Repair Attempts- A Predictor of Marriage Stability

How many times have you entered a fight with your partner and thought, “Here we go again,” or “They are starting this fight again?” You might even desperately want it to end and think, “If they would just listen, we wouldn’t have to be fighting constantly!” Once a couple enters our office for couple’s therapy, they have typically been unhappy or fighting for some time. Specifically, on average most couples wait 6 years of feeling unhappy in the relationship before seeking help! By this time, negative conflict patterns have been established, and many couples look for the therapist to be a referee instead of a marriage therapist.

In truth, you won’t find me a referee, nor will you hear me say, "I can help you stop fighting." Yes, you read this right. I won’t be able to prevent the fights! What I can do is teach you how to fight fair, to make the goal of the conflict to further your understanding of your partner’s needs, and to learn how to resolve the conflict. Dr. Gottmans, the leading researchers in couple’s therapy, have noted that how a couple resolves conflict is a big predictor of whether or not a couple will stay married. This is referred to as a repair attempt and includes any communication or behavior that attempts to de-escalate and calm the situation.  

Dr. Gottman has discovered that the way couples respond to repair attempts is a predictor of marriage stability. Imagine this, you had a long day at the office. You are looking forward to a quiet evening of meaningful conversation with your spouse. Your spouse also had a long day at the office, and tells you, "The baseball game is on, and you can talk some other time." This leads to a fight and maybe generalizations and character attacks are thrown out, such as “You are so selfish and only care about your needs.” Things got heated quickly, and one of you realize that this is not where you wanted the evening to go. A repair attempt might be made by saying, “Hey don’t let this ruin our evening again.” The other might note, “Why do you always blame things on me? Why can’t you see my side?” Then round and round the fight goes. It can feel like a merry go round, and you might have no idea how to get off. Read some new ways to make repair attempts and feel free to contact me if you want to strengthen your relationship before waiting SIX YEARS!!!

1.     Say, “I’d like to understand where you are coming from. Can I listen while you say it more gently?”

2.     HUG. Yes, being able to connect while angry sends the message of “I am here for you, I love you, even though I am angry with you.”

3.     Remind them, “I love you, and we are always on the same team.”

4.     Agree to a 5-minute break to cool off.

5.     Let them know, “I’m sorry. Can we reset?”

Things do not magically get better overnight, but being intentionally with how you make repair attempts and ensuring that you fight fairly can help reestablish patterns and help you further connect with your spouse. Feel free to email me your favorite repair attempt, My favorite that I have heard so far is “We only agree to fight naked. We can never seem to stay mad or take each other seriously!” Let me know what works for you and your relationship!

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting and read more about her services