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Home » Maxims » When it comes to repair, the fastest wins.

When it comes to repair, the fastest wins.

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,

Our brain is biased toward making war than love. Our brainstem and lower limbic structures are always on the lookout for threat and danger. And painful memories are more easily made than pleasurable ones. This bias serves the human imperative “thou shalt not be killed.” Memories are formed, at least in large part, by glutamate (neurotransmitter) and adrenaline (hormone). Strong or intense emotional experience, aided by glutamate and adrenaline, will help long term memory formation, particularly if the emotional intensity is protracted.

When one person hurts another, intentionally or not, the injured party seeks relief. If relief is not provided in a timely manner, that hurt will likely go into long term memory. When partners ignore or dismiss injuries or make unskillful attempts at repair, the offending partner is CREATING a bad memory in the injured partner — something that will certainly come back to haunt.

Remedy: Fix, repair, make right, or do whatever is necessary to relieve an injured partner (can be a child or any other adult) FAST or as quickly as possible to keep that experience from going into long term memory. From the point of injury to the point of repair (relief) — the clock is ticking and it is ticking against both parties. An acute reaction to injury changes neurochemistry and that as mentioned can be remedied by swift repair. However, chronic reaction to injury can have deleterious effects on both brain and body. Chronic hurt (bad feelings) due to improper or non-existent repair leads to negative psychobiological consequences for both the injured and offending partner. The relationship becomes more dangerous, negative thoughts and emotions amplify and spill over to other events, and both partners immune systems take a hit.

Repair, fix, relieve your partner even if it isn’t/wasn’t your fault. The fastest wins and those who delay will lose.

Don’t just take my word for it. See for yourself and let me know.

Copyright 2012 — Stan Tatkin, Psy.D. — all rights reserved


  1. Enjoyed the blog Stan! Thanks a lot.

    Going to push share and repost on my Facebook page.


  2. Ed Morrison says:

    Great way to put it, Stan. Carol and I keep getting better at it. Repair better and faster and we’re happier.



  3. Lon Rankin says:

    Most helpful, Stan.

    This maxim is at the heart of the work with my clients, and helping them relaize this, and move towards doing something else is very gratifying.

    Also, getting to practice it in my own marriage has confirmed for my wife and myself the truth, and power, of this awareness. We’re getting fast! and so I can testify to its effectiveness.

    Thanks for sharing this potent guiding principle in an area so important for so many of us.


  4. Tom Olschner says:

    I think this is a powerful principle and I’m glad to better understand the neuroscience behind it. I’d like to offer a spiritual integration perspective. On his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who says to his brother [you are an Air-head], is answerable to the Sanhedrin…Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:22-24). Couples often argue that they did nothing wrong. I like this teaching because the focus is not on whether you’ve done something wrong toward your brother for which you need to ask for forgiveness. The focus is on whether your brother (this would include your partner!) has something against you. If so, it is imperative that YOU initiate the reconciliation. I think that this teaching also speaks to the importance of the urgency of the need for reconciliation, “Drop what you’re doing and go be reconciled NOW!” I think that understanding the neurobiological mechanics of that urgency can empower couples to act to bring reconciliation.


  5. James says:

    Nice piece, Stan -this info is a great foundation for persuading folks that rapid repair is essential. So glad you’re doing this blog!


  6. Mark Reid says:

    I have been using this idea quite a bit with couples along with amplifying the positive. When the idea of quick repair is difficult for them it then indicates a deeper issue that can then be explored.


  7. springload says:

    Thanks for this! More please!


  8. Ruth Martin says:

    i see it also in clients who are still waiting for the Magic Phone Call from the offending parent(s). It’s the holding on, refusal to reframe, forgive, etc. that has to also have been changing their neurochemistry. what about this kind of situation, Stan. I would love to hear your take on this.


  9. Lale Akat says:

    cristal clear explanation! Grateful!


  10. Michael says:

    Stan–Not sure if you’re still reading these, but…
    I like this and generally agree, but what this scenario: an angry-resistant/avoidant couple where the angry-resistant is overly quick to try to repair because of her need for reassurance and the avoidant tends to excessively need space after conflict. Couldn’t this suggestion drive the angry-resistant to try to repair too early and too often, thus provoking more conflict, when allowing space (and then repairing) is what the avoidant needs?


  11. […] Repair quickly What distinguishes successful couples from those that break-up is the ability to repair swiftly. Hurt, injury, conflict are all normal, inevitable and necessary for growth within a relationship. […]


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