This article is part of James Bauer’s top four relationship question.
We had a fight and sort of broke up. Now I want him back. What can I do?
Try using reciprocity. There is a powerful urge in human nature to return a favor. Sales people all over the world have caught on to this. It’s a well-known fact that you are far more likely to make a sale if you can do something nice for your prospect that causes them to feel the urge to reciprocate in some way. That’s why car salesmen always offer you popcorn and coffee when you walk onto the sales floor. That’s why jewelers offer to clean your rings for you when you walk up to glance at a nice piece of jewelry that caught your eye.
When I was walking on the beach near a resort in the Dominican Republic, a salesman of handmade trinkets came up and tried to put a small trinket around my neck as a “free gift for my friend,” before selling me on the idea of taking a look at his table of goods. I couldn’t help it. Even though I wanted nothing to do with his stuff, I felt compelled to at least take a look after his kind gesture. It worked on me even though I knew exactly what he was doing!
What does reciprocity have to do with an argument with your boyfriend? Quite a bit, actually. When we argue, everything appears to be the other person’s fault. This is human nature. It’s hard to be objective and look at the part we played in creating a conflict. If you let go of being right, you can usually think of something you did to perpetuate the argument, leaving solution-seeking communication far behind. There is great value in doing so. Here’s why.
If you can think of just one small part you played in fanning the flames of the argument, you can call him up and apologize for that small part you played (but you don’t call it a small part). A concession and an apology pull very strongly for a reciprocal apology from him. He will feel compelled to offer the small gift of admitting to some part he feels he may have also played in making things worse than they had to be. In this way, reciprocity creates the spark that allows the two of you to get talking again in a totally different emotional state that is conducive to healing a relationship.