Kirsten didn’t want to tell me what she’d done at first.
All I knew was that she’d “wrecked” her relationship.
She sat in the chair in my office, nervous and trembling, unable to look at me.
She wanted me to help her “fix it,” without explaining what we’d be fixing.
What Kirsten didn’t know is that, as a coach, I have great admiration for anyone brave enough to seek help for their concerns.
No matter what you did, no matter how embarrassing it felt, you had the courage to admit your part in it and take responsibility for repairing the damage.
What Kirsten also didn’t know is that I hear from a lot of women who think they’ve “wrecked” their relationship. Most of the time, it was just a simple mistake. It’s not relationship threatening unless they handle it badly.
In every relationship, no matter how good, there will be mistakes and misunderstandings and arguments and hurt feelings. Expect them.
You’ll say something that hurts your partner. You’ll do something that makes him upset. You won’t be there when he needs you. You’ll mess up. He’ll mess up!
What matters most is what you do after you mess up.
According to the Gottman Institute, this is what separates the relationship “masters” from the “disasters.”
Masters know that it’s up to them to repair their connection each time it gets broken.
What NOT To Do
When Kirsten came to me, she wasn’t in a place where she was ready to do the work of repair.
That’s because she was still caught up in shame and guilt.
She was embarrassed about what she did, and she thought it made her a bad person.
All too often, when we make mistakes in our relationships, the first thing we do is beat ourselves up about it.
We make the mistake about us.
We use our mistake to feed the belief that we can’t do anything right, we wreck everything, it’s hopeless, it’s a miracle our partner puts up with us.
Now the mistake is no longer about the broken connection between us and our partner.
It’s about our own struggles with self-esteem. It’s about our inability to find self-compassion.
When you go to your partner from the space of feeling like a bad person who has to beg for his forgiveness, it rarely goes well.
That’s because a good man doesn’t need your shame.
A good man needs your accountability.
He needs to see that you’ve owned your actions and are seeking to make amends.
Don’t compound a mistake by making it about yourself and how bad you feel.
Keep the focus where it belongs:
On healing your connection with your partner.
Kirsten thought that getting her boyfriend’s forgiveness would solve everything.
But it didn’t.
He told her he forgave her, but he didn’t act like he’d forgiven her.
He was still withdrawn. She could tell he was still angry.
She didn’t know how to talk to him about it, because every time she brought it up he snapped at her.
What she wanted was a way to magically erase everything that happened, so they could go back to the way they were before.
Even if I could have turned back time for Kirsten, so that she’d never made the mistake in the first place, it would have only delayed the inevitable.
All couples make mistakes. All couples mess up. It’s only a matter of time.
Healthy couples don’t bank on never taking a misstep in the relationship.
They focus their energy on how they can learn and grow from their mistakes.
What could Kirsten learn from this?
Here are the ideas I suggested to her.
1. Find out how your actions impacted him.
Because Kirsten was so worried about what making a mistake meant about her, she neglected to give her boyfriend space to talk about how he felt.
She wasn’t able to listen to him explain how her actions impacted him. She kept interpreting his hurt feelings as evidence that she was a bad person.
Try to listen to your partner without your own feelings of guilt or remorse taking precedence. Acknowledge his feelings. Don’t jump in to defend yourself or apologize yet again.
2. Focus on what you can change.
Forgiveness won’t make what happened vanish.
Although getting his forgiveness may feel important to you, it’s more important to find out what he would like from you.
Can you set systems in place so this doesn’t happen again? Does he want a promise that you’ll work on it? Was this the kind of mistake that happens to everyone? Will you eventually be able to laugh about it and move on?
Kirsten realized that she’d never asked her boyfriend what he wanted or needed from her.
She found out that he didn’t want to talk to her about it anymore because he was tired of the topic (and associated emotional drama), not because he was tired of her.
If you’ve made a mistake in your relationship and need help knowing how to handle it, this minicourse offers a 5-step process. https://beirresistible.com/members/library/irresistible-insight-34/learn-more/