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.
In “What Makes Love Last,” Dr. John Gottman states, “In a committed relationship, partners constantly ask each other in words and deeds for support and understanding.” That gesture is called a bid, and it signals that your partner needs to connect with you.
But what does a bid look like in everyday life?
Your partner can reach out in any number of ways, both verbal and nonverbal. The spoken bids are easier to recognize. They may sound like:
“Look at this funny video.”
“Honey, what’s on your mind?”
Nonverbal bids are trickier, but Dr. Gottman breaks them down to include:
Affection (a kiss, hug, or shoulder rub)
Facial expressions (a smile or glance)
Playful touching (a light tickling or gentle bump)
Affiliating gestures (opening a door or handing something over)
Vocalizing (laughing, sighing, groaning, etc.)
Be on the lookout for any variation of these examples. Your partner may be trying to get your attention.
To truly know your partner, it is necessary to first know yourself.
Understanding yourself can help you share who you are with your partner. With the stressors of daily life, reflecting on important questions of self-actualization can easily be forgotten.
Set aside intentional time to answer the following questions about your personal triumphs and strivings.
You may find it helpful to write your responses down or to share them out loud with your partner. And remember, no matter how you choose to complete this exercise, take your time, revisit these prompts as needed, and come back to them another time if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
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.
When you’ve been together a long time, being polite is likely the last thing you think about when you speak to each other. After all, isn’t one of the joys of being in a relationship that you can relax and be comfortable with your partner? No need to be so stuffy about manners, right? Think about it again.
Politeness is a way we show respect to people. It helps our intentions sound pleasant and considerate to another person. So, along that thinking, manners can look a lot like love.
Do you remember to say thank you to your partner when they do something? Even if it’s something they always do or are expected to do like paying a bill on time, show your appreciation by saying thanks. Add “please” when you ask for things. You can also show your partner that you see them when you greet them as they come home or when they’ve been in another room for a long time. It’s a simple gesture that says, “I notice when you’re not around, and I like it when you are.”
So, mind your manners. A little “please” and “thank you” goes a long way to show the one you love how much you care.
In “Eight Dates,” Drs. John and Julie Gottman write, “Our lives and relationships are better, brighter, and more fun when we remember to play, when we inject some adventure.”
When was the last time you and your partner scheduled a “play” date?
Just like parents arrange for their children to play with other kids at a park, you can be intentional about planning time together where you seek out a joint adventure.
Think beyond your standard dinner and a movie night. You can go on a scavenger hunt looking for items around your neighborhood. If you want to stick closer to home, pick out an online game or board game that’s new to you both and contains a lot of laughs. The point is to facilitate a positive experience that brings excitement back into your relationship.
If there was a competition involving all the couples you know, what award would you and your partner win? In what areas are you #1?
Best at sharing fondness and admiration?
Best at romance?
Best repairs after a fight?
Whether you navigate conflict like a pro or have a mastery of active listening skills, there’s something that you as a couple do best—something that you’re better at than anyone else you know. Can you think of what it is?
Talk to your partner today about what aspect of your life together makes you want to brag. Come up with the name of your own award. It’s time to celebrate your relationship with a pat on the back.
When arguing with your partner, do you have a signature move? Is there something you do or say often in conflict?
Perhaps, you find yourself making critical statements like: “You never listen to me” or “You always get your way.” Maybe, when you’re really upset, you resort to name-calling and mocking. Or, as soon as things get heated, you shut down completely and the silent treatment goes into effect.
Every couple fights, but not every couple knows how to fight in a healthy way. In the heat of the moment, you may be prone to rely on old communication habits, no matter how unhelpful they are.
Take time today to think about your conflict style. Ask your partner what you commonly do or say in an argument? They know the impact of your words and actions in conflict and have a unique perspective. For example, while you may think you’re pointing out objective facts, your partner feels attacked.
When you know how you fight, you can make the necessary changes and learn how to fight better.
Let’s say your partner is having a bad day. Perhaps they had an argument with a friend or they didn’t get the second job interview; any type of disappointing event from a stressor outside of your relationship. It leaves your partner feeling dejected. How do you respond?
In “The Relationship Cure,” Dr. John Gottman notes, “In moments of deep discouragement, it can be extremely comforting to have a reliable outward sign that your spouse stands by you.” This is an opportunity to establish a ritual of connection.
Rituals for a bad day can look like stopping by the bakery to get those cupcakes they like or offering to rub their shoulders while you listen to them share their feelings. It’s also helpful to build Love Maps together so you know exactly what your partner needs when they feel low.
This isn’t the time for attempting to solve your partner’s problems for them. Understanding precedes advice, so your ritual of connection is first and foremost a source of comfort where your partner feels seen, known, and loved.
Make supporting each other through tough times a habit in your relationship. You’ll find that your love will grow when your partner knows they have you to lean on.
Think back to the last argument you had with your partner.
It’s probably easy to remember what your partner did or said that was wrong, but have you considered where you were at fault?
Did you forget to use a soft start-up when bringing a sensitive topic to the table? Did you slip into criticism in the heat of the moment?
Taking responsibility for your part in the escalation of an argument can be difficult. However, it’s one of the most important things you can do both in and after a conflict. Owning it looks like: “I shouldn’t have shouted” or “I could have listened to you closely when you shared how you felt.” You acknowledge what you did and how you could have done it differently.
So, don’t just say “sorry” and assume you both moved on. Be specific and intentional by owning your role in the conflict. It is the key to unlocking long-lasting connection with your partner.
Reflecting on arguments they’ve had, many couples will say, “I don’t even remember why it started,” or, “It was over nothing.” But unless you try to investigate that, arguments and conflict may begin to feel frustrating or unresolved for you. The next time you and your partner find yourselves at odds, try asking yourself, “Why is this important to me?”
Dreams, deeply held values, and beliefs lie at the root of every conflict you and your partner have. Even if it seems silly at first.
For example, you might dismiss a squabble over who gets to pick the movie for date night as “fighting about nothing.” But, if you investigate why it turned into a tiff at all, you might remember that your opinion or taste was often dismissed by your family growing up. Or maybe your partner is feeling like they aren’t being heard in the relationship or don’t have an equal say.
If you write it off as nothing, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to learn, to connect, and to be a better partner.