Repair, in the context of Compassionate Communication, means to repair a rupture in connection when either of you sense disconnect or there was a behavior that threatened or didn't meet needs. Repair rests on the assumption that you seek connection.
With this as your definition there are a few key elements to consider:
1. Questions: The questions you ask direct your attention. Repair questions might sound like the following:
What was the impact of my behavior on another and the impact of another's behavior on me?
What needs was the behavior in question trying to meet?
What feelings are present?
What needs are unmet?
What different actions by me or the other person would meet needs in future similar situations?
2. Empathy: Giving and receiving empathy is an essential part of repair. You come to the repair dialogue with a willingness to fully honor and understand the other person's experience, regardless of how different it is from your own.
3. Accountability: Accountability is another essential part of repair. Accountability means a willingness to identify the needs that went unmet due to your behavior and a commitment to do something different in a future similar situation. This commitment includes specific and do-able actions.
4. Responsibility: Both people are responsible for re-connecting and maintaining connection. Regardless of who did what, each person is responsible for finding their way back to connection. Your partner may make every effort to repair, but they can't be responsible for you opening your heart to reconnecting.
5. Tolerating Discomfort: Repair isn't instantaneous, it occurs little by little as connection is built and trust is earned through new behaviors. True repair occurs in the experiences of connection and trust building over time. This means you will want to find a way to be present with the pain and discomfort of what happened for as long as it takes to heal rather than pushing for a quick fix, or what you hope would be a quick fix.
TRAGIC MODELS OF REPAIR
In models of repair that are not meant to create connection, wrong and right, blame and shame are the means through which behavior is sorted. As such, you find yourself arguing over the details of what happened or gathering evidence to prove that you are in the right and the other is in the wrong. Concepts like forgiveness are about restoring another's goodness rather than movement toward healing and understanding. Accountability means admitting you're wrong, but doesn't require you to learn a new way forward for next time.
HOW REPAIR GETS DERAILED
If you are making a whole-hearted attempt to reconnect and still not creating repair, here are some places to check in with.
Insecurity: To the extent that you are unsure about the validity of your own feelings and needs you will tend to shame, blame, analyze, minimize, dismiss, criticize, defend, use "should's", and compare. You may need empathy from someone outside of the situation in order to access a sense of honor for your own feelings and needs.
Reactivity: Holding onto to your story of who someone is based on past events to such a degree that you cannot take in new information in the present is a form of reactivity. Perceiving threat when none is present is another form of reactivity. When you are unable to separate past painful events from the present moment painful events, or movement toward healing in the present, you are stuck in reactivity. You may need to create a greater sense of safety in the interaction before you can proceed without reactivity.
Fear of Disharmony: When fear of disharmony is deciding for you, you likely don't trust that repair is possible. You then choose to ignore disconnecting interactions and allow disconnect and resentment to grow. This leaves you disconnected from your own feelings and needs and those in another. Repair is very difficult to create from this disconnected place. You may need more support before you can approach repair in a self-connected way.
Lack of Skill: When there is a lack of skill, you have good intentions, but don't know how to create repair without falling into the old model of blame and shame. You may need learning and practice to integrate new skills.
ROLES IN REPAIR
Traditionally repair was done by finding out who did what wrong and then asking them to apologize. When you try to replace this with NVC language by saying who's behavior didn't meet what needs, you may create a slippery slope to using a new framework to enact the same old patterns. What's more helpful is to immediately acknowledge that both people are responsible for tending to the needs present in any given moment, you are both initiators of action and receivers of action. Therefore each of you would consider the roles of initiator and receiver and reflect on the tasks of that role:
As initiator your behavior is the trigger for disconnect or has not met needs. Your work is to notice and have empathy for the impact on the other person while maintaining compassion for yourself. Your work is to also find a different way to meet your needs so that the behavior won't occur again and you have a plan to take responsibility for it if it does.
As receiver of a triggering behavior or behavior that doesn't meet needs, your work is to be present to your feelings and needs and any reactivity, while giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Your work is also to be open to receiving empathy (empathy might first be from someone outside the situation) and requesting that which allows you to reconnect.
If all this sounds like a long and over complicated process, it may be most helpful to remember the essential principles of effective repair: take fully responsibility for your own feelings, needs, and actions, find a way to empathy for yourself and the other person, and get support if repair is inaccessible.
PracticeTake a moment to reflect on things that derail repair. Which of these are you most likely to encounter in yourself? What would you like to do or ask for to help with this for the next repair dialogue you have?