Being perfect is not so important because you are not going to be, anyway. It’s not going to happen; you’re going to make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes. And, there is no way around it, but if you learn to be skillful with repair, you can actually have a stronger relationship after a mistake, because repair is very, very powerful.
One of the things I’m suggesting with my clients is that, if they are married or in a strong relationship, even during a friendship, that they have repair rituals. Before there is a problem, they create a repair ritual. There are lots of examples, and you probably have something to share with me, too.
Repair Rituals Can Be Words or Actions
It could be that you have a special table in your household where you have a candle or a vase or something. Maybe you have a conflict and people are in their own corners. And whomever is surfacing from that and ready to come back into contact could either light the candle, or stick a rose in the vase, or do something that signals, “I know you might not be ready, but I’m ready when you’re ready.” It doesn’t even have to be verbal. It is like a signal.
I had one couple where the woman was shorter than the man, and the woman would stand on the first step because then she’d be on a more equal level with the man’s height. She would wait for a hug. He might walk by fuming for a while and then eventually, they had this repair ritual of a hug. It could be a word. You could have a repair word like “watermelon.” It doesn’t have to make sense, and it could be anything that signals that intention for you. Then learn to practice repair.
Do You Block Repair?
Repair is interesting, because sometimes when you want to repair with someone, they will block it. You might sometimes block it, too. These are normal things that we do. I used to try to repair with one person I was in a relationship with. I would say, “I’m sorry,” and then they would start having issues with the words I used. Or it may be that somebody might say, “If you would have used that word I could have accepted the apology. But this word isn’t the right word.” So you have to keep doing it, but it’s never “quite right.” They aren’t practicing.
Some of this would make it difficult. And another person will say something like, “Well, you needed to apologize in the first 24 hours, and it’s now a day later and so doesn’t matter,” or you bring them flowers and they say, “ I like chocolates.” You might recognize yourself in some of this, that you don’t let it happen. Someone can try to apologize but you make it hard.
The Ambivalent Response to Being Upset with Attachment History
We need skills on how to receive repair, even if it’s not perfect, but if the intention is there it is workable! Or else, you have to educate your partner on what works for you, because—and we will get to this in ambivalent attachment style—ambivalents tend, when they are upset with their attachment history, to get pissed. And they get pissed before even the person ever did anything, because they know they’re going to do it, and they didn’t even do it yet; but they’re pissed anyway. So it’s tricky. and if you have an ambivalent partner, one of the things that helps (if you can get past the porcupine state) is to hug them when they’re pissed.
If you can hug an ambivalent when they’re pissed, they usually melt. Because what they want is the hug. They’re pissed that they didn’t get the hug; they didn’t ask for the hug, and they’re pissed before it. So one of the things I teach couples to say is, “How brave are you? Can you go up to your angry partner and hug them?” “What? What do you want me to do?”
What they’re asking for (although they’re not asking for it very skillfully) is connection. They’re pissed that you’ll disappoint them even though you didn’t have the time to disappoint them yet, but they’re sure you’re going to. It’s a projected dynamic that causes a lot of problems.
“Don’t take it personally”
It’s like they went scuba diving, in terms of contact. And they have to have time to come up, but your first response might be that you get a very brutal response. But that’s them needing the time to surface. Understanding this material helps you not personalize so much, because so much of what’s going on has nothing to do with you.
As much as we think it’s about us and our partner, I think 80% of what’s really going on in most relationships has to do with attachment history. I can’t prove that percentage, but once you’ve learned this material, you will start to be amazed at how much it is not about your partner. And that relieves so much tension out of the relationship.
When I was married, my husband would point certain things out and I’ll be like, “That’s not true.” Then a day later, I’ll be thinking, “Hmm, maybe I DO do that, hmm, okay.” Because it’s unconscious, we’re not doing it thinking to do it. It’s an automatic programmed response, and very often we’re not aware of it. That’s the spooky thing about this topic: there is so much that we are not aware of until we are. And then we’re shocked: “Did I do that? Yeah.” So it’s okay, we’re learning about it—and once it becomes explicit, we can do something about it.
This blog was written from Module 1.5 – Enhancing Secure Attachment – Repair