Episode 7 The Art of Repair

“One of the reasons why I think repair is such a powerful practice is because it involves the masculine capacities of awareness and reflection, combined with the feminine capacities of empathy and expression.” — John Wineland

Today on The Embodied Relationship Experience:

  • Embracing the art of repair to build trust and safety
  • Integrating masculine awareness and feminine empathy in repairs
  • How to soothe your partner’s nervous system during repairs
  • Applying structured frameworks for effective repair conversations
  • Ways to incorporate breathwork and embodiment in repairs
  • How to make consistent efforts to build trust and security


Connect with John:

Because when we repair a rupture, which is inevitable in any relationship, we are creating secure attachment. Many people will think that secure attachment happens in the absence of ruptures. But what I’ve come to believe is that ruptures, like I said, are inevitable. And how we repair those ruptures is really what cements bonds of trust and safety. This is the point about repair.

You are showing up to not debate. You’re showing up to validate.

Welcome back to the embodied relationship experience. My name is John Wineland. If you like this podcast, please like and subscribe. If you are watching on YouTube. Please rate and review if you’re listening on Apple. Today we are going to talk about one of my absolutely favorite subjects, which is the Art of repair. Many people do not look at it this way, but I like to look at repair conversations and repair practices as part of a devotional or expression of love.

Because when we repair a rupture, which is inevitable in any relationship, we are creating secure attachment. And many people will think that secure attachment happens in the absence of ruptures. But what I’ve come to believe is that ruptures like I said, are inevitable. And how we repair those ruptures is really what cements bonds of trust and safety.

So I consider being able to offer a really beautiful practice of repair. Some of them are conversational, some of them could be energetic or other behaviors, which I’ll get into in this podcast. But I just really want to place this concept of repair ruptures as one of the primary pillars of devotion to love in relationship. And, you know, some of you have heard me talk about these three pillars of, sacred intimacy.

The first pillar is intimacy. The second pillar is devotion to love. And the third pillar is sexual polarity. So we’re going to be talking primarily today about, you know, elements in this second pillar about what it means to be devotional, to love, because this is oftentimes where the rubber meets the road is in the capacity and the nervous system training to be able to repair with your partner.

One of the reasons why I think repair is such a powerful practice is because it involves the masculine capacities of awareness and reflection, combined with the feminine capacities of empathy and expression. So when we are in a practice of repair, we’re bringing, a fully loaded awareness to our behavior, our areas of unconsciousness, and our mistakes and how they impact the nervous system of our partners.

Because nervous system, as you’ve heard me say many times, nervous system regulation and co-regulation is one of the ways that we love our partners and it’s often not really talked about. Stan Tatkin does talk about it. In his book “Your Brain on Love.” And Terry Real talks about it a little bit in his work. But I think that really being devotional to your partner’s nervous system means that you’re aware of when you make a mistake, or you’re unconscious, or you’re reactive and in some pattern, you are affecting your partner’s nervous system.

And so in relationship, right, we’re both responsible for taking care of our own nervous system, for self-regulation. But an act of generosity and love is to also be aware of how we can soothe our partners’ nervous system. So there are many ways to do this. The most accepted in the therapeutic community is having repair conversations, and I pull my sort of approach from a bunch of different areas.

Imago dialogue, which was created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, and the intentional dialogue, which includes some very serious listening, reflection, validation, and empathy. But I also pull from Terri Real’s work from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. And I’ve kind of, over the years, practiced a lot of these and come up with what I believe is one of the best ways.

Now, this is just one approach to repair, of course. Take what you like, leave the rest, add your own secret sauce because you know your partner’s nervous system and your nervous system are unique and what works, what kind of communication styles and what kind of containers of clearing and repair work for you and your partner might not be the same as what I’m laying out here, but I want to give some real, clear framework that you can build upon.

And then, of course, innovate opined for your own relationship. So I’m going to distinguish today between the sort of conversational and communication approaches to repair, but also the energetic and more. Let’s call them yogic practices of repair. Because, you know, communication techniques are really beautiful. You know, all of pretty much all of the major modalities of couples therapy rely on communication techniques, but those really only go so far.

Some people do not do well with lots of processing or communication. Some people need repair to happen in a more energetic space in a more relaxed space. This is certainly something you know I’ve learned in my relationships. I personally, because I, you know, I’m big into men’s groups. I’m big into self-reflection. I’m big into you know, ruthless self-examination.

And so I love being able to communicate all of those things in conversational form. And I do believe that being able to kind of talk it out in a container where people get to take turns and where people get to get heard, and then apologies are given and agreements are made. You know, that’s a very masculine, approach to repair.

And I love that. But over the years, I’ve had feminine partners who do not, you know, do as well with those. Some of them do, some of them don’t. And it’s not not just feminine partners, but just everybody’s nervous system is different. And sometimes actually being able to create a safe space energetically as part of your repair is just as powerful as having a clearing conversation.

So I’ll distinguish those two different approaches, you know, in this podcast. But I just want to lay that out. That repair is not just about having a conversation. It can be and oftentimes both are needed. I often think that both the yogic and sort of embodied approach to repairing, ruptures and creating safety in the home, for example, is needed.

But I also believe that, being able to hear each other out, to validate each other’s feelings, to be able to truly let go of what I think happened and hear what you think happened, I see that as a very deep spiritual practice, because in those moments of being triggered, we, our perception is limited by, you know, our past wounds and our past programming.

So for us to be able to transcend those past wounds and past programming actually requires something in our nervous system. It requires oftentimes what I love to use is breath relaxation, some different techniques of embodiment, which I’ll go into in this podcast, but it does become to be able to allow your partner’s reality to be without needing to debate them on what you think happened or what your experience was not.

You’ll get your turn if you, you know, follow this format. But I oftentimes it’s really helpful. In fact, it’s almost required. Terry Real talks about this in his book, “Fierce Intimacy,” that, it is it’s required for us to be sort of a, a customer service representative. Right. And if your partner is coming to the customer service window needing some kind of repair, right, you’re not going to present your toaster to them to repair when they’re coming to the customer service window.

So oftentimes repair requires us to let go of what we need for a bit, right? Momentarily. in order to just focus on what they need. Now, obviously, we want this to be reciprocated, right? That if we’re not in partnerships where both people are taking turns at the customer service window, shit’s going to break down pretty fast, and it’s going to be very hard for true trust to be established.

So let’s start with what makes an incredible repair conversation. There are a few elements to this, and I’m going to break them down one by one. The first one, which is so obvious but we often miss it, is get consent. Get consent to unload whatever it is that you feel needs to be shared. So if your partner did something that is, and this goes for any person, this could be a friend.

this could be any person you have a relationship with. It needs repair. But let’s just stick to the romantic, realm for now. So the first thing that you absolutely want to do is get consent that look something like, hey, you know, I have something that’s been heavy on my heart or something happened yesterday that really hurt my feelings.

I’d love a chance to tell you about it. I’d love this chance to clear it. I’d love a space where we could talk about it. Is now a good time, right? Just that simple step sets your partner up to win. Oftentimes, when we’re distracted. This is especially true for, the masculine ladies, right? You know, men tend to be much more single-minded focus.

So when we’re single-minded, focused on something and there is, you know, a need for repair that comes in kind of out of the blue. It will often, you know, just shake us and take us out of our, you know, out of our focus. And so it takes a little something for us to go from, you know, from fixing a carburetor to, you know, to helping hang a painting, for example.

Right. We we need a little men especially need a little space to just ground and prepare themselves. Because oftentimes when you come to your partner and say, hey, something happened that hurt my feelings immediately. oftentimes our childhood wounds are going to get triggered. Like, oh, are they mad that I do something wrong? And my bad. you know, is this going to blow up into a huge fight?

Are they going to leave, like, all this stuff kind of happens, you know, to a greater or lesser degree in somebody’s nervous system, right? So the best thing to do is to just set them up kindly, like, hey, I have something I need to talk about, and I would love a good time for us to do it. So when you ask how you ask, it’s important, right?

If you come in hot and you’re just basically saying like, hey, you really pissed me off yesterday, chances are you’re not going to get a real good response to that. So make sure that you check your own urgency when you have something that needs repair, which we all do right? We all will. You cannot be in relationship without your partner pissing you off, without your partner hurting your feelings.

So if we just accept that there are no such things as these, as rupture-less relationships, it’s just a fallacy. That’s absolutely untrue. It’s a fantasy that is very dangerous. So rupture is going to happen. And how you ask for repair does matter. So bringing it in, you know, with your own nervous system dialed down as much as possible.

And the way to check that is is it urgent? Right. If you feel like it needs to be said now, right, chances are you might want to just take a few minutes, you know, do your own kind of self-regulation, you know, get get relaxed. Doesn’t take long. 2 or 3 minutes of good breathwork will will drop you into a space, and then you show up to your partner and say, hey, this hurt my feelings.

I could really use an ear and I could use, a space to clear this in. And then they might say, okay, let me just finish what I’m doing, and then we’ll we’ll talk in 5 or 10 minutes. Or they might say, no, I’ve got a pretty rough afternoon and I’m feeling pretty frazzled. Why don’t we set aside some time tonight?

You know, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that it’s, you know, within 24 hours. You know, maybe you’re still pissed about the fight that you guys had or about something that they did, or you just, you know, in the middle of a really, you know, a stressful day, but, but try to make it within 24 hours because that lets their.

Why because that relaxes their nervous system. Why? Because that lets them know that at some point you’re going to be coming back to talk about it. And that is, you know, incredibly potent and powerful way to help take care of your partner’s nervous system. So once you have consent and there is an agreed upon time to sit down and have these conversations, it’s really important that you take turns expressing what you need to express.

So if your partner has something and they’re coming to you with something, then I think it’s important that you set yourself up to be able to receive it. So once you’ve got once you’ve given consent, I’m saying if you are the person doing the listening here, it’s often it’s often really helpful to set yourself up to win by grounding, by breathing, by relaxing, by making sure that there’s no distractions in the space and making sure that you like you really are ready, right?

Not just wanting to get it over with, but that your nervous system is actually prepared to hear something that might be the might trigger you into a state of fight or flight, or into a recognized state of oh, this again. Right. And so how you show up to the conversation matters where you are. And this is rarely talked about, right, in the therapeutic realms.

But I think in the yogic realms, it makes a lot of sense, right. How you show up or is your nervous system downregulated enough to receive the information? Maybe you have some idea about what pissed off or what pissed him off. And so there’s a little bit of trepidation in you handle that, you know, try to handle it before you sit down as best as possible.

It might might mean a little bit of movement, might mean a little bit of pounding on your body. It might mean a little bit of, you know, breathwork. It might mean some meditation, it might mean a walk around the block. But give yourself some kind of practice that puts you into a deep state of relaxed openness. I did a post the other day on being the wide expanse of love, and that’s the practice that I tend to bring to conversations like that of of really feeling myself, my heart as a big blue sky, as the wide expanse of love.

And then during the conversation, if I get triggered, I can come back to that. But I really do try to very quickly drop into that space of just being a wide expanse, a deep ocean, a big blue sky, you know, as wide as the cosmos, so that whatever is coming at me is not something that I’m going to hook into.

And, you know, I failed many, many times this is the quintessential repair of conversations, and repair practices are the quintessential fail and recommence practice. So, so how you show up once you’ve given consent, once you have sort of prepared yourself right, you sit down to have the conversation. And the first step in most modalities that I’ve studied and most modalities that I’ve practiced and taught, the first step is really to hear without defense or interruption.

Now, sometimes this is just spiritual practice, enough right to be able to sit there. Let your partner share their experience, share how you know what you did, hurt them. and and hopefully they they’re sharing it with some amount of kindness and respect. They’re not just launching in. They’re not just hurling their, you know, judgments and projections at you, but, you know, maybe they are.

And so really being able to listen to that without interruption, without, debating the details of what happened. This is a very common one, debating the details. Their details may be different than yours. They may say that it was 9:00. And you may you may know it was 845, but does it really fucking matter? Right. So this is what it means in these moments.

This is what it means to be more devotional, to love, right? More devotional to love than to your own ego, to being right, to defending yourself, to, getting the deed to your experience, being more important than their experience. Right. So this is this is often very, very deep work in the moment. So you listen to them without interruption and without defense.

Right? And you give them, you know, the space to say what they need to say. You, you know, continue to breathe, continue to ground your own nervous system, continue to regulate your own nervous system, and you allow them the space to just get it out. Okay. Now, in some modalities and in oftentimes when things are so hot, it’s really helpful in that stage and that this is part of Imago dialog practice.

Sometimes it’s good to reflect back what you hear. So they might say when you did X, Y and Z I had these feelings right. And and rather than just let them go to completion, you say, can I reflect that back to you? when I did that, you had these feelings, right? Which helps them, helps their nervous system feel heard.

And I would refer you to the intentional dialog. Very easy to find. I’ve got, I’ve got plenty of practices on the embodied relationship experience platform around the intentional dialog. You can find it online. You can get it from Harville Hendrix and Helen, the Kelly Hunt and the intentional dialog really is about, you know, reflective listening, moving incredibly slowly.

And oftentimes when things are really hot, that first step of repair will require that not always, but often it will. So let’s just assume that you give your partner three minutes, five minutes, you know, whatever, whatever they need. Hopefully it’s within a 3 to 5 minute window. Otherwise it’s often very difficult for people to stay grounded. So that’s a really good piece of the container.

You know, keep your keep your, expression of your hurt, you know, in that 3 to 5 minute window giving your partner’s nervous system a chance to metabolize all that you’re giving them. So once they’ve completed their, you know, what they need to share with you, then it would be really important for you to get curious if there’s things that you’re not clear on.

Right. So wait, when I did this, you had these feelings, or when I did this, you thought I meant to do it, right? So clarify. Take a minute or two to really suss out what meaning they gave what you did. That is very, very helpful, both for them to get clear on. Oh, when he did that, I made that meaning.

But it’s really important for you to see how your partner’s brain works. When he did this, I gave I made it mean this. Right. So you get curious after they’ve sort of said what they needed to say. If it’s sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it isn’t. But it’s also really just beautiful practice. And it’s very generous to get curious about what they made it mean.

What you actually did that triggered their nervous system. And so a little bit of curiosity. And then once you ask them that question, let them clarify.

Listen without defense, without interruption. Breathe. Breathe. Right. Really allow yourself to take it in. And then at the end of that, when they’re when they’re done, you can say, okay, great. Is it is there anything else.

Is there anymore. Or did I did I get it right. Is that is that it. And you left them empty. So after they’ve emptied this is something I think that really is important for all practices. And it does come from the intentional dialog in Imago Therapy. It’s three little words that make all the difference. And those little words are that makes sense.

Now. It doesn’t matter if you see it the same way. It doesn’t matter if you remember it differently. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re being silly to them, to their nervous system, to their way of seeing the world, to their, you know, trauma body, to their emotional body, what they’re feeling, what they saw, what they believed, what they experienced makes sense to them.

So it’s an incredibly, important piece of this that you validate what they thought, what they saw, what they experienced, even if it differs from yours. And this, again, is often where the rubber meets the road. I see this struggle with men a lot where they’re like, but it didn’t happen that way. Or but I saw it differently or but that’s that’s silly.

Why would you think that I did that right. And so it works both ways, of course. But I see this that a lot. And dropping the debate, there is no debate. This is the plane about repair. You are showing up to not debate. You’re showing up to validate. That’s a great bumper sticker I should probably make a bumper sticker, a t-shirt out of that.

Don’t debate validate. so yeah, you are showing up to validate. What does that do? It relaxes their nervous system. Maybe they come. Maybe they grew up in a space where their feelings were not validated, where their feelings were not honored, where their feelings were not cared for. So when you step into that space, right, you are stepping into the space as their caregiver in some way.

Right? The brain is how it links. This is what happens. Are partners are in the same space of our brains as our caregivers. So when you say, hey, that makes sense. I understand why you would feel that way. I understand why you’d be upset. That alone is a balm on their nervous system. Just learning how to do that will absolutely change the way that you guys communicate.

After you’ve listened without defense or interruption, after you’ve validated what comes next is put yourself in their shoes. What was it like? What was it like to be on the other side of your, very special kind of bullshit? What was it like to be on the other side of your unconsciousness? What was it like for them to be on the other side of something that you said you would change but didn’t?

Right. It’s really important that we put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with them so that we can again, relax their nervous system by honoring their experience. Right. When we honor another’s experience, we’re loving their nervous system. Let me say that again. When we honor another’s experience, we are loving their nervous system. Doesn’t matter. Which is more important?

You being right. Where are you loving their nervous system? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But what I have seen over and over again is that when we can do that, when we can drop our need to be right momentarily or for a period of time, and we love them by honoring their nervous system and honoring their experience, they feel safe with us.

They feel safe with us. So this piece of empathy and, and expressing how it must have been for them now, one of the ways that I think is really, beautiful, there’s a couple different ways that I think is really beautiful and it’s to say, like, I imagine, again, this is part of the you know what, Harville Hendrickson and Helen the Kelly Hunt teach.

So I really value this is I can imagine when I did that, you felt this. I can imagine when I did that, you felt dropped. I can imagine you felt rejected. You felt sad. You felt angry. I can imagine when I said things that way, or I lost my temper or I didn’t show up or whatever it was.

You felt these things, right? I can also imagine this is a really important piece, and this is something that I’ve added from Terry Real’s work. I’ve done that before. I can imagine that the fact that I’ve done that more than once is really frustrating for you, or really hurtful to you. And so it’s important again that we’re keeping awareness, right.

We’re empathizing, but we’re also aware of ourselves and what we’ve done and how we behaved. Awareness and empathy are that beautiful sort of integration of masculine and feminine energies in this practice that make all the difference, right? If you’re just empathetic but you’re not aware of your behavior, you’re not aware that, wow, that’s the fourth time I’ve done that.

It’s not going to land as well. And if you’re just aware, but there’s really no empathy coming through your body, it’s not going to land. So bringing both your awareness and your empathy to this behavior and to the way that it impacts your partner’s nervous system is one of the key pieces in, again, being devotional to their nervous system, letting them know they’re not crazy.

You did do that over and over and over again. You said you change it. You didn’t change it, you know? And of course they’re pissed and hurt and are losing trust in you. Right? So your capacity to empathize with exactly how your unconsciousness, because chances are you didn’t mean to hurt them. Chances are you didn’t mean to, be cruel or lose your temper or you didn’t go into it with that, right?

Most people like, there are some people that are, you know, that are challenged in that way. And are a little more vicious. But I’m assuming most of you do not mean to hurt the people you love. It just happens unconsciously. And that’s something else to really keep in mind. In in repair conversations, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

They don’t mean to hurt you. It’s likely an unconscious response to a threat triggered by a childhood wound. It’s not something that is malicious nine times out of ten, even though it might occur to your nervous system, is malicious, it’s not. Most of the time, it’s a habitual response to a threat, and these threats go way back. I’ve talked about this before, but oftentimes coming into repair conversations, it’s crucial that you give your partners the benefit of the doubt.

If if you’re sitting there talking about what you think happened and they’re trying to apologize, but all you can do is create them as somebody that is trying to hurt you. The repair conversation’s not going to go very well. So after you have empathized with them, put yourself fully in their shoes and really validated their feelings, their experience, used things like, I can imagine that you felt this.

I can imagine you felt that, am I right? Did I get that right? Did I miss anything? You know, after you’ve really kind of cleared out all of the remnants and all of the stuff that’s, you know, behind their hurt, the next step will be to apologize. And I love Terry Real’s approach to apology. It’s it’s such a simple approach.

It is. Yes, I did that. You’re right, I did that. I’ve done that before. Right. And here’s what I’m going to do to address it. How does that feel to you. Right. Is that enough. So oftentimes it’s not as simple as I did that. But most of the time when there’s a repair conversation, it’s because we’ve engaged in some kind of behavior habitually.

And there is a pattern that has developed in the dynamic of your relationship. And so people tend to do the same things. We’re very predictable in this way. We tend to do the same fucking things when there’s a fight. And we tend to, use the same kind of tactics bringing up the past, for example, or character assassination, for example, or raising our voice, for example, or dominating, for example, or slamming the door and running out, for example.

Right. So oftentimes, or we’re late all the time or, you know, there’s all kinds of things. Most of the time in relationships, we’re fighting about the same shit over and over and over again. That’s been proven. So it’s it’s really important that we acknowledge I did that. And you know what? I’ve done that a lot. I’ve done that before.

Right. And then, you know, here’s what I’m going to do to try to change that. You know, I’m going to go start I’m going to go to therapy and start working on my anger. I’m going to take ten minutes a day and just beat on some pillows until I clear out the anger I have for my father. I’m going to join a men’s group.

I’m going to join a women’s group. I’m going to take a pause if I need to with the moment I start to get activated. And so it’s not just an apology, it’s an action plan and a commitment and an agreement to change your behavior. Right? It’s an agreement to change your behavior and change the way you do things most of the time.

And this is true in most every relationship I’ve ever witnessed. You know, this is working with thousands of couples and my own experience here, most of the time when our partner is pointing to a pattern, a pattern of being laid, a pattern of raising our voice, a pattern of being reactive, of some way, a pattern of withdrawal, any patterns that our partners are showing to us.

Most of the time they’re right. And so our agreement and commitment to change it, it’s almost like, I know this is this is going to be hard for some of you. but consider your partner a really powerful relationship coach that is seeing your shit clearer than anybody else sees it. Right? What if you gave them that mantle for just a few minutes once or twice a week, or once or twice a month, and you just you just trusted that the things they’re complaining about are actually things that you need to change, right?

Because we do not see ourselves clearly. We think we do. We think we do. Other people see us probably better than we see ourselves. And this is why things like men’s groups and women’s groups and reflection groups and coaches and therapists are so crucial because they’re going to be able to see us beyond our ego. That’s true for your partner as well.

And even if you don’t like what they’re saying, even if you don’t think it’s fair, even if you don’t think that they’re, doing, you know, they’re not taking your feedback, even if they’re not self-reflective with themselves, like they are reflective with you. All those things might be true, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re seeing is not valid and often potent work for you to do.

So when it comes time to make that apology, understand that there is something that you can change that is a often a crucial piece of work, a personal work for you to do. That kind of reframing often changes a lot. And what does it do? It validates their wisdom. It validates their emotional experience. It validates their oracle. Right?

Right. Her oracle when she’s saying like, you know, you go unconscious, you know, by checking your phone all the time or by being late or, you know, you numb out in this way or, you know, so all of those things are likely there’s some thread of truth in them and that’s often hard for people to hear. So when you’re making your apology, make sure that there’s an agreement and there’s a commitment to try to change these things.


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