January 9, 2023
Save Your Relationship; 10 Strategies Couples Can Use to Repair their Relationship
Written by Sara Lane
All couples go through conflicts.
In fact, going through struggles together isn’t a sign that your relationship is weak. Instead, it’s how you fight that determines how healthy and connected you are as a couple.
If your relationship is currently going through a rough patch, don’t despair.
Here are 10 ways that you can use to resolve your relationship crises and emerge stronger together.
1) Change Your Typical Conflict Style
- Instead of criticizing your partner, try offering a critique or a complaint instead.
- Are you mocking your partner, calling them names, ridiculing them, mimic’ing them, or scoffing or eye rolling? Try to recognize these contemptuous behaviors and stop them.
- Are you responding defensively? If so, accept responsibility where you need to.
- Do you shut down or simply stop responding during an argument? If so, consider stopping the discussion and pause to take a break.
- If you usually try to argue your point of view with a lawyer’s precision and aggressiveness, just state your feelings in the matter and let it rest. (Note: use “I” statements)
- If you usually interrupt your partner’s talking to rebut or refute what they are saying, practice active listening instead. When they are done, repeat back to them what they said and ask whether you have understood their statement.
Changing the way you disagree can go a long way towards fighting in a more connected way.
*Pro tip: Remember, it’s you and your partner against the problem, not against each other.
2) Find a Better Environment
You might try changing the mode of expression you usually use to communicate.
- Instead of talking, write down your thoughts on a piece of paper
- Instead of talking, record your thoughts into a voice recorder and ask your partner to listen to it in another room
- Instead of talking right after work, change the timing to a less stressful time of day
- Instead of arguing in your living room or bedroom, switch locations (ie. to the front seat of a car)
- Instead of talking in front of others, consider switching to a more private location for privacy
- On the other hand, if being alone is when you have your worst arguments, try going to a more public space (eg. a park or restaurant)
- If you usually argue late at night, make an appointment for the next afternoon and have the conversation then
- Instead of arguing indefinitely, limit the argument to 10 minutes using the kitchen timer and then take a break for 10 minutes
Getting some physical distance from one another and remaining silent can help you process the fight and understand the other person’s perspective. After ten minutes have passed, you may continue the conversation for another ten minutes, followed by another ten minutes of silence. Continue this pattern until the issue is resolved or you both agree to stop.
Pro tip: Get creative with this step! Try finding a spot where you can make your designated “fighting circle” — whether that’s a walking trail, parking lot, or your closet.
3) Do a 180
This is a variation on the last method, but it is more specific. Most couples fall into a typical pattern of who pursues and who withdraws, both in the relationship and during conflicts. Figure out which part of the pattern you usually play out and change your style — from the person who withdraws to the person who stays or pursues or vice versa.
Both of you can make these changes or either one of you. With this method, you can even try introducing humor into your relationship.
If you and your partner can do this in a respectful way, try arguing the other person’s argument from their perspective. Then have them argue your perspective. By doing this, you create empathy for the other person’s feelings and help each other see why you feel the way you do.
You can identify the things that are important to you and help work toward a solution together.
4) Catch Your Partner Doing Something Right
Make note of and speak to your partner about everything that you can think of to give them credit for in the recent past.
Tell them about times when you felt cared about, helped, or understood by them and the specific things that they did that led you to feel that way.
Mention things that they did that you admired or were pleasantly surprised about.
Catch them doing or almost doing something you want them to do differently and praise them for it. Notice when they do something during an argument that seems more fair, more compassionate, more friendly, or more productive towards a resolution.
*Pro tip: You can also catch yourself doing something right and silently give yourself credit. Notice when you are being flexible, compassionate, and understanding.
5) Speak Roses, Not Thorns
When you’re getting into a disagreement, unpack vague, blaming, and loaded words into “Videotalk” (also known as Action Descriptions).
Notice what words you are using that get a rise out of your partner and find a way to use less loaded or provocative words or phrases.
For example, you might find that when you say things like, “You’re being selfish,” or “You’re just like your father,” your partner reacts strongly.
The simplest way to defuse such phrases and words is to translate them into action descriptions or what could be called “videotalk.” Videotalk means to use words that describe what you could see and hear on a videotape, rather than using more vague or judgmental words.
So, instead of saying, “Well, when you were judging me, I got defensive.” You could try saying, “When you pointed your finger at me and said I was immature, I got defensive.”
Finding healthy, supportive ways to communicate is the bedrock for a successful conflict. This step is essential.
6) Change Your Complaints into “Action Requests”
Probably the most crucial area to use videotalk is in telling your partner what is bothering you about the relationship or what they are doing with or around you.
Instead of indicting the person for personality flaws or having the wrong feelings, describing their behavior in videotalk usually feels less blaming.
Stepping outside of the situation and talking about the conflict in third person through videotalk is a great way to see things from another person’s perspective.
No matter what your conflict is, understanding your significant other’s perspective and having empathy for how they feel is a better way to see success in your conflicts as a couple.
Action requests are more likely to give them a hint about what they might change to make things better.
7) Make a Specific Change Plan
Often we do better in making changes if we sit and plan a strategy of action.
To improve big disagreements, write the plan down and check back on what you’ve written down on a regular basis.
In making such a plan, it is important to include specific actions that you or your partner or both of you are going to take, a timeline for taking such actions or a commitment to how frequently you will take such actions and a plan for how and when to check back on the plan to see if it’s working or to make adjustments.
For bigger plans, you might want to consider encouraging your progress. If your goal is to implement a better communication style into your conflict conversations, acknowledge the times when you paused before yelling or acting aggressively.
Encourage the small wins.
Additionally, make your plan specific enough that you can see your improvement over time. Instead of saying “fight better”, make your goal something you can track (eg. “take a 10 minute break instead of walking away from conflict”).
*Pro tip: This can be done with or without your partner.
8) Focus on How You (Not Your Partner) Can Change
Take responsibility for making the changes that are needed.
Even if your partner is the source of the problem, this method involves you assuming responsibility for making changes. This is based on the idea that people are responsive to changes around them.
If you stop doing the tango and start doing the fox trot, your partner will have a harder time doing the old tango steps.
So, figure out places in the usual course of things that go wrong in which you have a moment of choice to do something different and new that isn’t harmful or destructive.
*Pro tip: Even if your partner is 98% of the problem, own that 2% and apologize for what you can.
9) Blow Your Partner’s Stereotype of You
Sometimes the people we live with get a stereotyped impression of who we are. And we confirm that by always playing our typical roles. Figure out what your partner’s stereotype of you is (you never do any work around the house or you’re always critical when they want to watch football) and make a determined effort to shatter their expectations.
Surprise yourself and them by doing something that would be entirely out of character for you (but again, make sure it is not destructive or mean-spirited). This might help them to hear you in a new way or understand your perspective in a way they haven’t before.
10) Offer Unconditional Compassion
Sometimes the simplest solution is to just stop and listen to what your partner is saying and imagine how he or she could be feeling that way or seeing things in that light.
Don’t try to defend yourself, correct their perceptions, or talk them out of their feelings. Just put yourself in their position and try to hear how they understand, interpret, and feel about the situation.
It may help to imagine how you would feel or act if you were seeing things their way. Imagine how it might feel to be in the disagreement from their perspective, wearing their shoes.
Express that understanding to them and let them know how difficult it must be for them, given how they are feeling about the situation.
Expert Tips from The Gottman Institute
In the field of relationship and marriage research, The Gottman Institute is the name brand in cultivating healthy, positive relationships. On the art and science of love, Gottman’s program suggests several ways to keep your conflict resolution style healthy and supportive.
- First, learn to identify “the four horsemen” of death to most relationships. Find the ways that your relationship is being attacked, and what you can do to prevent it.
- Moreover, you can identify your relationship’s specific strengths and build on them together. Learn about the ways that you both fight well.
- Alternatively, acknowledge that there are some fighting habits that aren’t serving your relationship well. These may be name calling, yelling, judgement, or hostility towards the other person, or other negative behaviors that hurt the relationship rather than tackle the problem.
- Be sure to develop positivity and foster love and compassion for your significant other. A great way to do this is to learn their love language and speak it in ways that they need to hear it.
- Create an emotional bank account that you can draw on in times of conflict. This is a mental resource for you and your partner to use when you are in times of disagreement, so that you aren’t running on empty.
- Develop better problem-solving skills and communication patterns in order to better fight with your partner.
Work with a Gottman-trained couples therapist to heal your relationship.
Know When to Ask for Help
When you are stuck in a relationship problem, things can seem hopeless.
You can use these ten strategies to try and get yourself unstuck. However, if problems persist or you find yourself too discouraged to even consider these methods, it is wise to seek the help of a marriage or relationship counselor.
Invest in your relationship and yourself, try couples counseling today.
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