Fighting? Use this 4-Step Recipe for Responsible Repair


In stressful and troubling times, it’s easy to fall into bad habits and start fighting over things that were once minor. These minor fights can then blossom into something much more serious if left to fester. Responsible repair is something that all people in relationships have a duty to work towards.


One of the key chapters in our Couples Retreat E-course video series is the Recipe for Responsible Repair. For those of you sharing close quarters, you may have experienced a higher level of tension, stress, and/or smothering than usual. Fighting can easily ensue from these feelings.

How we respectfully repair is a key part of a satisfying and sustainable relationship. Here are the 4 parts to keep on hand for a “Responsible Repair”:

  1. Regulate your nervous system.
  2. Own your experience.
  3. Name your feelings.
  4. Ask for your needs.

Ok, let’s get more detailed.

Regulate your nervous system 

This means to return to a balanced homeostasis of general calm. Regulate means to control or maintain, so we’re talking about maintaining your calmness. 

Regulation is most easily accessed via taking a PAUSE with 5 slow exhales. 

When we fight, we often trigger disregulation and begin operating from the back of our brain stem. This is our reptilian reaction that simply wants to either fight, flee, or freeze in order to keep us safe.

Rather than getting claws out, running away, or silently shutting down, take 5 slow deep breaths with a focus on the exhale. This helps move us out of the sympathetic stress reaction and into a more relaxed, parasympathetic response. 

We are essentially moving away from the back of the brain stem and toward the frontal cortex of the forehead—our logic center. 

For some people, this move is easy and quick. For others, it takes minutes or even hours. Take the time out you need to regulate yourself and reflect. Breathe. Walk. Meditate. Exercise. Push hard on a wall. Take a shower. Do whatever you need to before coming back.

Own your experience 

By this I mean to take full responsibility for your actions and behaviors. This is not a time to make excuses for your behavior. This is an opportunity to explore how you did not act as your best self.  An opportunity to explore how you could have reacted or responded differently. An opportunity to grow. 

It always feels better when our partner owns their part so we are not left having to finger point or assign blame. For this section of ownership, try using “I” language without any “you” statements. This is difficult but powerful. For example, “I realized that I was upset by the delayed dinner start and chaotic atmosphere of the house, and rather than take a few deep breaths, I blew up in frustration.”

Name your Feelings 

This means taking time to figure out what you feel, and expressing it respectfully. You can be angry as anything, but name this feeling without yelling or punching through walls. 

If you struggle to name your feelings, go for the basics like angry, sad, and scared. Going deeper may mean naming feelings like belittled, minimized, patronized, jealous, smothered, overwhelmed, confused, and/or numb. 

Remember: I feel that… and, I feel like… are thoughts, not feelings. I feel… then fill in the adverb.

Ask for your Needs

Asking for and having your needs fulfilled is key for successful, long-term relationships – no matter the context of the relationship. We have relationships with partners, parents, kids, co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc. 

No one is a mind-reader, except for new parents who try desperately to figure out the needs of a new infant! Other than that, lend a hand and express what you need, respectfully. For example, “I recognize that I feel overwhelmed and smothered (from Name your Feelings above) and I really need to take 20-30 minutes a day to be by myself quietly.”

Explore this further with the Couple’s Retreat E-course

The Intimacy Institute offers a Couple’s Retreat E-course that explores these aspects and more for couples who are looking to fulfill their lives together.

Exploring four aspects of intimacy, this course is perfect for couples who want to ensure their relationship is the best it can be.