Repairing Distress through Vulnerability

One of the most important things for couples to be able to do is repair. If there was an incident or argument that caused one or both of you to be in distress, repair moves you back into harmony, or at least to a neutral state where you’re both calm and are no longer lobbing hurtful words or actions at each other.

Repair is the place where you reconnect as lovers, or at least as partners.

In order to repair and reconnect, we have to give something for our partner to connect to – and what we can’t connect to is anger, blame, self-pity, or grandiosity. So, we must reach for what is underneath this protective armor and share that. This is called vulnerability.

Vulnerability gives our partner something to connect with, and when we connect we can begin to repair.

When my wife Jessica and I have a conflict that lasts longer than it should, it’s because we both have strong differing opinions and we’re blinded to the other’s perspective. Mired in anger and blame, we’re not connecting, and thus not moving the conflict forward to repair. In this space, we also start to remember all the hurtful or annoying things our partner has done in the past, because we retrieve memories based on our emotional state.

Thus, it’s important to repair posthaste. Initiating repair is one of the most difficult things we do because we have to move into vulnerability. So what’s underneath the protective armor? Here are some examples of vulnerability in action:

repair is important for couples“The actual reason I was mad was because when you go out a lot with your friends, I feel like you don’t want to spend time with me.”

“For me, money represents my safety and security, and I’m afraid of not having a safety net.”

“When the house is messy, it makes me feel anxious and out of control, I would love if we could come up with a plan together to resolve this?”

In these simple repair statements, the speaker is leading with a vulnerability that has been triggered.

If you find yourself in a stressful stalemate with your partner, ask yourself: What is beneath your anger, blame, self-pity or grandiosity? Find the underlying vulnerability and lead with that.

This will give your partner something to work with and connect with.

If your partner responds to your repair attempt in a dismissing way, you can try again and go deeper into your vulnerability. However, you can only be vulnerable to an unreceptive partner so many times before you have to take stock if your partner is worthy of your trust. If you’re the partner who is receiving a repair attempt imbued with vulnerability, it behooves you to meet their effort with your own openness and vulnerability. When you’re both completely open and free of defensiveness, you can naturally connect and find harmony again.

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