When you have done damage to your important relationship, there needs to be repair in order to heal and move on. When people respond to a partner in hurtful ways by harsh criticism, infidelity, thoughtlessness/lack of consideration, defensiveness, belittling, name calling, avoiding, eye-rolling, attacking, shaming, humiliation, etc, there is an injury – some larger and more significant than others.
If you tore your favorite jacket, would you repair the tear? Or find someone to do it for you? Yes! (Or you can let it hide in the back of your closet, never wearing it, or throw it away.) But if you don’t repair it, are you really ready to throw it away? There are specific steps to repair, so read on:
Prepare To Repair
1. Understanding – In order to repair the damage, you first need to understand what the damage is. Using the example of the jacket, if you tear a hole in the elbow, you don’t need to replace a zipper! You need to look at the tear, evaluate how big it is, and understand something about the materials you will need to sew it up. Just so, if you betray your partners’ trust by lying, one necessary part of repair will be to be transparent and truthful.
In order to understand whether you have done damage, you will either need to be such a wonderful student of your partners’ facial expressions and body language that you can just know, or you will have to ask. “It seems like we were having a good time, and then all of a sudden you left the room. Is something wrong?” Or “You look sad. What’s happened?” Sometimes you just know. When you get caught cheating, you just know, right? But usually, you will need to ask for information in order to determine the nature and extent of an injury.
2. Validation – Once you have an understanding of your partners’ perception of what happened, agree with the parts you can agree with. “Yes, I did say I’d be home for dinner, and I did forget and go out for a drink after work and not call you.” or “You’re exactly right, I wasn’t listening to you, and I did interrupt you.”
3. Empathy – If they don’t readily tell you, ask how they feel about what you did. Once you have asked, and now know how your partner feels, connect with that. “I can see that you’re feeling angry (or sad, or frustrated) about what I did.”
4. Apology – Completely and sincerely. “It was thoughtless of me to do that and I’m very sorry.” or ” I understand that what I did hurt you, and I’m sorry.”
Trying to process an injury and the repair via instant message, Facebook, text message, voicemail or some kind of chat is a cop out. Wait until you are face to face or at least talking on the phone. Anything else is likely to be perceived as dismissive. Taking the time and making the effort, however uncomfortable for you, to speak directly to your important person tells them You are important to me.
Lastly, in order for repair to be effective, your partner must be receptive. Maybe they need time to cool off before they can hear you. Asking them if it’s a good time to talk is always important for important conversations!
Injuries must be repaired. Otherwise, eventually you’ll be hanging that relationship in the back of your closet!