137. How to Repair After Conflict

 

This week on the Evolved Marriage Podcast, Kate and Eric MacDougall share valuable insights on maintaining a strong, connected relationship.

Topics:
➡️ Approaching and Resolving Conflicts: They discuss the importance of understanding and acknowledging the impact of one's actions on their partner, fostering open communication.

➡️ Supporting Each Other Emotionally: The conversation highlights the significance of being supportive and understanding towards a partner's emotional state, creating a safe space for expression.

➡️ Building Trust Through Consistency: Emphasizing the need for clear, specific commitments and actions to strengthen trust in the relationship.

➡️ Validating Partner's Experiences: They stress the importance of making a partner feel seen, heard, and understood, ensuring a supportive and empathetic environment.

Join Kate and Eric for practical advice on nurturing a loving and empathetic relationship.

 

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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

 

Eric Macdougall

So for a lot of people who are conflict avoidant, typically they don't want to reengage, because they're afraid it's going to set their partner off again, and they're going to go down the rabbit hole again, which creates an immense amount of internal pain for them. The other big fear that we have is that, you know, if we were to reengage with our partner and kind of put our heart out there, and come in in a really healthy way, and say, I'm sorry, I struggled, and our partner essentially, doesn't take the Bidwell and kind of turns away from us, just kind of slaps us back and says, eff off is all your fault, etc. And how that's really hurtful, right? So a lot of ways are what's preventing us from reengaging after conflict is just that guard, right? We're protecting ourselves, we're protecting ourselves from pain, we don't want to jump back into conflict, or we don't want to be hurt again.

Kate MacDougall
Yeah, and it's, it's natural, because as humans, we're always looking for safety, we're always, our first instinct as a human is, Is this safe, everything we go to, you know, that's why we have a nose to smell the food is safe, you know, like, it's everything our body is designed to do is to keep us safe to keep us alive. And unfortunately, you know, we face conflict in the same way as we would face a bear in nature. Right. So when we're in conflict, or after conflict, we have this deep sense of discomfort and this deep sense of, you know, fear of going back, and starting that again, and creating, you know, an unsafe space for ourselves. So we, while Eric has come up with five ways to prepare after conflict, and it's a very efficient, kind of step by step guide, you know, do this first, and then and then. And the reason I say it step by step is because there are things you need to start with, you know, you can't just walk in, apologize and expect that everything's gonna be okay, which, you know, as a child, and I'm guilty of doing it. You know, kids in the school yard will have a fight, come here, come and apologize. That doesn't necessarily work. And but we're taught from a very young age, you hit a kid, you hurt a kid, you hurt your sister, you hurt your brother, go and apologize. So our first instinct is after conflict, to go straight to our partner, and I'm sorry, yeah. And a lot of times we'll do it just as a kid would do it. roll their eyes. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. And is it genuine? Is the partner ready to receive it? So that kind of brings us the first step?

Eric MacDougall
Well, yeah, and before we jump into it, so this is a five step sequence, there's something that we want to do in order to bookend it, right. And so there's, there's something before you approach your partner, because the first step is the approach, just what we're going to talk about. But just before the approach, there is a little bit of inner work you have to do, absolutely. And so that moment, when you're kind of reeling, and you're, you're building your case as to why your partner did wrong, and why they're there to blame, and you're the victim, right, we call find the bad guy, you really have to get yourself back in a good headspace. And choose to view your partner as a human being who was struggling, who, you know, also gets falls into conflict and has these fight or flight responses. In the end, they love you, right, they want to be loved, you have a partnership. But in the moment, maybe they made mistakes, and you made mistakes,

Kate MacDougall
right? So let this conflict, right. And I don't want to get too deep into it. But, you know, going through therapy together, that was one of the biggest things that we have learned through therapy, is to be able to empathize with the other person's experience to understand where they're coming from. And that type of emotional, emotional, the type of therapy we do is very emotional based. It's very based on our past and our childhood baggage that we bring to the relationship. So by me understanding, for example, your fear of abandonment, and you understanding my need to please my need to not be bad, my need to be perfect. It really helps us have a greater understanding of what's going on in that moment. And to be able to empathize. So that first pre step of sitting there instead of reeling and being like, oh, Eric is such an a hole and he's always doing this and what a guy and blah, blah, blah, and it's hard to do it. It's I can sit here and look at you and honestly it helps me to look at you, and to really think of the little boy inside of you and to be like, that little boy's still hurting and he's still living in the past and he's still afraid of being abandoned. And you know, for a long time I had this idea of abandonment being like me physically not being here and I'm like I'm here I'm listening to you. I'm doing all these things, but by me shutting down during conflict by me not talking was enough to trigger that abandonment in you. So that preset of me sitting there and seeing that little boy inside of you that hurt little boy who's still afraid of abandonment, I have a better understanding. And it's easier for me to come down off my high horses. And to be like who? Okay, like you're not innocent here, Kate. Yes. Eric said some things that are hurtful. Yes, maybe, you know, the argument wasn't founded in reality, or whatever it was that we were talking about. But it allows me to come down and to not be so angry to forgive you. And then be ready to approach you.

Eric MacDougall
That's right. And I think here, you need to really decide and choose connection over being right. Yeah, choose love over Yeah, exactly. So I think that's the first kind of big pre step is you want to get yourself in the best headspace. So you can take this next courageous action, which is the approach, right? And this is really about, you know, approaching your partner, and asking if they're ready to receive your apology. A lot of people don't do this, right. A lot of people just jump in and they start, well, let's just start talking. Yeah, right. And it's like your partner, your partner is distracted, they're closed off, they're very guarded, whatever. So it's really is important to go to your partner and just say the words, hey, I'd love to apologize Is now a good time to receive it. Yeah,

Kate MacDougall
cuz that precept needs to be done by both partners, both partners need to be able to after conflict, look at the other human that they're facing, and be able to find forgiveness to be able to find love towards them. Because if you're going in just to repair and check off a box, and I don't want to go to bed angry, because I've heard that that's bad. That's, that's not a genuine, it's not going to come off genuine and your partner's going to feel that. So both partners to be need to be ready, you need to be ready to truly, genuinely apologize and go through the next steps. And your partner needs to be ready to receive that and to hear that and to participate in the repair.

Eric MacDougall
Yeah, and I know a lot of you guys are probably listening to this and saying, you know, what, what if my partner is not ready to accept it, and this happens in our relationship, right? For me a little more isolating after conflict takes a little more time to digest, as opposed to you have that response of like wanting to move through this, right need to solve this. And so oftentimes, after conflicts, when we're in a funk, you'll approach me, he'll say, Hey, I'd love to apologize. And my response is, I'm not ready.

Kate MacDougall
Yeah, but some of that probably comes from you understanding that the way I'm coming in isn't genuine. The way I'm coming in most of the time is to repair is to check off that box is to not go to bed angry, I haven't done enough work to forgive myself for the things that I've done to forgive you for the things you've done. I just want to take this gross feeling that I'm feeling inside and push it off to the side. Yeah, because truly, when I'm not ready, and you're not ready, we're just pushing it off to the side, and it's gonna come right back. Instead of, you know, truly healing it, cleaning it up and feeling redrawing it, yeah, throwing it out of the window, and it disappears into the air, right? We're looking at quick repairs, I'm looking at quick repairs, get it over get it done with so we can move on with our day and not ruin our weekend or not ruin our evening that we had planned together or whatever.

Eric MacDougall
Yeah. And so in those moments when you approach and I say I'm not ready, you know, two commitments happen. Yeah. So first, it's, you know, for me who's not ready to receive the apology, I say, I'm already on it a little more time, I'll come and check in on you when I'm ready. And then in response, what you do as well, as the partner who wants to apologize, you're saying, hey, that's great. I'll leave it to you. But I will check back in, in a certain amount of time. Right? And so it is a commitment to say I'm not, I'm not letting you off the hook here. And I'm not just leaving this on your plate, because it's a team thing. And so yes, when you're ready, come and apologize, and I'm ready to connect with you. But I will also follow up and check in in a certain amount of time an hour, maybe it's the next day. Maybe it's 24. It depends on what the conflict is. Right? Yeah. And then after that hour, you come back in and say, Hey, I'd love to apologize. You know, have you had enough time to be able to receive it? Yeah. And

Kate MacDougall
in the meantime, I still have to do that pre step to try and understand you to try and in not let that re ignite that anger flame inside of me and reignite that like, oh my gosh, he's so dramatic. Like, because that's happened before, right? You do get into that state where you're like, Oh, my God, like I'm just trying to apologize. And here he is all angry again. Like, I can't get out of that I have to understand. He's a human. He has his own experience. He has a way to process information that's very different than me. So I have to accept that and wait for him to be ready. Because yes, pushing this off my plate will make me feel good. But Will Will it be? Will it hit home for you? Probably not. Yeah,

Eric MacDougall
the priority here is repairing before you resolve so the priority here is reconnecting so that your relationship can continue because you are gonna have conflict again and practicing skill of repairing is really important. So you can reconnect. So, as you step in, right, the first step is you do the approach, if your partner is willing to receive it, the next step for you is to take ownership. Right? And a lot of times when we take ownership, it often looks like an explanation of why we did things. Yeah. And we do not want that.

Kate MacDougall
No. So you're not there to justify your actions to justify why you're right.

Eric MacDougall
Yeah. Or why you're? Right. Yeah, it's like, Well, the reason I did this was because of you. And by the way, like, you know, one of the things that I think is really important here is, I often hear like, it wasn't my intention. And while you can say that, that does not negate the fact that you harmed your partner. Right. And this is what I think is hard for a lot of people to come to terms with, is they struggle with taking ownership, because they struggle to accept that they have created suffering in their partner. And that is something that they've really struggled dealing with, for whatever reason, right, their family of origin and their belief systems around suffering, whatever. But let me tell everybody here, if you're listening to this, if you're in a long term relationship, you will create suffering and your partner, right?

Kate MacDougall
Unless you're in a long term relationship with a wall, then then you won't Well,

Eric MacDougall
in a sense, you will, because just your you know, I get you're trying to be funny, but like just the idea of not being available to your partner. Yeah, could actually cause way more suffering. Yeah, that's it, if you were to continue to engage them in an unhealthy cycle. That's

Kate MacDougall
it, because as a human, you're going to feel emotions, you're going to trigger your partner who has their own baggage, no matter what their past look like, they could have had the best childhood with the best parents, like they're still gonna carry baggage. It's not if we, if we mess up our children, it's when we mess them up every parent, it's gonna mess up their kids. Yeah,

Eric MacDougall
and this is what's really important is in order for you to take ownership, you have to accept that you will do things that will lead to pain in your partner. Right? And this is kind of the idea. I think you struggle with this in before, which was like, how do we solve conflict? So I never am responsible for pain. And Eric?

Kate MacDougall
Yeah, and how do I find a way to never hurt him again? Yeah.

Eric MacDougall
And it's like, yeah, there's a great way you could, you know, create a lot of pain by ending the relationship. And the

Kate MacDougall
result, yeah, or create a lot of pain by completely shutting down and not talking and not doing anything and never engaging and just being complete, like robot,

Eric MacDougall
you know, that that happens, sometimes relationships end, the partner shuts down and refuses to engage. And that's how you end up in kind of this dead couples syndrome, where neither one is willing to engage. So really understanding that in a long term relationship, even in our relationship, we still cause each other pain, it's going to happen, I'm going to make a mistake. And it's not about how do I prevent all the pain from happening, right? Sometimes I make choices. And they're and it hurts you. They're like, Oh, you know, I really want to spend time with you. But you prioritize something else over me that hurts, right? That doesn't mean I'm not going to follow through on my commitment to doing this other thing. It means I see you, I see that me committing to those sitting caused you pain, because you want it to spend time with me, I own that I own that my actions have led to this pain in you. And therefore I want to repair heal and make a commitment to connection again, right. And so this is really important in order for you to take ownership is you need to own that your actions will sometimes lead to your partner experiencing pain. And so the ownership here is really expressing to your partner. I'm sorry that this specific action I did lead to you experiencing pain, the

Kate MacDougall
end. That's right. And that's it, not explaining how you

Eric MacDougall
the reason I did this, by the way was Yeah. Now in this moment, if your partner is seeking to understand, they want to be curious, like, I need to know why you chose that, then that's a difference. And then you need to be honest about it again, take ownership. In the moment, I decided to prioritize this other thing, because honestly, I was a bit resentful to you or honestly, I didn't even think about you. Yeah, or Honestly, I was scared that if I didn't stay at work for the extra 40 minutes for that drink with my colleague that somehow that would put my job in jeopardy. And so you need to own that. And you need to be honest about it. Because that is what it is to be genuine and prioritize connection. Right? It's about revealing what's on your heart. And so really, really important here, the second step is to take ownership 100%. That's right, without any excuses without explaining that, well, if you hadn't done this, and I would have done this or really in some way, it's your fault. None of that. I am sorry that the specific action I did caused you this specific emotional experience. Yeah, that's it. All right, that the next step is how to move forward. And this is really about a commitment. Right. And so now that I have owned up to the pain that I've caused you, now that I own up to my actions and how they've impacted your experience of the relationship, what is the next step I will do to try to mitigate this in the future and make a commitment to you, to me to our connection to our relationship? Right

Kate MacDougall
and doing some thing at this point, it's so important for you to be 1,000% honest, because this is where the trust gets built. This is where the trust gets broken. And this is where that conflict cycle continues. If you're making these false promises in this third step, right, if you say I will never stay after work late again for drinks with my colleagues. Well, that's not true. That's not true. So don't make that promise. Yeah. Unless

Eric MacDougall
you're like willing to commit and put your job in jeopardy. And yeah, well, that's

Kate MacDougall
Yeah, right. But most likely, it will happen again. So make a commitment you can truly stick to make a commitment that you know, you can follow through on. I promise that after work, if I stay for drinks, I will call you before and make sure that it works with everybody's schedule. That's right. I promise that I will plan these things ahead of time, whatever. Yeah, it looks like for your family.

Eric MacDougall
And what's really important here is to stay away from always Nevers, I promise I will never do that. Yes, no, absolutely not. When you're going to fight or flight mode, and you're in a panic mode, right, you might make another choice that will lead to harm your

Kate MacDougall
partner. But that's why that precept is so important, you need to get out of your amygdala, you need to get out of that fight or flight brain where you're like, need to fix everything right now. You need to get into a mode where you're calm, and you can truly speak in a calm manner and make decisions that are, you know, irrelevant to your relationship irrelevant to this moment, and that you can follow through on and be honest about later. Yeah,

Eric MacDougall
and here, the more specific the better. Right, this is what one of the things that I hate hearing is when one partner is hurt, and the other partner says, I promise I will never hurt you again. What are you talking about? Then next time that happens, your partner is gonna say you promised never hurt me again. And your response to that should be your right. I did promise that What a ridiculous thing to say. I'm so sorry. I said that. That is so ridiculous. Yeah, right. And so it's really important to be honest and specific here about the action you'll take. I love what you said, where it's like, I promise that if there's an opportunity, and I am invited out for drinks, before I will text you or call you to let you know, or to make sure that we have nothing planned or to whatever it

Kate MacDougall
is double check, have the courtesy of checking with you. Exactly. That's it not looking for permission, but just courtesy of checking it.

Eric MacDougall
And then based on that information, I will make a choice in that moment. If I cannot get a hold of you, right, if I can't text you or can't phone you or can't somehow talk to you, I will not go out with these people. That's right. And that's it. That's That's the commitment. It's very easy. It's very simple. It's very direct. Yeah. And so this is really important is that moving forward now that we understand that this causes pain now that we understand the situation now that I take ownership of it moving forward, what is a specific step I will take to try to prevent this from happening

Kate MacDougall
in the future and base it off the specific action that you did to hurt your partner. If you know, the specific action was that you made you you went out for drinks without letting your partner know, well don't make a promise about you know, I'll you know, make sure that you can trust me in the future. And I will never go out for drinks or whatever. Like it has to be specific to that situation like and be very attainable, right? So definitely moving forward is the most essential part of the repair. It's what's going to make your partner feel like they can trust you again. And sticking to that commitment is what's going to continue. What's going to stop this from continuing long term from you falling into this cycle. If you've ever been in a situation where you're like, I feel like we're fighting about the same thing over and over and over again. Well, it's probably because this third step isn't being done or isn't being done properly. A lot of times, we'll go up to our partner and we'll say I'm so sorry. Do you forgive me? And you, you completely skip that moving forward part use completely skip that resolve where you can be like, here's what I'm going to commit to doing in order for you to trust me again, in order for you to not feel this way again. Yeah, they might mess up. Yeah, maybe Yeah, but I'm going to own up to it.

Eric MacDougall
And I was gonna say there's a massive step here where you have the ability to build trust, because if you say something very specific, and then later on, you follow through on it. Well, now you've built trust. Now you become a person that oh, that thing you said you do it over time, you know, we've kind of created on our relationship is, you know what if I say I'm going to do something, if I say hey, I'm going to be home at this time. Well, I think you trust Hey, Eric, when he says he's gonna be home at a certain time. He's there. Yeah. But if I say, Hey, Eric, you ready to leave? And I'm like, I'm not sure that means Eric is unwilling to commit to the time. Yeah, right. And so I know that he's not gonna say Yeah, fine, and then later on not, and so really, really important here that by being clear and specific, and then following through on it, that is how you build trust. And so The next step after that is now opening the space for your partner. Right? So you've approached right now you're stepping into it, you take ownership, you get specific about what you're gonna do moving forward, and now you open up space for your partner to feel understood.

Kate MacDougall
And this first step, the three first steps are literally can be done in one sentence. Yeah. Hey, are you ready to hear me out? Yes, I'm really sorry for doing this specific action, I can see that it impacted you in this specific way. And I would love you know, moving forward, and moving forward, I will do XYZ. Now your move now the floor is open to your partner. Yeah,

Eric MacDougall
I would love to hear what type of impact this had on you. And I would love to understand there's anything you want to share with me, it's really important for me to understand how this impacted you. Yeah. Right, and then be ready for the fire. And that's the hard

Kate MacDougall
part for me. Because it's like, I get it, okay. It's like I've punished myself enough internally, like, I don't need to sit in this anymore. Like, I feel bad enough for what I did, I don't want to hear it again. And again, and again and again. But by giving the your partner the opportunity to open up here, and by giving your partner the opportunity to talk about what's on their mind, what's on their heart, you're giving them you're allowing that I'm like, you're creating space, you're creating space, and you're creating safety in your relationship, for them to feel like, it's okay for me to feel these emotions, just kind of like we talked about at the beginning. It's okay that I'm angry at you, it's okay that I was hurt by this, I don't have to repress my feelings next time. If I'm angry at you, I trust that you're going to take ownership for it, that you're going to move forward and make a commitment moving forward. And then that you're going to hear me out about how angry I am at you.

Eric MacDougall
Yeah, and a lot of the the process here is to validate your partner's experience, and help them feel understood, right. So this is really important. And you can use Imago dialogue, you know, all kinds of ways to do this. But really, what what you're driving here is to hold space for your partner, to help them feel understood. One of the big things here that is important to recognize is that this is not about you, allowing yourself to just be beat up on your partner, right. And I think, for the most part, if you've started this in a really healthy way, it's not going to lead to that. But again, if you hold space for your partner, and all they do is throw profanity at you and tell it and just hold you in contempt and say these horrible things, you need to hold up a boundary. Right? I've seen a lot of men where they're like, Oh, I'm so great at like allowing my partner to speak up. She spent 40 minutes just yelling and screaming in my face. But like, that's not healthy, that no helping anyone know, right? And so, really understanding the idea here is to help your partner feel seen, heard, understood, and really validating their experience. Yeah, not losing yourself and just essentially being a punching bag. Yeah.

Kate MacDougall
And if you're ever in a situation where that is happening, where your partner, you know, maybe said, Yes, I'm ready to hear you out, heard you out, you apologize, you did all the first steps, right, and then come time to open the floor to them. And they just, like, lose it. It's okay for you to say, hey, I can see that you're still really heard about this, and really angry, and rightfully so. But I think that I'm going to give you a little bit of time to heal from this. And to you know, catch your breath. And when you're ready. I would love to hear calmly how you feel about this. But I just don't feel like right now. It's healthy for us, for you to be calling me names or for you to be raising your voice at me. But I do want to hear you out. Yeah, but I need us to be in a calm space to do so. That's

Eric MacDougall
right. And your anger makes perfect sense. Yeah, it's totally valid, you know, but I'll create some space. And I promise to come back in 10 minutes to check in on you to see if we can continue this conversation because it's really important for me that I understand you.

Kate MacDougall
Yeah, and I've fallen into situations like that because of you know, my past. I feel that it's important and respectful to sit there and hear someone out and look at them in the eyes and smile and nod even though they're throwing profanities at you and calling you. I'm not even listening. But go ahead, keep going. So I've had to learn that that's not a sign of respect. It's not a sign of love to sit there and be beat on. Yeah, and head nod, that it's actually a form of, you know, disrespect to myself and to my relationship because truly you're opening up to me, you're talking to me about some serious stuff. And I'm not listening. I'm not taking the time to really hear you out. So what would be better in that situation is for me to be like, hey, like, I'm not I can't hear you. You're like bashing me. This is not this is not healthy for us. And what that does long term is all of that silly safety that you're building and the first three steps of your apology of the repair of the after conflict are completely erased. In this moment, because that safety is now gone, that trust is now gone. And everything that you've worked towards is just being erased in this one moment when your partner is like Anton Yoda that I'm still angry about. And it's okay that they're still angry. It makes sense. But just, you know, let them calm down, come back later.

Eric MacDougall
Yeah. And so, as we, you know, move past this step where now your partner does feel understood, and they've shared their experience so you can understand what's going on how it's impacting them, the next step is to ask for forgiveness. And a lot of us miss this step, right? We just kind of like cap it off. We said, I'm sorry, we don't ask for forgiveness, because maybe we were afraid, maybe it, you know, further reinforces that we've done something wrong, etc. But this part is really important in order to kind of bring back secure connection. And so asking your partner for forgiveness is really important. And oftentimes, you know, your partner is going to give you forgiveness, he's going to forgive you, you're going to, you know, hug, love each other and get back to connection. But sometimes your partner will not be willing to forgive you in that moment. They say, You know what, I'm not quite ready yet, actually. And so yeah, I want to forgive you. But right now I need a bit more time. And then in that case, you just say, okay, when you're ready, I totally understand. When you're ready to, you know, share forgiveness. I'd love that.

Kate MacDougall
Yeah. My big line is I'm, I'm still angry. Yeah.

Eric MacDougall
And that's, yeah. And or it's okay. That you do forgive. Yeah. And still have a bit of anger. Yeah, right. Yeah.

Kate MacDougall
Like, yeah, I forgive you. But I'm still mad. I'm still mad about this.

Eric MacDougall
And because this is a big part of the challenges. You know, I hear a lot of men or a lot of couples are like, well, we've gone through the five step challenge, and it still feels like crap. It's like, yeah, because your emotions don't just go away. It's not like magic pill to get rid of a painful feeling. Yeah. And so the idea here is like, Yeah, but doing this over and over again, and re securing your connection, and ensuring up again, and getting together in a really healthy, secure way. And rebuilding that trust is what over time is going to help that process happen much quicker, right? For us. What used to be kind of two days of fighting, and then kind of that melancholy and avoidance to like, you know, trying to heal over two days is now, you know, been done in maybe 20 minutes. Yeah, how to work through it. Yeah, we reconnected after about 20 minutes. It's like, okay, I trust that we've gone through this, you trust that I love you and that I have your best intentions. through it.

Kate MacDougall
Exactly. And this takes practice. And this takes time. And it's not going to be like you said a magic pill and a magic ingredient that's going to, you know, stop your conflicts. It's not going to stop conflicts, it's just going to make that lingering gross feeling after last a lot. Make it last less time, whenever we mentioned, what am I saying?

Eric MacDougall
But yeah, exactly. So the idea here is that you want to remain connected despite having conflict, because conflict will happen. And the way you manage your connection and repair after conflict is what typically makes or breaks relationships, right? So if you think about the five steps, the first one is the approach, right? approach it in a really healthy way, invite your partner into it, ask permission to apologize. The second one is really to take ownership. The third one is about your commitment to moving forward, what specific action you will take, then creating space to hear their side and helping them feel understood. And finally, you know, asking you for forgiveness. And the kind of bookend to all this is afterwards, after you've asked for forgiveness, and they forgiving you to trust that it's true, right? And building that trust to say, Okay, well, I trust that my partner loves me and he's going to take this action. And on the other side, I trust that my partner forgives me and they're not going to throw this back in my face later on. All right, everyone.