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.