Have you ever had a heated fight with your partner that left you feeling disconnected? When there has been this kind of relationship rupture, sometimes saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough.
Or maybe you experienced a betrayal where the pain ran so deep it stayed with you for days, weeks, months, or even years? When there has been this kind of relationship rupture, only saying “I’m sorry” is never enough.
Together you need to have an Intentional Dialogue about what happened in order to fully or largely move past the pain. There are six essential elements you should focus on during the repair process of a relationship rupture.
Show respect to your partner by reaching out to him or her, whether you think you were right or wrong in the situation. Show respect also by having no expectations about the response to your invitation to Dialogue.
When you feel hurt and/or frustrated, you might allow yourself to engage in disrespectful behaviors; insults, name-calling, or sarcasm, for example. While this is understandable, it doesn’t encourage your partner to work at repairing the rupture. Instead, it pushes your partner further away.
If you are the one who is responsible for hurting your partner, or you believe the other partner is, you may react in a defensive manner or shut down altogether. It’s important to be mindful of the big picture. Take personal responsibility for the relationship by regulating your emotions. And decide to engage in Dialogue vs. Reactivity.
Showing respect for my partner’s thoughts is essential to a great relationship, especially whenever you disagree. And taking turns (the definition of “Dialogue”) in this spirit is what heals people and their relationships.
To move forward, you each need to reestablish the experience of mutual respect of each person’s world (their reality, their ‘truth’) in your relationship – no matter on which ‘side’ you imagine that you each are.
It is important to understand that you can only change your own behavior. It is not your role to correct or criticize your partner’s behavior.
Take responsibility for how you contributed to the pain in the relationship, no matter where it is between 1% and 100%. For example, you might start off the conversation by saying:
“I’d like to take responsibility for my actions last night. I could have informed you that I was coming home late and couldn’t make it to dinner at your family’s house. I imagine you felt worried, angry, and embarrassed that I wasn’t there.”
You may have explanations for why you forgot to inform your partner. There may be very valid reasons for your behavior. But these can wait. The first step is acknowledging your part in the problem, even if you can’t identify any specific role yet.
Maintain an attitude of curiosity when in Dialogue, especially when receiving their thoughts and emotions. Really be interested in hearing your partner’s side of the story. And remain curious even if that story doesn’t align with your own.
“I’d like to know what happened that night. Can you tell me what you need from me to heal and what I should have done differently that night?”
Don’t assume you know what your partner wants. The goal is to actively listen and to speak with great humility, using lots of “I statements.”
Don’t ask direct questions to clarify, but rather state them as a curiosity about which you’d request the other’s views. If there are things that you’d like to correct or explain, you can do so, but always be mindful of providing enough time for both partners to each send and to receive. Dialogue is usually a process that takes more than one sit-down, especially about deep hurts, betrayals, etc.
Your goal is simply to receive information when your job is to listen. And your goal is to give information when it’s your turn to share. Use connecting language, too.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is hard when you’re feeling hurt or defensive. But if either Integrity or Honesty is among your Core Values, then you can do it.
Be brave! Connect with God as you understand God, before, during, and after engaging in a Dialogue on any tough subject, for either or both of you.
Decide to relax your defenses. Let go of your (false) need to “be right”. This choice allows you the freedom and strength to fully understand your partner’s world and to empathize with their pain.
When both partners are vulnerable with one another, you will strengthen your connection.
Listen with your whole body, including your Frontal Lobe – and your heart. Every story has two sides. And no one is perfect.
Be kind, even if you are feeling hurt or blamed. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes with great open-mindedness as you listen, so you can imagine the situation from their perspective.
Imagine how they might have felt emotionally both when it happened and afterwards. If you find yourself ready to criticize or be defensive, take a moment to refocus your intention on being compassionate.
Demonstrate a willingness to change your behavior based on your partner’s feedback. If you continue engaging in behavior that is hurtful to your partner, the problem won’t go away.
Try to express Behavior Changes Requests that are positive, measurable, and specific. Accept Behavior Changes Requests as a great opportunity for mutual healing and growth.
It is always important to understand that what your partner needs may not be what you would need in this situation. And that’s okay. You are separate AND connected.
Don’t focus on what’s “right” or “wrong.” Instead work on honoring your partner’s perspective and needs by making the changes he or she needs to move forward. You are not your partner, nor vice-versa.
Consider Seeking Help
Sometimes a relationship rupture is so difficult that you need help from an outside party to repair it.
Seeking marriage counseling, and especially Relationship Education, can help you learn the attitudes, processes, and behaviors needed to rebuild your connection. And when you do, you will likely feel more connected to your partner than ever before. Imago Relationships International offers the world’s most cutting edge couples help.