I know this might not sound like a lot of fun, but it just might lead to it: Think about the last fight you had with your spouse. At what point of the argument did things seem to quickly go from bad to worse. Was it when you got sarcastic? Was it when your spouse got defensive? Was it when you said that thing you swore you would never say again? Was it when your spouse raised their voice? Imagine rewinding to the moment right before the argument quickly became “unhelpful.” Now imagine there was a secret weapon you could interject into that moment that would keep the negativity from escalating out of control. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s what healthy couples do on regular basis, whether they realize it or not.
John Gottman, one of the foremost researchers on marriage, says happy couples have a secret weapon he calls repair attempts. He defines repair attempts as “any statement or action—silly or otherwise—that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” A repair attempt can be as simple as saying to your spouse, “Let’s take a break.” Or, “We are on the same team.” Or, “Could you say that more gently?” It could be a goofy smile or funny face. Or it could be one of the lines I mentioned from my post, “3 One-Liners That Have Made a Huge Difference in our Marriage.”
The magic doesn’t lie in having the exact phrase or funny face, the magic lies in two people coming together to determine a repair attempt, then using it when the timing is right. But most of all, it lies in each spouse giving and receiving it for what it is, a repair attempt—“I am attempting to repair our relationship because I love you, because I love us.” Solomon suggested the same thing in Proverbs 15:1 (NIV), “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Don’t you love how relevant the Bible is?)
So, here’s one little, big thing to do today: Discuss with your spouse what your repair attempt needs to be. That’s it. You don’t have to get into a fight today to test it out. The next time you are about to get into a huge fight, throw out your repair attempt, then let it do its magic. It may not feel like magic in the moment, it might be hard to say or receive. But you will be glad you did . . . eventually. Let us know what happens.
What’s your repair attempt as a couple?
From 2001–2010, Ted Lowe worked as the director of MarriedLife at North Point Community Church. His wife, Nancie, played a huge role in hosting and planning MarriedLife programs at North Point. It was during their time at North Point that they decided they not only wanted to help the married people at North Point, but married people at churches all over the world. So, in partnership with Orange and church leaders everywhere they are working fast and furiously to HELP CHURCHES HELP MARRIAGES. They have three children: Chapman (10), Judson (7), and Teddie (5), and live in Cumming, Georgia. You can follow Ted on Twitter and Facebook.