Can a Damaged Relationship be Repaired?
Updated: Sep 15
I consider myself to be both an optimist and a realist. The optimist in me says a relationship can always be repaired. There are some caveats, though. The first caveat is that both people want to repair the relationship. The second caveat is that both people are willing to engage in self-reflection. The third caveat is that the relationship is a priority for both people. The realist in me thinks "that is a lot of caveats." Honestly, it's easier to walk away. What's even easier, although more miserable, is to stay, ignore the problem, grow resentful, and then blow up over something completely unrelated. I offer couples therapy in Broomfield, CO. Many of the couples I work with have been living this way for years by the time I first meet them.
Is the Relationship Worth It?
Repair takes work. It's important to ask yourself if the relationship is worth the effort that will be required of you to repair. There are many types of relationships a person can have. Romantic relationships tend to be primary relationships. This is the person that get priority, attention, sacrifice, compromise, effort, time. But what makes a relationship worthy of being a romantic relationship? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if your relationship is worth repairing.
Do I feel a connection with this person? Do you feel connected to this person emotionally, physically, and intellectually? Relationship needs tend to fall into these three categories. Because we expect a higher level of need fulfillment from romantic relationships, it can be difficult to feel satisfied without a minimum level of connection in each of these three areas.
Is there enough good stuff here to be worth doing something difficult? In other words, is this relationship worth fighting for? If it were to end, would you be losing something that mattered to you? It is incredibly precious to bring a person into your life, and to give that person your time and energy. We shouldn't be doing that for just anyone. I support my clients in being very selective about who gets in. This person should be adding something positive to your life, something that you would genuinely miss if it were gone.
Does this person have the willingness and capacity to be the kind of partner I'm looking for? Most people I encounter struggle to articulate what they are looking for in a partner. Consider how you want to feel in your relationship. What would it take to feel that way? Consider the thoughts, feelings, actions, and ways of showing up that would be required of both partners to create that kind of experience over the long-term.
3-Step Relationship Repair Strategy
Many people begin couples therapy wanting to know how to resolve marriage conflict. I provide couples counseling in Broomfield, CO. I facilitate a relationship repair strategy for interested partners. The repair strategy is described below:
Step #1: Understanding and Validation - Feeling understood and validated after a conflict occurs is an essential step in repair. It is very difficult to let the anger and resentment go without having the experience of feeling like your partner hears you and sees you in your pain. Typically, both partners are needing to feel understood and validated at the same time, and this is why repair can be difficult for couples to experience without support. Once couples learn how to repair with each other, and develop trust for the process, they can do it outside of therapy.
Step #2: Apology - The next step is to offer a sincere and heart-felt apology. This type of apology comes from really taking the time to understand your partner's experience. It requires curiosity, the willingness to see things from a different point of view, and the ability to empathize with someone else's experience. I encourage couples to consider the distinction between intention and impact. No matter how good your intentions, the impact to your partner might be devastating. Conflict tends to arise in cases where there is a large gap between intention and impact. Partners can honor the intention behind their words and actions while sincerely apologizing for the impact.
Step #3: Letting Go and Moving On - At a certain point partners need to decide if they are willing to let it go and move on. There is an art to giving the conflict the attention it deserves without lingering in it for too long. We can't stay in the repair process forever. I encourage partners to verbally declare their intention to let go and move on. Marking the moment with ritual can be meaningful. I believe in the power of intention, and, it doesn't always stick immediately. For that reason, I have each partner define how they would manage things if old feelings related to the conflict come up again in the future. This way the couple has a solid intention supported by a back-up plan.
Relationship Repair Questions
If you are wondering if your relationship is beyond repair, here are some questions you and your partner can reflect on to help determine if you want to engage in a repair process. In some cases, letting someone go is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your partner. Other times, couples need to go through the repair process to determine whether or not they want to continue the relationship. For some partners, the repair process is a valuable tool for building more closeness, connection, and intimacy over time.
1. Do you want to repair the relationship?
2. Why do you want to repair the relationship?
3. Are you willing to look at your part in the conflict?
4. Are you willing to express the ways you have been impacted by the conflict?
5. Are you ready to let go and move on?
6. Do you have ways for handling difficult emotions that might come up even after you've declared your intention to let go?
7. What ineffective behaviors do you use to cope with the conflict? Are you ready to stop using those behaviors?
8. Do you have a strategy for coping with the conflict that is in alignment with your values? Are you ready to start using this strategy?
About the Author
Diana Calvo is a Denver couples therapist. She provides professional support to couples in all stages of relationship and has experience working with the many difficult issues couples are faced with. Diana offers premarital counseling, couples therapy, discernment counseling, and divorce counseling services to Boulder, CO and Denver, CO. All gender identities, sexual orientations, and relationship styles are welcome.