Fight with your honey-bunny lately?
Lovely feeling, isn’t it?
Not only do you feel bad about the fight itself, but if you’re like me, there’s also that yucky thing you said that you didn’t really mean. (Well, you kinda meant it, but not the way it came out.) And now you’ve got to find some way to fix it, because your once-happy honey-bunny isn’t looking so happy right now.
Marital expert John Gottman advises that for every negative interaction with your spouse, you need to have 5 positive ones. If you want to stay married, that is. (Check out this YouTube video for a fuller explanation of how he arrived at this number from his research.)
Now, as a hothead who’s let her evil tongue fly more times than I can count, I have plenty of first-hand knowledge of the damage my words can create. So much so that those mea culpas quickly become giant, all-consuming projects all by themselves.
But what if the stuff you’re saying isn’t a big deal, or even super-mean? What if it’s just small potatoes kind of stuff?
Like when I tried to thank Ken for refinishing a mirror the other day. “Looks good,” I said. “And it’ll look even better when the paint dries and it’s more of a clean finish.”
He looked at me. “It is dry,” he said. “I got the bottle with the textured finish.”
Big deal, you say. It was just a small comment. Right?
Well, sure. Except for the rest of the night, he questioned whether or not he’d picked the right finish. Or even color, for that matter.
All of which made me realize just how much power my seemingly insignificant comment really carried. Because no matter how many times I tried to backtrack and thank him for the work he’d done, I couldn’t seem to dig out from under.
And this was just a mirror, for Christ’s sake—it wasn’t anything big, or any of the hot-button issues that we normally fight about. Which made me wonder about the kind of damage I’m doing when I’m really upset.
Gottman’s advice—do 5 positive things for every negative one—gives us a good place to start when we’ve messed things up with our spouse. As my therapist friend Scarlet likes to say, we all make mistakes. But it’s in how we repair it that we’re able to really strengthen our relationships.
How about you? How have you repaired your relationship when you’ve messed up?