Relationship Minute: Isn’t “I’m Sorry” Enough?

Have you ever apologized to your partner after a fight, but it didn’t seem to make a difference?

The Gottmans believe the effectiveness of making repairs after a conflict depends on the state of your relationship. If you’re fundamentally unhappy together, the perfect apology will still fall flat. This is related to “Negative Sentiment Override,” when you no longer see each other’s good traits and only see the bad. Once a relationship is in this phase, repair attempts can be doomed from the start.

The good news is you can “buck the system,” as Dr. John Gottman says. “You don’t have to wait for your marriage to improve before you start hearing each other’s repair attempts.”

When the next conflict occurs, be intentional about looking for your partner’s attempts to repair. Whether they say, “I’m sorry” or “Let’s start over,” recognize their effort to bridge the divide and see where you can meet them halfway. It’s the starting point towards breaking the cycle of negativity.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.