Relationship Repair 101


A few months ago my boyfriend and I were in the middle of a heated discussion, or perhaps to be fully honest we should refer to it as a conflict. We were going back and forth sharing our opinions – when all of sudden he started talking about a completely different topic. In the middle of the conflict, he just said, “Oh, one quick thing I just remembered I needed to tell you sweetie”. I was beyond frustrated – we were trying to solve a problem and he couldn’t even focus for 5 minutes. I am sure I answered with a quick “stop trying to change the subject!”

A few months later, I am in the middle of reading for a current course and I come across “repair attempts” – which are interactions that decrease negative escalation in a relationship.

Relationship repair attempts can include:

  • use of humor
  • making a caring remark
  • making it clear you’re on common ground
  • backing down
  • offering appreciation

And, yes, you guessed it

  • changing the topic

My boyfriend had been right to try to change the topic for a brief moment so we could both relax a bit. Research has found that couples who use repair early in a conflict prevent it from becoming too negative. These attempts allow for small positive moments to occur during difficult discussions. Key to a successful repair attempt, however, is acceptance. I failed to accept my boyfriends repair attempt and so our argument only got worse. But if each partner responds in a positive way to the repair attempt, it can help keep the conflict from escalating and then they can return to the discussion at hand. So the next time your partner tries to change the subject, gives you a big cheesy grin, or tells you they love you during an argument – try your best to accept the repair attempt and create more positive conflict!

For examples and FAQ about relationship repair attempts check out Rediscover Your Love.

Or view a  short video clip of relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman discussing repair attempts.

Larissa Ferretti


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