The Three RE's of Connection

Dec 17, 2021

When it comes to building stronger connections and loving your spouse or family well, I go by the three RE’s: ResonanceResponsibility, and Repair. Whether young or old, these disciplines strategically and effectively meet key attachment needs for everyone. My favorite part of the three RE’s, however, is that they don’t require you to be super human. They make space for you to have all your emotions, even do things wrong, and they still can create bonding during the worst of times. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!


Resonance is emotional attunement. It’s like empathy or tuning in to the other person’s wavelength. The most critical aspect of resonance, specifically the practice of resonance, is seeing the other person’s heart rather than getting stuck on how they are acting. It’s like when my 3-year-old is using every delay tactic in the book to stall going to bed. Like a normal human, I get frustrated! Using resonance in that moment means I get to be frustrated and I try and tune into his heart. I take a breath and think, “This isn’t like him. What else might be going on?” That’s when I remember that yesterday he said he was feeling scared of the dark. Boom! Suddenly his acting out makes a lot more sense. He’s not really resisting bed, he’s not really resisting me, he just wants to stay away from what scares him! Now a part of me can relate because I’ve watched myself avoid things that scare me many times.

My frustration naturally, effortlessly, moves toward empathy because now I can see him as my son who is dealing with a fear he never asked for, rather than seeing him as a miniature punk who is challenging my authority. When I can make that transition and meet him where he is, he will naturally see me as his ally against the fear instead of the tyrant who doesn’t care. You can imagine the positive shift in behavior I get when my son believes I am for him instead of against him.

It’s important to say here that resonance does not mean I have to abandon whatever boundaries or discipline my son’s acting out demands. Resonance just makes it easier for me to offer him validation, even permission, to feel his fear in the first place. It makes it easier for me to offer him comfort, rather than trying to correct him while the fear still has him by the throat. Over and above all this, however, the most important thing resonance does is show my son that, when he is feeling gross inside, he is not alone, invisible, or rejected. He gets to know that I still see him, I still care about what he’s going through, and I won’t shame him or walk away when things get uncomfortable between us.


In this context, responsibility means to take ownership of the impact I had on someone else. The key to this discipline is that ownership of impact must be taken regardless of what I intended or whether the other person’s reaction makes sense. The focus is not on what I meant, but on how it landed for the other person. Check out the following story to see what taking responsibility looks like in action.

Not too long ago, my wife was sitting at the table trying her hand at some artistic calligraphy. As I walked by, I noticed the words seemed squished together. Naturally, I assumed she would be deeply grateful for my critique so I decided to give her the gift of my feedback…I’m sure you can guess the outcome. Her frustration with me wasn’t surprising, but what did catch me off guard was the intensity and aggression with which my wife told me to back off. In that moment, if you had asked me to take responsibility for my impact on her, I would have said, “No way! She’s the one overreacting.” In the space of about 10 seconds, we had gone from being just fine to both feeling wronged and stuck. It would have been easy for us to just throw our hands up and walk away, but my wife did something critical that turned the tide and helped me take responsibility the right way.

She took a vulnerable risk and showed me how deep and old this pain really was. She shared how, as a kid, her family would often tease and critique her when she tried her hand at something new, artistic, or feminine. This created an intensely painful raw spot of insecurity within her, giving her razor thin confidence anytime she was trying something artistically new…like calligraphy. My offhanded critique easily shattered her self-esteem and, in a flash, I became dangerous to her. She didn’t choose this reaction; it is simply something that happened to her. The raw spot suddenly transformed her loving husband into a nightmare from her past…and she panicked.

Before I describe the right way to take responsibility for my impact, let me share a few common examples of the wrong way. Upon hearing my wife’s deeper pain, I was hit with three reactions; three possible roads that most of us are tempted to take. First, and most powerful, was the desire to defend myself and say, “You got me all wrong. I’m not a monster!” The second road was to fire back and say, “Seriously?! You should know I wouldn’t hurt you like that!” The third road would have me jump straight into apologizing so that both of us could stop feeling so bad and move forward. Note: none of these are taking responsibility for my impact on her.

Thankfully, a fourth road was available, and I took it. Instead of getting defensive, I let myself see what her raw spot was doing to her (resonance). I acknowledged how scary and painful that must have been for her to get blindsided by such an old and powerful wound. I validated how, despite whatever I intended, every inch of me ended up feeling like a monster to her in that moment. This kind of response was comforting for my wife because it made space for her feelings as they were, rather than trying to lovingly shove her into a more comfortable emotional space.


If resonance says, “I see you.” And responsibility says, “I own that I hurt you.” Then repair is saying, “Your hurt matters to me.” Seems simple enough, but have you noticed that most of us skip right past this part? If you’re anything like me, the temptation is to hydroplane over the first two RE’s and drop into a microwaved attempt at repair by saying something like, “I’m sorry,” or, “What I really meant was…” It’s no secret that this rushed repair doesn’t work, so why do we still do it? In short, it’s because we all hate pain – especially the pain of watching ourselves hurt the one we love. Who wouldn’t want to skip straight to the part where we both get to feel better and connected again?

The reason rushed repair doesn’t work is fairly straight forward: repair won’t be forthcoming if the other person doesn’t feel seen or safe with you yet. True repair only happens when both our hearts are willing to be open and soft toward each other. If I just hurt you, your heart is right and wise to ask for an olive branch before flying wide open again – this is precisely what resonance and responsibility accomplish. Healthy repair is only possible after I have done the work to see your heart and own the impact I had on you. Only then do you have a real chance to believe me when I say, “Your hurt matters to me.”

What does this last step look like in real life? Surprisingly, it is rarely an apology. Instead, it is simply allowing the other person so see how their hurt impacts your heart. There are thousands of ways to express how their heart impacted you: allowing yourself to cry, an empathetic hand on the shoulder, telling them about the guilt or sadness you feel, praying with them, or even showing a little righteous anger toward what hurt them. These, and many more, can all be effective forms of repair as long as the focus remains on their heart and how it impacts you. Keep your sharing centered on the response of your open heart, rather than the reaction of your triggered heart, and you are likely to complete the process of repair.

There you have it! Use the three RE’s as described and you will find yourself successfully resolving more conflicts and enjoying more connection with those you love. Obviously, this is neither a fail-proof plan nor a comprehensive map. It is simply a guide. Do the work – see their heart, own your impact, show how much they matter – and you will be well on your way to having peace in your relationships.