These guidelines are based on the assumption that you and your partner are both interested in staying together.
1) Let yourself cool down. Don’t try to do the repair before you’re ready or able, or you might make the argument happen again. You’ll have to stay calm and recalcitrant when you approach for the repair. This takes a lot of emotional energy, so make sure you’re as calm as you can be.
2) Pick something that you did which you feel badly about that happened during the fight. Play it over in your head and make sure you have a clear picture of this shameful behavior. This is probably the only useful expression of shame in our lives- showing it and feeling it during repairs.
3) Ask your partner if they’re ready to talk about the argument and let him/her know that you feel badly about it and that you’ve been thinking a lot about it, and have a lot of feelings about it. If your partner indicates a readiness for discussion then move on to step 4. If not, pause and ask for a future discussion at a time that works for him/her.
4) Apologize. Tell your partner about the part of the argument that you feel badly about and make it clear that you were wrong when you did or said whatever it is you feel ashamed of. Taking responsibility for your poor behavior and admitting wrong-doing is the best possible apology you can give. Research indicates that it is the best way to create space for forgiveness.
5) Don’t expect anything in return. Your job in the repair is to share your frustration and shame about what you did, not to coerce your partner into an apology.
6) Search for forgiveness in yourself for your partner. Try to understand what was happening on his/her end. Listen deeply.
If these steps are followed by each of you, there might be a chance for new understanding. There may be parts of each of you that are feeling like they’re not being heard or that they have new things to say. The repair may make it possible to revisit the original argument and pull out the useful learning.
Coming up… how to not get pulled into the negative pattern at all!