What is the Gottman repair checklist?

Have you heard of Dr. John Gottman? He’s a world-renowned researcher on how marriages work. The approach has interventions to help couples fight better.

Each is used to help couples stop negativity from escalating. These include one of my favorites, the Gottman Repair Checklist pdf.

It’s my favorite couples therapy intervention because it makes the couple laugh when they do it. Because I work with some of the most distressed couples on the planet, anything that makes both of them laugh together is a good thing. Laughing allows the couple to feel more emotionally connected, despite their problems.

Have you ever wondered what you can do to stop a fight from escalating? In his research, Dr. Gottman highlights things you can do.

In the Repair Checklist, Gottman list and has the couple identify which phrases will and won’t work.

What are examples of repair attempts?

The exercise is simple enough. It has a list of phrases that are clustered into different categories. The categories include helping the couple express their feelings, like “I feel scared.” Others give them a way to slow down or stop action, such as “Please, let’s stop for a while.”

The Repair Checklist helps couples to regulate the intensity of their fights.

What does repair in a relationship look like?

You are both talking about whether to spend money on a new car or repair your old one. It feels impossible to agree on a solution.

You start to get upset. It’s obvious in your face, voice, and words.

“Why is it fine for you to get a new car and not me!”

Your partner has learned how to calm you down during moments like this. Instead of joining you in your upset and taking the bait, they take a breath.

They respond to you with a repair attempt such as: “That’s a good point. I did get a new car last year. That must feel unfair.”

Your partner just took the wind out of your (self-righteous) stance. He or she has also calmed down the situation. You feel heard and listened to.

You take a breath, and you respond in kind. “Thank you for saying that. I know this isn’t your fault, and I’m sorry I’m so testy about it…”

The conversation continues, but now it’s on a lighter note. It feels more friendly because your partner has reminded you that he or she is on your side.

Better friendship: A fighting couple’s secret weapon

While almost all healthy relationships fight, couples that know each other well (love maps) and are affectionate and express appreciation for each other (fondness and admiration) tend to repair during disagreement naturally.

Couples that fight well are just better friends. They feel like they are on the same team. They spend quality time with one another, talk easily, and express their love for each other.

When couples stop being affectionate and don’t enjoy each other’s company, a fight about getting a new car feels like a life-or-death struggle. It feels as if one of you is going to end up winning and one of you will end up losing…and nobody wants to feel like a loser.

Married to a jerk or a nice person: the see-saw of relationships.

There is a ratio of positive to negative exchanges (5-to-1) when couples in a healthy marriage fight. For every harsh exchange (think of it as the “pepper” in the fight), there should be five more emotionally kind or connecting words (the salt.)

When you feel like good friends, that’s not hard to do. You feel like you love a nice person who is occasionally a jerk.

When you feel like you are involved with a jerk who is capable of being occasionally nice, the see-saw drops in favor of believing you have to protect yourself.

What surprises most of my couples is how quickly this see-saw can shift from one side to the other because, in truth, we all have the “nice person” or the “jerk” inside of us.

Then, when one of you makes a Repair Attempt, it becomes easier to accept it rather than reject it out of hand. This is the secret weapon, friendship, that Gottman finds so powerful.