The Most Challenging Part of Making a Repair

This is the third installment in my series about making a good repair. In the first installment, I walked through the process of preparing yourself internally for making a repair; in the second installment, I described the steps you can take in conversation with your partner in order to make the repair. 

In this third installment, I want to dig a little deeper into one aspect of making a good repair that tends to be especially challenging. I’m hoping to answer this question: What if I need to make a repair, but I can’t honestly tell my partner that I’m going to change my actions in the way they want me to? 

It’s challenging to choose honesty when you know it’s not what your partner wants to hear. If you’re feeling guilt, fear, uncertainty, or a desire to avoid the conversation, I hear you. 

I know that when your partner is hurt and angry it is especially difficult to disappoint them. But disappointing your partner in one moment is much, much better than making a promise you can’t keep. If you aren’t honest with your partner in this moment, you’re setting a trap for your future self, and your future relationship. When it blows up, it’s going to do much more damage than an honest but uncomfortable conversation. 

The first step is to get clear with yourself about what you honestly intend to do. If your partner has asked you for a guarantee, and you’re not sure whether or not you can follow through, this is a time for deeper reflection. Are there some aspects of the guarantee that you think you can follow through on? Which ones? Which ones are you sure you can’t follow through on? Which ones are you up in the air about? What would it take for you to get clear about any aspects you aren’t certain about yet?

Once you’re able to get clear about what you can and can’t promise, it’s a good moment to center yourself. Breathe deeply, calm your mind, and remind yourself why you’re choosing honesty over appeasement. For instance:

  • You want to be a person of integrity in your relationships
  • You recognize that the consequences of dishonesty down the road are likely to be much worse than a tough conversation right now
  • You want your partner to truly know you for who you are

Whatever your reason is, reminding yourself of it will help you hold steady through the conversation with your partner. 

Once you’re clear on what you intend to do, and clear on your reason for expressing it honestly to your partner, it’s time to sit down with your partner and share it with them. Although honesty is key, how you express your plan may make a huge difference in how able your partner is to take it in. If you can let them into your perspective, explain the reasons this feels important to you, and demonstrate that your decisions and beliefs are really about you, not about them, it will probably feel a lot better to them than if you simply assert “this is the way it’s going to be.” 

If you’re a therapist guiding a client through the process of making a repair, watch out for any signs of emotional collapse that may lead to dishonesty and appeasement. Slow the process down, so that your clients have the time to really figure out what they think, believe, feel, and prefer, rather than leaping over the discomfort to make their partner feel better. 

Repairs are an important aspect of mending past hurts, and building a trusting, secure relationship. But there is nothing worse than following up a beautiful repair with lies and deception. It is really hard to come back from a breach like that. This is why it is so important to help your clients get deeply honest with themselves and their partners. Every relationship includes differences of opinion, but those that also involve deception or broken agreements are unlikely to survive in the long term.

Five Steps to Prepare for Repair

People get hurt from time to time in relationships of any kind. This might be as a result of one partner making a mistake they truly regret, and which they never want to repeat. On the other hand, something one partner does might feel awful to the other partner, while from their perspective it doesn’t seem problematic, and they may be not sure why their partner is upset, or convinced they’d do things differently if given the chance. In any of these cases, when you or someone you love is in pain, it is important to mend fences. But what does that mean, really? How do you do it, and what does it entail? And what if you and your partner disagree about what makes sense going forward?

As you can see, repairs are complicated. This blog series will walk you through the complex process of making a good repair. 

A good repair goes beyond saying “I’m sorry.” In fact, a good repair is a bit of an art form. It requires depth and honesty, not empty promises. I think you can make a good repair even if you aren’t ready to say you would never do it again. But I don’t think you can make a good repair without understanding your partner’s experience, emotions, and reactions. And make no mistake, a good repair takes patience. It’s a process that cannot be rushed. Tapping your foot because you are SO ready for your partner to be over it is not going to help. That’s a sure sign you missed a step or two in the process of repair.

A really good repair requires you to take a deep look at what happened for your partner and for you. If you do it well, you will learn a lot about your partner, and possibly even more about yourself. You will figure out what you want to agree to, and what you don’t. This will emerge as you discover what feels most important to your partner and to yourself. You will work together to make a plan that respects your differences, while also protecting one another from harm and responding with love and care to one another’s concerns. You will probably decide to make a plan that involves doing something different in the future, rather than repeating whatever created the hurt, but your options for what you might do differently might be broader than you imagine. 

It can be really tough to take responsibility for your actions and understand your partner’s pain without getting defensive, shutting down, becoming overwhelmed by guilt and regret, or digging in and protecting your right to do what you want to do. None of those responses will facilitate building a stronger connection between the two of you, increasing a sense of safety, or mending the hurt. 

That’s why this first installment in the series will show you how to set yourself up emotionally to make a good repair. I’ll walk you through five steps you can take to prepare yourself internally for the tough conversations to come. Taking these steps before you start a deep conversation will help you get in touch with your best self. 

  1. Ground yourself. Get in a comfortable position and take a few slow breaths, focusing on making a long, smooth exhale. Reflect for a moment, and ask yourself: why am I choosing to make this repair, even though it may be an uncomfortable conversation? How will I benefit from making this repair? How does my choice to make this repair reflect the kind of partner, and person, I want to be? Get in touch with that aspirational part of yourself and ground yourself in it. If it can be boiled down to a power word or phrase, write it on your hand, or keep it at the front of your mind as a mantra. 
  2. Allow yourself forgiveness. Everyone makes mistakes. Treat yourself with grace, and honor yourself for doing the difficult work of taking responsibility for your actions and doing your best to repair any harm that occurred along the way. 
  3. Prepare for some discomfort. If you’re hoping to experience ease, comfort, safety, and trust with your partner, you’ll have to show them that you can really hear things from their point of view. It can be very difficult to hear about discomfort or harm that you’ve caused without shutting down or getting defensive, but holding steady while your partner shares their experience is indispensable to making a good repair. Remind yourself, again, of why you’re choosing to make this repair, and connect again with your aspirational self. You can do this! 
  4. Access generosity for your partner. If you come into this conversation feeling cranky, or wanting to just get it over with, it’s likely your partner won’t feel heard, and you won’t get very far.  Your partner is experiencing feelings. Everyone experiences feelings. In fact, your crankiness is a feeling. Try thinking of your partner while accessing your most warm and loving self. Feel the warmth of your love and caring for your partner, and resolve to bring that spirit forward in your conversation.
  5. Settle in for an in-depth conversation. The point of taking these steps is to move towards making a lasting repair. A deep repair goes a long way; a quick and slapdash one probably won’t make much of a difference. You’re going to need to be prepared to have a long and intense conversation, and possibly to return to the subject several times before you both feel a sense of relief, release, or a shift towards closure. 

Breathe. Feel the warmth of generosity in your heart for yourself and for your partner. Take another moment to feel in touch with your aspirational self. You’ve got this!

Stay tuned for the next installment, in which I’ll walk you through the six steps you’ll take in conversation with your partner to make a deep and lasting repair.