5 Steps To Take When You “Screw Up” With Your Partner

With Your Partner


So many couples avoid discussion  with  their partner when one  of them “screws up”– because they fear their partner’s reaction.

Actually, both sides need to make an effort to repair this situation.

Here are the steps you need to take to find peace within  yourself and with your partner, according The Couples Therapy Institute.


Step #1.

Tolerate the discomfort  created  by this situation and explore  your partner’s disappointment.

Take role of  a journalist  collecting the data about your partner’s reaction.  So, go ahead and ask as many questions  as possible so as to  see the situation through your partner’s eyes.  You can ask, for example: “How did you feel while it was happening?”  “How did you interpret my actions/behavior while it was happening?” “What do you wish I had done differently?”


Repeat back to you partner what you heard him or her  say to check whether you understand correctly.

Act like a journalist,  collecting the data and reporting what you have learned about the situation/problem. It will be difficult to stay at that moment and tolerate the discomfort, because you don’t like what you’ve been hearing from your partner.

Nonetheless, say back to your partner  what you heard him or her  say to you as  accurate as possible.  Check you body language and tone– it is very important how you present the data you have collected.

Step#3: Empathize.

Try to see the situation through your partner’s eyes, acknowledging their suffering.  Say something like this: “Given what happened, I understand why you would feel what you are feeling.”

Step #4: Apologize.

Summarize the talk. Example: “When I forgot  to pick up kids after their swimming lesson when I promised to do so, you felt very hurt and  angry, and you thought that I don’t care about our kids, about you or our relationship.I can understand how hurtful it was for you. I never intend to cause those feelings in you.”

Step #5:  invite your partner to discuss how to prevent future mistakes.

Your partner will hear that you are taking responsibility and want to prevent the problem from happening again. You can say, for example: “Going forward, I will put all events on my calendar so that I won’t forget.” Or “Can we discuss a more effective system for coordinating events so that this won’t happen again?”

In relationships, there are going to be screw ups.  The most important thing is how you handle them.  Practice will help you grow stronger as an individual and as a couple—it’s the kind of thing that helps keep a good relationship working. Keep practicing to enjoy the rewards!

Please feel free to leave comments/questions!



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10 thoughts on “5 Steps To Take When You “Screw Up” With Your Partner

  1. Thanks for the great advice here. I have made notes and next time I mess up (which will happen) I will refer back to this. It makes absolute sense reading this that it is the right way to approach a situation where one screws up but we must then implement these steps for a positive outcome.

    1. My clients reported me that as they trusted in the process and were able to stay with the tension and to facilitate an empathic reply – this really surprised them with a result of an increased sense of trust.

      They were able to connect on a new and deeper level that may continue, although they may do slip back into old ways often – but then important to remember to do the initiating and don’t feel fearful of speaking up as they both feel safer having felt the soothing moments. It’s hard but worth the effort. Thank you for reading and wishing to take a risk trying! Of course, it is much easy and safer to try this the first time with a therapist present in the room. Thanks for reading!

  2. Hi, I really like this approach to working through conflict. I can see the benefits and how it would work but how do you get to the point where this type of communication is possible, usually both sides are heated and we tend to say hurtful things as a defense? Separation, maybe a 10 min time out to clear the anger?


    1. Shannon, thanks for a great point. Yes, it is challenging to stay calm during the heated conversation. People easily go to the emotional reaction vs thoughtful response, they may say hurtful things and regret later. There are many techniques for managing anxiety. One of them is to bring focus to your physical state- notice your breathing and slow it down. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, exhale for 8. In addition, touch any object close to you-table, chair, wall to zoom out. Feel your feet on the ground, refocus your attention. Choose your words and stay respectful.

  3. Great advice! I think that this advice will solve a lot of problems. I am not in a relationship now, but I know that I have been here for sure. I am pretty good at talking things out. However, I have been in relationships with a few that just don’t like to talk or open up about things that happen. With the texting these days, I find a lot of couples use this. I don’t like it. I think it is much better to talk in person, so that there is a clear understanding. Things can be interpreted wrong in a text.

    1. You noticed rightly that many couples use texting instead of talking about unpleasant things. At first glance, this helps them to manage their anxieties. It helps them avoid confrontation and unpleasant feelings. Starting an unpleasant conversation with your partner is challenging and requires skills that come with practice.These skills are very helpful not only for personal relationships, but also in professional life.

  4. Great article! I learn a lot from it, this will help me in my relationship in future! I will read more on your other post too. Cheers

  5. Hi… Love this post… definitely something I can relate to. These are wonderful tips and made a lot of notes. Thank you. Keep up the good work!

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