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  • Emma Lauer, LCSW

5 Tips for Relationship Repair


Relationships are the stuff of life. Feeling connected to others is at the core of who we are: we’re social beings. So when something goes wrong and a relationship goes south, or there’s tension for any reason, it can totally wreak havoc on our lives. Whether it’s with a family member, significant other, friend or co-worker, strain can leave us feeling confused, sad, angry, scared – the whole gamut of emotions. That’s partly why repairing a relationship can sometimes seem like an impossible task. But I’m here to tell you that it is possible, and despite how difficult, knowing how and being willing to put in the work will reap rewards for life.

1) Practice Willingness To Be Vulnerable: Come to relationships as your true, open self, staying in line with your values and never compromising by covering up uncomfortable feelings with sarcasm or cruelty. Thanks to researcher/superwoman Brené Brown, we’re becoming more aware of the importance of being vulnerable. But it’s notoriously hard. Sometimes, our instinct is to believe that vulnerability will set us up for pain and hurt. But that’s a trick. Our lives and relationships are at their fullest when we’re vulnerable. And I think that at our core it’s what we all want – you might notice that if you’re brave first, others will follow suit and practice vulnerability, too.

2) Know How To Use “I” Statements: If you’ve been to therapy, you’ve probably learned about “I” statements. It’s the best way to communicate what you’re experiencing, and the basic script is as follows:

I feel… When… I need… Because…

Basically, the goal is to communicate what you’re feeling and what you need without using “you” statements. Notice that “I notice you’ve been acting really rude every time I see you in the break room” is much less effective than “I notice that I’ve been feeling this tension between us and I’d like to talk about it.” If you put the focus on the other person, you’re just setting them up to get defensive. Keep the focus on your emotions and your experience – that’s all you really know for sure anyway.

3) Practice Being Curious: You are not a mind reader. If you come into a situation already having made up your mind about someone’s intentions or what they’re feeling, you’ll get nowhere. Would it be helpful if someone made assumptions about why you did what you did or said what you said? Imagine being a scientist or a detective – you’re just collecting information so that you can work on a solution to a problem. Imagine what could be accomplished if you were willing to be deeply curious about other people’s feelings and experiences.

4) Know How To Say Sorry (If Necessary): Like vulnerability, this is really, really hard for most people. But apologizing doesn’t mean groveling or debasing yourself – it just means being radically honest with yourself about your actions and how they may have affected people, and then giving a straight-forward, genuine, “I’m sorry.” Even if it doesn’t seem to help much in the moment, or getting the words out feels vaguely like throwing up, you can at least feel good knowing that you made a classy move.

5) Know When To Walk Away: We cannot control what other people do or the choices they make. As hard as it is to admit, there are hopeless situations that will always include persistent manipulation, belittling or gaslighting. Recognize your limits and boundaries so that you can take care of yourself and save your energy for the relationships that are worth it.

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