how to talk to your partner about your mistakes

In a psychology class about the complexities of close relationships, one topic that always comes up is the less-than-stellar parts of partnerships. These are the times when people accidentally get off track and do things that might make their significant others uncomfortable. To be clear, not every mistake is predetermined, but it is an undeniable fact that people are bound to make mistakes because it is in their nature to do so.


For instance, it's plausible that you pledged a favor to your partner but later overlooked it. Maybe you're now grappling with regret over inconsiderate words that escaped your lips a couple of days back. Alternatively, you might have found yourself in a situation where your partner was sharing their vulnerability, yet you found yourself distant and unattentive. Regardless of whether the misstep is substantial or minor, fumbles are a reality in the journey of any couple. Therefore, it becomes crucial, particularly for couples committed to one another, to possess the skills to effectively mend these emotional wounds.

This takes us to the heart of the matter: how couples can adeptly navigate the path to emotional healing. A recent study delved into this matter by introducing a novel questionnaire centered on the concept of "co-rumination." This term refers to the prolonged and recurring discussion of issues within social relationships. The study built upon earlier psychological research that indicated an individual's manner of processing difficult experiences could influence their emotional state. Two specific facets associated with rumination were highlighted: reflection and brooding. Reflection involves engaging with the problem constructively to find solutions, while brooding entails dwelling on the same negative thoughts and magnifying the issue.

It's evident that the former approach yields progress, while the latter can be detrimental, despite its allure. Although these dimensions of rumination have been applied to relationships (termed co-reflection and co-brooding within the context of partnership), the study team noted a lack of exploration into how romantic partners converse following a misstep. Additionally, they aimed to uncover whether co-reflection and co-brooding influence the trajectory of these conversations.

Their study yielded a measure of co-rumination, which correlated with three forms of communication: co-reflection, co-brooding, and co-avoidance. Co-reflection involved striving for mutual comprehension and addressing the issue at hand, whereas co-brooding involved focusing on personal viewpoints and emotions without making headway. Co-avoidance encompassed evading the issue entirely. Further investigation revealed that co-reflection was the sole approach linked to positive outcomes for partners, such as increased commitment to the relationship, enhanced goodwill, and an individual's capacity to take responsibility and self-forgive. In contrast, co-brooding and co-avoidance correlated with negative experiences, including diminished goodwill, heightened vindictiveness, reduced commitment, and a diminished ability to accept responsibility and forgive oneself.

Undoubtedly, no study is without its limitations. The team acknowledged the necessity for more inclusive research with diverse participant groups. They also emphasized that their study doesn't establish causation between co-reflection, co-brooding, or co-avoidance and specific outcomes. Therefore, further research is required to illuminate the connection between how partners discuss relationship missteps and the outcomes of these discussions. However, given that co-reflecting appears to yield more favorable results for partners, it might be worthwhile to incorporate it into your approach when addressing relational stumbles and the ensuing emotional distress.

Based on the research and questionnaire, here are some potential communication strategies to consider:

  • Acknowledge and validate your partner's emotions (e.g., hurt, hopefulness, fear, anger, sadness, confusion).
  • Temporarily set aside your perspective and truly listen to your partner to understand their viewpoint.
  • Maintain an open and receptive demeanor during the conversation, fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding.

In the intricate dance of relationships, missteps are an inevitable part of the journey. But what truly matters is how we address these emotional wounds and mend the bonds we hold dear. Learning from recent studies, we discover the power of co-reflection—the art of mutual understanding—and its impact on the trajectory of conversations following mistakes. This illuminating research sheds light on communication strategies that can guide couples toward positive outcomes.

As you embark on the journey of emotional healing with your partner, remember that effective communication is the key. By acknowledging each other's emotions, actively listening, and fostering an atmosphere of understanding, you can navigate the complexities of relationship missteps with grace and resilience. Strengthen your bonds through co-reflection and set the course for a more connected and harmonious partnership.

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