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Re-pair: The Key to Healthy Relationships

Imagine you’re skiing. Your skis are in parallel, until they aren’t. They start to drift a little, either from snow conditions or fatigue or lack of experience. You need to make tiny corrections to help you stay upright. Sometimes you hit a major bump and one ski veers radically from your chosen direction. In that case, you’ll need to make a more substantial, maybe even traumatic, correction. In either case, the key is to get your skis back in parallel: to re-pair your skis.

This same principle of repair is key in relationships. In fact, I’d say it’s the key. The experience of  discontent or disconnect in a relationship is due to the lack of alignment with another person. It’s tempting to think of repair as “fixing”, but a fixing orientation rarely addresses the core relationship issue—that you’re headed in different directions emotionally. The work of repair is about restoring alignment: re-pairing.

Repair happens differently at different points in the relationship, just like in skiing. But whether you’re making small or substantial repairs, it is important to recognize that repair is a skill that you can and should practice.

Small repairs are the easiest. Think in terms of repairing the moment. When a conversation goes awry, make the small corrections—a clarifying question or a benevolent joke—to keep the relationship on track. If larger repairs are required—a sincere apology or even a lifestyle change—you may need to muster exceptional courage or ask for help.

In either case, think in terms of alignment not solution. Two people working toward the same end can find creative solutions to the hairiest of problems. However, a misalignment of purpose or vision or intent, can derail a conversation quickly. The key to healthy relationships isn’t fixing, it’s re-pairing.

 

Zach Brittle is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in Seattle, WA where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is a Certified Gottman Therapist and author of the Relationship Alphabet. Follow him on Facebook at Zach Brittle, LMHC or on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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