Don’t apologize too soon. One mistake that couples often make is for one partner to immediately apologize for something that they’ve done wrong and then they are surprised when the apology doesn’t work. Apologies only work if the person who is apologizing understands the pain that they have caused the other. The way that they can understand that pain is to hear their partner describe it.
Start with how you felt. The way to repair an emotional injury or slight hurt is, first, to talk about how you felt during the incident. Name what feelings you had. Secondly, each person takes a turn as a speaker, explaining his or her perception of what happened during the incident. What happened needs to be expressed not as criticism or blaming statements but rather as the experience the speaker had during the conflict. Also it is essential to explain your perception of the event.
Avoiding the Regrettable Incident Next Time. The last step is for each partner to give a suggestion for one thing that they themselves can do differently and one thing the other person might be able to do differently next time. They each do that in order to not only repair what has just happened but to talk about ways to avoid the same thing happening again in the future.
The key throughout the entire process is to be honest, tell your perspective and listen to your partner’s perspective. When we’ve done that the small hurts no longer fester and threaten our relationship. We no longer need to hold on to it. It is processed. It is done.
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