The Power of Preparation in Healing Relationship Disconnects

Father and son talking on sofaRelationships are not always smooth. Our impact doesn’t always match our intention. We have habitual responses that don’t always serve us well. In our rush to get things done, we don’t pay enough attention to our personal and work relationships. We react instead of responding. We avoid conflict and relationship disconnects because these have associations with loss, hurt, frustration, or hopelessness. When we do try to work things out, our efforts often fail.

We wonder why these attempts to resolve and repair so often don’t work out. We say or hear things like, “Well, I tried,” “He just wouldn’t go there,” “Just forget it,” or, “They won’t listen.”

My colleague Rhonda Mattern answers, “The single most important determinant of how well repair of a disconnect goes is the quality of preparation.” She adds, “I’ve found that jumping into a repair conversation without personally untangling at least some of the emotions, hurts, values, needs, and requests makes good repair almost impossible or requires multiple additional conversations that people tend not to schedule, leaving the repair unfinished.” She recommends speaking with someone you trust as you prepare.

Here are a few questions that came from a conversation with my friend Jeanne Rosenblum. You could use these to seed a talk with the person you choose for support. Since this is such a long list, choose any that seem meaningful, interesting, or useful.

First, clarify what you already know about the issue. Then consider:

  • What are your feelings?
  • Are your actions and feelings reactions? What would a response be?
  • What are your interests and needs?
  • Why does this matter to you?
  • What do you want to happen for resolution and repair?
  • What are you making up about the other person?
  • What do you think you would need in yourself and from the other(s) for this to resolve?
  • What are you afraid will happen?
  • What part of this situation are you willing to acknowledge you contribute to?
  • Is there anything connected to your past here?
  • Are you bringing history with this person to the conversation? Can you separate them?
  • If you let go of pride, being right, or your position, would it make a difference?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of this situation in your life?
  • If you had a do-over, what would you do differently?
  • What do you think is at the core?
  • What are you learning?
  • If each of you could make a specific and measurable behavioral request of the other, what would you request? How would it benefit the relationship? What do you think the other person would request? What part of this request could you meet? What part would you not be able to meet and why?

After you have spent some time reflecting on some of these questions, you will have done the inner work to set yourself up for the best possible outcome. Here are some possible next steps:

Good preparation is powerful. It can make all the difference between satisfaction and frustration in working out a conflict or relationship disconnect.

  • Tell the person you want to work something out with them and ask when a good time to meet would be.
  • Get calm and centered.
  • Find your courage and curiosity.
  • Begin.
  • Say what happened without loading the description with emotive words.
  • Make it clear you are bringing this up because you care about the relationship and want to invest in repairing it and making it better.
  • Describe how you feel or how it affected you without blame.
  • Look for understandings, invite responses, and practice active listening.
  • Even if you don’t agree with all they are saying or have said, can you see some truth?
  • Make a complaint with a request for change.
  • Ask for a do-over.
  • If an apology is needed, construct it using this three-step process:

1. This is what (my behavior) I regret …
2. This is what I am learning …
3. This is what I am doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again …

  • Ask what’s needed for relationship repair.
  • After the meeting is over, self-reflect on how it went.

Good preparation is powerful. It can make all the difference between satisfaction and frustration in working out a conflict or relationship disconnect. Having ideas and suggestions for how to use the meeting time is also powerful. Be proactive. Use both preparation and suggestions.

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  • 13 comments
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  • melinda

    melinda

    May 10th, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    How wonderful when one can actually admit that they did something wrong and they can acknowledge that they have learned something from those mistakes.

  • Cedar Barstow

    Cedar Barstow

    July 4th, 2016 at 10:57 AM

    YES. Knowing your can learn and grow from your mistakes is so much better than being paranoid of making mistakes. Most mistakes can be repaired. This is good to know. Cedar

  • Elvis

    Elvis

    May 10th, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    I live in fear of everthingcan you help

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 10th, 2016 at 11:06 AM

    Dear Elvis,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we do encourage you to reach out. If you would like to talk about this or any other concern with a mental health professional, feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Elvis

    Elvis

    May 10th, 2016 at 10:57 AM

    Can’t gain weaght keep the craps can’t talk to anyone somone comes i hid

  • Cedar Barstow

    Cedar Barstow

    July 4th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    Hi Elvis, I’m sorry you are in such lonliness and pain. I think finding a good therapist would really help. Cedar

  • tiffany

    tiffany

    May 10th, 2016 at 2:05 PM

    This is a perfect way to describe most of our actions- we react versus really responding to the issue. We give very little thought to what the action is all about, just mainly we act upon that first gut response that we have to it.

  • Cedar Barstow

    Cedar Barstow

    July 4th, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    yes….there is such an emotional and cognitive difference between reacting and responding. Cedar

  • Lori t

    Lori t

    May 11th, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    Great Tips!

  • Zara

    Zara

    May 12th, 2016 at 9:08 AM

    There is a certain level of maturity that has to be achieved before you can truly have an adult relationship that most of us are seeking.
    If that maturity is not there, then forget it, things are always going to be difficult to work out.

  • Heidi

    Heidi

    May 14th, 2016 at 6:38 AM

    You are so right!

  • Jordy F

    Jordy F

    May 18th, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    My question is how do I then break that cycle of how I generally behave? It is so instinctual, you know, and you react before you even have the time to think if this is right or not!

  • Cedar Barstow

    Cedar Barstow

    July 4th, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    Hi Jordy, It’s hard to break a cycle, yes. The first step you have already taken: self-awareness. I’d suggest that you try asking whoever you hurt if your could do a do-over. The more you practice doing something again in a better way, the more this new response will be the one you go to first. Cedar

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