The Four Steps to Powerful Repair

Mar 07, 2022

The Four Steps of Repair

One of my favorite things about good marriage therapy is that it does not teach you how to fight less – it teaches you how to repair better. As nice as it sounds to never have relationship rupture, we all know that disconnection is bound to happen. As long as the relationship means something to you, fighting is a certainty, so repairing what gets damaged becomes an extremely important skill to practice.

I am always searching for ways to take complex concepts and present them in forms that are easier to remember and execute. While working with my clients, I’ve noticed that the following four steps are not only the most important pillars of good quality relationship repair, but they are also quite intuitive. My clients have really appreciated the simplicity of these four steps, as well as the better outcomes and increased confidence the steps offer. Since my clients have been affirming the value of this tool, I figured it was time to share it with YOU!

You will see the explanations of the four steps below, but make sure you don’t skip the “before you start” section. This section is where I go over the foundational rules and expectations needed to help make sure you have a successful experience during your repair.

Finally, please remember that no tool is comprehensive. Relationships are simply too complex and alive to be contained or explained by a single tool. These four steps are a good guide, but they are simply a guide. If you find yourself struggling with these steps, attending one of our marriage intensives ( or connecting with a trained marriage therapist can be extremely helpful in getting you unstuck.

Before You Start:

1.Each person takes on a role: either the “Giver” or “Receiver”.

a.The Giver’s main responsibility is to be aware of their feelings, do the work of digging down to the vulnerable core (i.e. the deepest reason why this moment is so upsetting), and share that core with the Receiver.

b.The Receiver then does the work of moving through each of the four steps, in order, being careful not to skip or rush any of them.

2.The Giver is the only one allowed to set the pace.

Meaning: the Receiver may not move on to step two until the Giver feels reasonably (and honestly) satisfied with step one – and so on.

3.The depth of repair is defined by the depth of the sharing.

Meaning: if the Giver stays shallow, the repair will be shallow. If the Giver goes deep, the repair will go deep as well (assuming the Receiver does their work as well).

1: Make Space

“Making Space” means the Receiver listens to what the Giver shares and is intentional to allow, or validate, the Giver’s experience. The Receiver is careful to not attempt any defense, explanation, correction, suggestions, encouragement, or “help” of any kind. The Receiver will simply reflect (or repeat) what was shared back to the Giver. Success looks like when the Receiver “gets it” (i.e. genuine understanding why this hurts/matters to the other person) and the Giver actually feels like the Receiver “gets it”.

Helpful Tips:

Simple Reflection: Notice the most meaningful/impactful parts of what the Giver shared and repeat those back to them, word-for-word or close to it.

Curiosity: It’s normal for the Receiver to struggle with “getting it” and the Giver to struggle with digging deep enough. In both cases, the Receiver remaining curious, instead of defensive, works best. It is vital, however, for the Receiver to do this genuinely, rather than out of duty. Examples: “What is that like for you?” “I’m struggling to connect the dots between ____ and ____. Can you help me understand?” “What did you believe about yourself when I did that?”

Calibration: Often, “round one” doesn’t get both people totally on the same page. It’s normal to need multiple tries. If that is the case, the Giver will share again, focusing on the areas where they don’t yet feel understood, and the Receiver just does another simple reflection.

2: Own Impact

Once the Giver feels that the Receiver “gets it”, the Receiver then clearly and directly states how their actions triggered that painful experience in the Giver – again…no caveats, explanations, or attempts to relieve the Giver’s pain. The Receiver must be careful to leave the Giver’s pain/experience exactly where it is. The temptation to achieve “progress” must be resisted.

NOTE: The Receiver may feel that they have already taken ownership and made it clear during step one. If that is the case, do not skip step two. Speak your ownership again.

3: Share Heart

Once the Giver feels reasonable belief that the Receiver has genuinely owned their impact, the Receiver may then share what feelings/reactions/longings are bubbling up for them. Now that they are seeing and connecting with steps one and two, they get to share how that impacts their own heart. Success often looks like the Receiver feeling empathy toward the Giver’s experience and regret for having such an impact, however, any heart response from the Receiver is acceptable. The ultimate goal is for the Giver to experience the Receiver as present and caring about what they see.

4: Apologize

Once the Giver has experienced the Receiver as seeing their heart (step one), owning their part (step two), and being present/caring (step three), the Receiver may…finally…apologize for their behavior and how that impacted the Giver. Naturally, it is important for the Receiver to be genuine in their apology. The good news is that, if we worked hard to do the previous step well, the next step is often much easier, leaving step four to be almost effortless.