Jeri-Ann and Chas were having breakfast at their favorite restaurant on the beach one Sunday morning when an incident triggered a series of nuclear reactions. All those emotional neutrons and protons smacking up against each other set off a chain reaction that seemed to come out of nowhere. Jeri-Ann caught Chas in a white lie. He liked to go out drinking with his buddies and because he knew she didn’t like it, he didn’t want to tell her the truth about where he went the night before. This was a hot button issue for Jeri-Ann. Chas was lying to her now because he wanted to avoid a fight but for her it was a deep betrayal. They were at loggerheads and needless to say the conversation devolved into an invective-laced, below the belt fight. Weeks later it was still not resolved. This battle was about trust; the foundation split and had not yet healed. Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall was not the issue; it’s was putting it all back together that was daunting. How could they forgive and make assurances to create trust when it was lost?
Here are some first aid tips for when things go terribly wrong.
1. Take responsibility. Trying to deny, fight about, and change your partner’s mind is impossible, but it’s also never a bad idea to fall on your sword when necessary. If solving a problem and the well-being of your partner is your first priority, then letting your mate know that you are sorry for whatever you may have done to hurt them is a good idea. Taking responsibility for your actions while making sure you let them know it won’t happen again are first-rate starters. Your behavior then has to reflect the promise you make. You have to walk the walk when it comes to responsibility. Talk is cheap; it’s your actions that speak louder.
2. Strengthen Your Values. When something like truthfulness is an issue and even after apologies and actions have taken place, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about shared values. Establishing your values about honesty, consideration, commitment, and support and making them into a promise or a vow are important ingredients in the forgiveness and moving on process. It’s important for your partner to know that your beliefs and actions are about what you hold dear in your relationship. Shared values help build security and trust.
3. Talk About What You Want. Many relationship problems are about not getting what you need most. Most women want to be emotionally connected and to know they can count on their mate and most men want loyalty and to feel appreciated. These are important issues that, when supported and understood, build a stronger bond. Making an effort to create connections around what you want from one another provides support and intimacy. These processes are an excellent start toward changing the dynamic in your relationship if it’s not working.
4. Make Sure You Are Creating Space for Your Relationship. Good first aid requires time and space. Many couples are so involved in their work, cell phones, and social media that they lose their connection to one another. Making a space for one-on-one time that is imperative for peace and harmony. So often people tell me they eat in front of the television and talk on their cell phones during dinner. Not much can be repaired or created in this kind of environment. Make a space for checking in. Ask your partner about their day and remember to listen and reflect back what you have heard. Meal times are a good jumping off point for repair and re-creation.
5. When You Get Angry, Cool Off. There is never repair when anger is present. People are not generous, kind, helpful, or empathic when they are angry. The most important relationship skill you can ever develop is knowing when to stop talking. Before the nuclear reaction can develop, take a beat, think about how you might want to say what you need to say before you say it. People tell me that they don’t like censoring themselves, that marriage and relationships should be free of restraint, kind of like telling like it is. Not so. The truth is that relationships are highly sensitive, more so than any other relationship. Once sex is a part of it, all bets are off. It all goes to the core of our being. Calming down and considering what we want to say are the best conditions to start the repair work of finding solutions that work for both of you.
6. First Aid is About Getting Through to the Other Person. What we say and how we say it matters. Words can either hurt or heal depending on how you use them. If you can talk to your partner calmly and evenly with compassion and understanding, you can say almost anything.
There are no perfect relationships, all couples disagree. It’s how you handle those conflicts that matters most. If you are not moving the dialogue toward resolution, you are off track. To get on the right track takes some thinking and consideration about what the effect of what you are saying may have on your partner. As a therapist I have to say very difficult things to my patients all day long. If I don’t put those communications in the right way, I may see their backside as they are leaving the room and therapy. To be effective at delivering first aid, keep your message on point and moving toward what will work better next time around. It’s how couples deal with the negative that matters most in relationships. It will tell the tale as to whether you remain together or simply end up as roommates.
Remembering that relationships are sensitive to tone, inflection, words, and meaning will make a difference in the outcome of the exchange you are in with your mate. The dance for each couple is different and if every time that rocket goes off inside your head you can take a step back, consider what it is that is really important and say it in a way that gets into the other person in a kind way, you will know the secret to a lasting peace.