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. 

Relationship Minute: The repair remote control

Repair is one of the best tools a couple can have at their disposal. Because mistakes, carelessness, and conflict are inevitable, the right repairs at the right time can make all the difference.

Imagine repair attempts as buttons on a TV remote control. If the conversation goes awry, you can “press”:

Rewind (Sorry) 

  • “Can I try again?” 
  • “I messed up.” 
  • “How can I make things better?” 
  • “I’m sorry.” 

Fast Forward (Get to Yes) 

  • “I agree with part of what you’re saying.” 
  • “Let’s find a compromise.” 
  • “What are your concerns?” 

Pause (I Need to Calm Down) 

  • “Can we take a break from this conversation for now?” 
  • “Please be gentler with me” 
  • “I am starting to feel flooded.” 

Stop (Stop Action!) 

  • “Give me a moment.” 
  • “Let’s agree to disagree.” 
  • “We are getting off track.” 

Record (I Appreciate) 

  • “That’s a good point.” 
  • “I know this isn’t your fault.” 
  • “I love you.” ​​​​

Microphone/Voice Command (I Feel) 

  • “That hurt my feelings.” 
  • “I feel defensive. Can you rephrase that?” 
  • “I’m getting worried.” 

The better you get at using and recognizing repairs, the more effective they will be in your relationship. 

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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. 

Relationship Minute: Repair and restart

Have you ever gotten the day off on the wrong foot? And then it can seem like everything is going downhill. Well, with the concept of “repair and restart” the whole day doesn’t need to be ruined.

Give yourself permission to ask for a “do-over.”

It can be an immediate repair—“I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Can I start again?”

Or the reset can happen later on—“I feel bad about how crabby I was this morning. Can we have a stress-reducing conversation tonight?”

This also applies if you are supervising home-based learning or working from home and need to reset the day. Repair with self-compassion and do something to reset the energy of the day. Listen to music, get up and dance, go for a walk, take a break to meditate—whatever works for you.

It’s never too late to course-correct.

Related blog posts

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. 

Relationship Minute: Repair is the key

You might think that in the research, the couples who had more conflict were in less happy relationships. But there was actually very little correlation between the frequency of conflict and happiness in the relationship.

All couples argue. It’s how you repair that makes all the difference.

A repair attempt is “any statement or action—silly or otherwise—that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”

The thing that set the “Masters” of relationships apart from the “Disasters” was how they employed repairs—early and often. There aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules as to what types of repairs work “best,” as that is usually specific to your partner and your relationship.

There isn’t even a textbook style order to things (Step 1: argue, Step 2: repair). The Masters would often make small repairs and adjustments within a conflict conversation, as they were having it. This makes even an argument a collaborative experience in service of the relationship.

All this to say if you have an argument, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It means you have an opportunity to repair and connect.

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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.