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Step 5: Failed repair attempts

When repair attempts fail, a relationship enters dark waters. Despite using criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, 84% of couples who were able to repair had stable and happy marriages six years later according to Dr. Gottman’s research.

Unhappy marriages, in comparison, perpetuate nasty cycles of conflict with failed repair attempts. Dr. Gottman says that “the more contemptuous and defensive the couple are with each other, the more flooding occurs, and the harder it is to hear and respond to repairs.” When the repair is ignored, conflict continues to escalate until one partner withdraws from the interaction.

The key to a successful repair attempt is not what is said or done, but the strength of a couple’s bond.

Again, it is not the conflict that ruins a relationship; it’s disconnection, a lack of a strong friendship.

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When I meet with couples who have reached the stage of contempt and withdrawal, I actually see a lot of repair attempts. But because there is a history of mis-attunement and disconnection, partners often ignore the repair and keep trying to resolve the issue in the way they’re fighting, even though it’s not working.

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