We have all had moments in our relationships we wish we could take back. Perhaps it was something we said, or something we didn’t say. Maybe it was something we did or didn’t do, like ruining a load of laundry or not getting to it at all. Life is full of opportunities and sometimes we just miss them. It’s part of the human condition, something you’ll hear me speak on often. It’s not always intentional but these remain hurtful at times to those we care about the most.

As we make our way through this broken world, we are bound to break a few things ourselves. It’s important when those times come we have a handful of phrases we can lean on to help us begin the healing process. The quicker and more adept we become at using these the less likely we are to have long periods of disconnect between us and those we love.

I Hear Your Feelings

When your spouse, partner, or child shows anger and begins to elevate in volume it can be helpful to pause and say, “I Hear Your Feelings.” This immediately directs the conversation to where it must go first in most situations.

When someone is demonstrating anger, a secondary emotion, we must begin to seek and find the primary emotions. These primary emotions tend to be more vulnerable and protected by the anger we experience.

Imagine anger as a wall meant to protect us/them from further harm, whether intended or not. Behind that wall are tender vulnerabilities like, embarrassment, rejection, being overwhelmed, disappointment, loneliness, and abandonment among many potential others. Opening ourselves to these is risky, especially in the middle of a conflict.

Anger is a quick, often unconscious, repellant to potential harm and pushes others away when what we really desire is tenderness and closeness in the moment. However, by taking time to connect when we sense this by saying “I hear your feelings” we are letting the other know we are aware there is more going on than just our perceptions of the facts and that they, as a person, matter more to us than winning an argument in the moment.

We can show our concern and interest in knowing what the person is experiencing and feeling in the moment. By saying “I hear your feelings”, calmly and softly, in these moments we can begin the process of opening the conversation that leads down the path of connection and healing.

Tell Me More

Once you’ve begun to hear beyond the anger and have uncovered some of the previously hidden vulnerabilities, your work has just begun. It is at these moments many are quick to want to resolve the pain and jump to fixing whatever it was that brought up the tension in the relationship. Instead, this is a good time to bring in phrase two, “Tell Me More.” This communicates you have a genuine interest in what the other is feeling in the moment and are not looking to move on too quickly and simply sweep this incident under the rug.

“Tell me more” is such a powerful phrase. It can be used in many types of conversations and allows the other to feel as though you are truly engaged with them and conveys your interest in what they have to say.

Imagine yourself in your last argument or disagreement. How would you have experienced that exchange if the other had at some point simply showed interest in you and your opinion, by saying “tell me more about why you think that/feel that.”

This statement opens a whole different world of conversation. It shows curiosity and interest in someone beyond ourselves. For this moment, we focus the attention on what someone else has to say. This is such a rare trait in a world full of selfies and posts for likes and shares directed to boost our own opinions and self-esteem.

I’m Sorry, I Was Wrong

When we notice we have stumbled into harming someone or just blatantly missed the mark we can say “I’m Sorry.” It seems so simple and yet it can be difficult for many.

Saying “I’m sorry for…” and addressing the issues discovered through slowing down to hear the other conveys a true heartfelt desire to reconcile and heal what has been broken. Why we avoid these words is probably connected to the next phrase which brings with it connection and healing, “I Was Wrong.”

No one wants to be or enjoys being wrong. We spend most of our lives doing what we can to avoid this, and when we are faced with the reality that we missed the mark it can be painful to admit. Saying “I was wrong” can be a humbling experience, one many try to avoid. But in the presence of those we love and trust these moments of humility can foster closeness and connection.

By showing your own vulnerability you welcome others and create a pathway from one heart to another. In every relationship there will be times we miss the mark, times we say or do things that damage the relationship and create barriers to connection. If we can find our way through the pain of the moment by slowing down to 1) Hear the emotion, 2) Listen to the details, and 3) Address where we may have gotten of track by saying “I’m sorry for…, I was wrong.” We increase our opportunities for repairing our relationships quickly and with less pain.

Will/Can You Forgive Me?

The final phrase allows for both parties to close the gap even further. By asking “Will/Can You Forgive Me?” The person who committed the infraction, or unintentionally harmed the other, acknowledges work may still need to be done and a simple conversation may not be enough to simply move on.

There are times when offenses are repeated over and over again. These can be hard to move on from. How can I know you won’t hurt me again tomorrow? How can I believe you are sorry if you do it again and again?

By asking “Will/Can you forgive me?” we allow the harmed to express their final thoughts on the matter. Perhaps they say, “I will work on it, but it may take time.” This is an honest answer. Again, what we want is honesty and dialogue that dives into the thoughts and feelings entwined with our issues.

By giving the other a moment to reflect and answer honestly, we acknowledge healing may be a process that takes time. It also allows them to see us as again admitting where we have hurt them and shows a desire to draw closer when they are ready.

Remain Curious to Understand More Deeply

If you noticed, each of these phrases are other focused. It is important, if we desire to repair and connect in our relationships, that we focus on what those closest to us are feeling and seek to find out what is behind those emotions.

You may be surprised to discover at times you are not really what is ailing your partner. They may not feel secure enough to share with you what is bringing on the specific feeling or are not even aware of what’s really bothering them themselves. However, when you employ these phrases as needed and remain curious about them in order to better understand, you can help them and yourself find ways of connecting that both strengthen and empower your relationship with deeper connection.