The Ultimate Conflict Repair Exercise

I have created the ultimate conflict repair exercise by combining Dr. Sue Johnson’s work along with the work of John Gottman. In the past I have found that both exercises were good however they were both missing important information. For instance Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight Conversation 4  exercise was excellent at helping couples get quickly in touch with deeper feelings but it was missing the listening/validating piece. The John Gottman exercise we have personally used many times within our own relationship but I find that having each person go over their side of the conflict in length can take a long time and it is hard to get to the “jist” of what happened and the deeper feelings, so Sue Johnson’s exercise offers a quicker deeper solution.

So here they are combined together the best of both worlds enjoy:

ARE Conversation for Connecting and Healing Conflicts

Instructions: This exercise is for processing or working through conflicts or negative feelings. The goal here is to increase the understanding between the two of you without falling back into the conflict.

The belief here is that there is no absolute reality in a disagreement , but rather there are two subjective realities.

This exercise is designed to help you understand these two realities and to ease similar situations in the future.

1.  Identify a Specific Moment– Identify a specific moment during a fight or times of distance when you suddenly feel more vulnerable or on guard.

2.  Identify Most Negative Thought–  Identify the most negative thoughts that go through your head at that point? What is the worst, most catastrophic thought about your partner, yourself or your relationship? (For example: “He/She doesn’t care.” “I am never going make it here or measure up.” “We are going to fight and split up.”)

3. Identify Deeper Feelings – Choose from the list below to pick the words that best describe the deeper emotion that comes up for you in these moments. This is often some kind of fear about yourself or your partner and how he or she feels about you. It may be some kind of anguish or hurt.

Lonely Worried/Shaky Let down Hopeless Panicked Sad
Inadequate Failing/Ashamed Isolated Alone Humiliated Scared
Helpless Lost/Confused Unwanted Dismissed Intimidated Unattractive
Vulnerable Insignificant Rejected Overwhelmed Angry Criticized
Defensive Misunderstood Small Powerless Hurt Unappreciated
Unfairly picked on Like my partner doesn’t like me Taken for granted I have no influence Out of Control My opinions don’t matter

4.  Share Thoughts and Feelings– Each one of you takes a turn in sharing your subjective reality about the disagreement including your worst thoughts and the feelings that came up for you. It is important that when you share you try to use language that helps you own your perspective and reduces the amount of blame towards the other person. Example is saying, “My worst thought is _______” or “My mind is telling me _______” or “The story I have in my head says_______” or “My perspective is________.”

5.  Share the Need– What specific reassurance or response from your partner would help you with these feelings right now? See if you can tell your partner in a short, simple, and direct way what it is that you need from him/her when these feelings come up? This need or longing is usually for some kind of caring, comfort or reassurance.

See the common adult attachment needs below:

     I need to feel or sense that….

1. I am so special to you that you really value our relationship. I need that reassurance that I am number one with you and that nothing is more important.
2. I am wanted by you, as a partner and a lover that making me happy is important to you.
3. I am loved and accepted, with my failings and imperfections. I can’t be perfect for you.
4. I am needed. You want me close.
5. I am safe because you care about my feelings, hurts and needs.
6. I can count on you to be there for me, to not leave me alone when I need you  the most.
7. I will be heard and respected. Please don’t dismiss me or leap into thinking the worst of me. Give me the chance to learn how to be with you.
8. I can count on you to hear me and to put everything else aside.
9. I can ask you to hold me and to understand that just asking is very hard for me.

6.  Listening Partner
Focuses intently on what their partner is saying.
Tries to understand their partner’s deeper feelings and subjective reality of the situation.
After the sharing partner has finished the listening partner validates their partner’s subjective reality by saying, “I really understand that you felt _________ when _________ and __________ happened.”
Then they reassure their partner about their need: Example: “I hear you that you need to feel cared about and important and I want to reassure you that you the most important person in my life and I care about you very much.
Remember you are here to listen, validate and reassure your partner do NOT go into defending or sharing your feelings or side of the story.

Partner’s switch turns and the listening partner has a chance to share his/her thoughts, feelings and need, while the other listens.

7.  Admit your Role- It is essential that each of you takes some responsibility for what happened. Each person takes some accountability for how the conflict came about.

8.  Make it Better in the Future

1. What is one thing your partner could do differently next time?
2. What is one thing that you could do differently next time?

Are you flooded?- If at any time during the conflict repair one or both partners become flooded with emotion it is important to take a break, calm your self down (make take up to an hour) and then come back and finish the repair exercise.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

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