By Margie Mirell, LMFT and Life Coach
THE SCENARIO: A girlfriend of mine (we’ll call her Vicki) dated a man (we’ll call him Max) for about 9 months. The couple moved in together but within three months Max said he felt trapped, tied down. They tried working it out but Vicki eventually moved out and returned to her home state, about 440 miles away.
She was devastated, but months later she posted on Facebook that she would be on a business trip to that city again. Being Facebook friends, Max reached out to her, they had dinner and spent the night together. Then last week Vicki was in the city again for a follow-up work meeting. They met a second time, Max brought the dogs, they hung out, drank, and slept together once again. This time Max told Vicki he loved her, but was afraid of hurting her again.
Now Vicki is confused about what to do.
This kind of thing happens a lot with couples who have a fast and furious start to their relationship. They get lost in the “I’m falling in love” moment and don’t focus on the difficult questions, such as what you have in common in terms of family, financial standing, emotional issues, spirituality, and so on. Perhaps you also have a habit of going for the moment without thinking the consequences through. Whatever the case, we can all learn from Vicki and Max.
While some people believe you should never get back together with your ex, especially if he or she broke your heart, there are many reasons to repair the relationship. There could be children, mutual friends, a genuine desire to stay connected with one another– or a romance waiting to be rekindled.
In Vicki and Max’s case, they demonstrated some healthy and caring behavior toward one another. Vicki gave Max some distance and time to consider what he lost. He brought the dogs and took her to dinner, versus insisting that she go to his place. But now Max is re-engaging, telling Vicki he loves her but does not want to hurt her. That shows a deep sense of caring, and because past experience has shown that it’s easier for him to walk out the door than talk-Sound familiar to you?- we can see these steps as a good thing.
However, if you’re trying to repair your relationship with someone like this, you need to learn how to talk through the misunderstandings and learn “repair communication skills.”
“Repair communication skills” mean just what they sound like: tools to help you and another person repair your relationship through proper communication. The basic tool for resolving misunderstandings is to agree from the beginning of the conversation that you are not there to convince your partner that you are right and he is wrong. That will never work. Instead, you want to communicate that you understand his feelings and point of view. This is done by using “reflective listening skills.”
What’s that? You literally reflect back what your partner has just told you. For example, he went into detail about how he needs time to himself. Reflect that back and give him some empathy by saying something like, “I hear that you feel trapped when I come home every night from work and expect that we spend time together. This could make you feel like you are trapped into spending all your free time with me.”
No, you don’t have to say it exactly like that. Find your own voice. But let your partner know you understand what he’s feeling, which can help heal his frustrations. These repair conversations are about understanding, not being right!
What else should you consider?
1. You should be fulfilling your own desires and making yourself happy, not living to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. It sounds cliche, but feeling happy inside can only benefit you and any relationship you eventually choose. Your self-esteem will be enhanced, and you’ll have the wisdom to make better choices for yourself.
2. Move slowly. Try dates with no sleepovers, dates that include other friends, dates where each person suggests new themes/places that are fun and interesting and where you can share time with each other.
Remember, love and sex are about the intimacy of building trust between the two of you. It only gets hotter when you have this kind of trust.
3. Dates should have at least a day in-between. This will give time to slowly re-engage in conversations that might be difficult. This is especially important if you’re bringing up “hot button” topics and the other person has already demonstrated needing time and space. And when you are together, use reflective listening and empathy to repair the relationship and start moving forward again.
Margie Mirell, LMFT and life coach, has been working in private practice with singles and couples in Santa Monica, California for more than 20 years. She focuses on relationship issues, addictions, and co-dependency.
This article is based on “repair communication skills” developed in Imago Therapy.