Have you ever had the experience of a partner coming to you, really mad because you committed some (in their mind) horrible misstep that has really pissed them off? Most of us have. We put our foot in our mouth, we made a joke that hurt their feelings, we said we would be there and we weren't. We're human; it happens. So what to do now to get back on our partner's good side? Here are a few tips to help facilitate the repair process:
Repair is a one-way street. When your partner is sharing a concern, they are not interested in your excuses, explanations or stories. These will be seen as deflections. When your partner is steaming mad about your tardiness it is not the time to tell him about the traffic that caused you to be late. If there's an explanation that will help your partner to understand the circumstances, you can (if you need to) share that information after you've moved into a place where you're both more regulated (meaning--nobody is feeling wounded or angry or scared). If you repair effectively, you may find that the traffic details aren't really all that important.
Listen actively. When you’re listening to your partner, don’t rebut (either out of your mouth or in your head). Let her share what she's upset about and what her experience has been. Ask questions so you can fully understand what your partner is upset about and how you contributed to their discomfort or pain.
Take a moment to look at the big picture. What is the best case scenario for how this could end? If your partner is upset with you, do you want to spend all night going toe to toe, or would you rather make up and spend the evening enjoying one another? Essentially this is asking is this the hill you want to die on? If it's not (meaning, if this is a small item in the grand scheme of things), move forward with just being kind to your partner and choosing to value the relationship over this small misunderstanding.
Respond with as much generosity as you can muster. Give as much as you can of what they are asking for. A phrase I borrowed from Terry Real and share with clients a lot is “Seeing it the way you see it, I can understand how you would feel that way.” And be sure to follow through with the apology. "I'm so sorry you were scared/hurt/felt alone, etc." (Because you really don't want your partner to feel scared, right? Use that as your big picture cue--your partner was in a position where he or she felt something that was uncomfortable enough for them to be upset. Find the part of yourself that loves them and never wants them to hurt, and operate from that position.)
Be at your partner’s service. What can I say or do to help you feel better? Obviously you can't go back and un-say the joke, or get you to the appointment on time. So what can you do right now to help your partner feel better about the situation? This helps the two of you move toward the repair.
Try these steps the next time your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/partner is mad at you, and share with your partner so they can offer you the same support and help next time you have a complaint for them!