“OK Dick, I want to talk about what happened last night”(1), Jane opened with a no-nonsense, let’s get to business look. She was calm, but felt upset and hurt. Dick paused a few moments, on the one hand Dick dreaded “the talk” after the argument, on the other hand, he too felt badly about how intense their conflict became. He knew he had really hurt Jane when he compared her to her mother, a relationship Jane had struggled with her entire life. While it seemed like the right thing to say at the time just to get her to stop attacking him, he could at least admit to himself that he didn’t like how it felt afterwards.
“Dick….?” Jane felt him slipping away again emotionally and she desperately needed to fix this. Dick avoided looking directly at Jane, took a deep breath and in a slightly condescending tone replied, “Jane, it’s talking that got us in trouble to begin with.” After several moments of silence Dick looked at Jane, waiting for another attack. He wondered how and why things got so bad so quickly last night. Dick didn’t like what he was feeling but he saw where this was heading and changed direction. “Jane, OK, let me start this over (2). We do need to figure out what happened and just not go there”(1), Dick took another deep breath and kept eye contact.
“I know”, Jane replied with relief, as the tension in her eased a bit. “Dick, sometimes I don’t feel listened to and I get frustrated(3). I ask you to do things that you seem to forget. I guess something snapped inside when I saw you had taken the mail into your office again after you said you would leave the mail on the kitchen table for me to see. I shouldn’t have criticized you(4), and I am sorry about that(2), but that statement about my mother…I need you to not go there(1)“.
Dick could see Jane’s hurt and replied “I am sorry Jane, that slipped out and I know that hurt you(2,4). I hate feeling like I let you down or have disappointed you, sometimes it comes out sideways(4). The comment about my ‘Oops moments’, could you not say that(1)?’ Dick couldn’t say it out loud, but he felt shame when he would forget things. He wasn’t sure if he had too many things going on, or maybe he had ADD, but he has struggled with forgetting things most of his life which has been an endless source of pain and humiliation for him.
Jane replied with increasing softness, “OK. Sorry(2). I will work on not attacking you when I’m upset(4), and if I come on too strongly will you tell me that rather than coming back at me?(1).
Dick smiled, “I guess we both have our ‘Oops moments'(4). Sure, I will let you know if my gut starts twisting into a square knot when you start to talk”(2), Jane looked at Dick and started laughing and replied “Deal”.
The relationship seemed back on track for the both of them. There was more to the story, but this was good for now.
Play by Play of the Repair
Most important tools in a repair (numbers refer to footnotes above):
- Asking for what you need not what you don’t need. Avoid Blame
- Repair – starting a conversation over when off to a bad start; saying “I’m, sorry; humor, (anything that turns down the anger or escalation)
- Sharing feelings: I feel______ about________. Describe behaviors, avoid labels–
- Accepting responsibility – simply owning a part of the problem and avoiding defensiveness.
One of the most important tools every couple needs is to have a way to repair the relationship when it slips off tracks, which it inevitably will do. Building repair into the relationship will help when the communication slips into the “Oops Moments”. It also provides a level of deeper intimacy – trust me on that.
See, Dick and Jane are like you and me. Who doesn’t have their Oops Moments?