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All relationships are different. But I can tell you one thing for certain about yours: Both you and your husband have messed up at one time or another. And both of you will again.

That doesn’t mean your marriage is bad. It just means that you are two human beings in a relationship. The important thing is what happens after you’ve messed up.

Choose the Right Tools

You might remember that we’ve talked before about the work of the Gottman Institute. From his studies of married couples, Dr. John Gottman identified behaviors that separate the Masters of Marriage (couples who have been married for a long time and still like each other) and the Disasters of Marriage (those headed for divorce).

Gottman discovered that one of the most important qualities of a strong couple is the ability to address and recover from conflicts, hurts and mistakes. Gottman calls this process repair. And a repair attempt is “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”

A meaningful apology is one of the most valuable tools in your relationship repair kit. But it’s not the only one. Other examples of repair attempts include:

  • Asking to start a conversation over if it seems like the two of you aren’t hearing each other.
  • Suggesting taking a break so you can both get to a calmer place.
  • Being physically affectionate or reassuring.
  • Using humor or trying to lighten things up.

The best repair attempt to use with your partner — or for him to use with you — depends on your individual needs. Maybe, for example, physical affection instantly starts repairing a conflict for you, but it feels too emotionally intense for him until you both get a calmer place. The Gottman Institute has a repair checklist that I recommend talking about together before the next time the two of you need to practice relationship repair. The list will help each of you understand which repair attempts the other responds to.

Maintenance Is Important Too

Making effective repair attempts is only part of the equation, though. The real measure of how well you can navigate trouble spots in your relationship is how receptive you are to connecting with each other on a regular basis. Gottman has found that the Masters are responsive to their partner’s attempts to communicate or connect about 86% of the time, while the Disasters group only responds about 33% of the time! If the door to connecting is closed most of the time, it’s even harder to open when you are having trouble.

It is critical to pay attention to the overall emotional climate of the marriage. I’ve written before about why regular maintenance is essential for your marriage, and this is one more reason. When the two of you are regularly kind, respectful and appreciative with each other, it makes sense that you’ll be more open to repairing your relationship when things go awry.

To sum it all up, here’s a quick “maintenance and repair guide” for your marriage.

  • Establish a strong foundation by having positive interactions with each other daily.
  • Understand the repair attempts that you and your husband respond to.
  • Be generous in making repair attempts when you hit a trouble spot.
  • And be generous in accepting your husband’s repair attempts.

In my next blog article, we’ll continue to build your skills in healing both small and large rifts in your marriage. I’ll go into more depth on making, and accepting, apologies. In the meantime, you can get more strategies for building a marriage that can withstand conflicts in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.