“I Need a Do-over!” 5 Ways to Fix Relationship Missteps

Not assertive? Give yourself permission to try these "do-overs."

Posted Mar 19, 2015


Take a mulligan!

Source: Wikimedia

This blog was co-authored by Meg Selig and Clare Lord.

Clare’s not much of a golfer, so she was intrigued when her partner at a charity event teed off (badly) and declared, “I’m taking a mulligan!” 

“A mulligan? What’s that?” 

“You know, a ‘do-over’—you get to start fresh.”

She thought, “Wow…wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life?”  And then she realized…we can!  Whether you came on too strongly or didn’t speak up at all, it’s usually not too late to loop back to that situation and make a more assertive statement. Since acting in accord with your values can restore your good opinion of yourself, “do-overs” can also boost your self-esteem.

Assertiveness” is usually defined as “directness, honesty, and standing up for yourself in appropriate ways while respecting the rights of others.”  But for many of us, learning how to communicate our wants and needs directly and firmly is akin to learning a new language. It takes effort and practice and initially seems awkward. Moreover, most of us feel unprepared to address an issue in the moment, especially when caught off guard.

While you are stuck with some decisions, others can be changed. In these cases, you have the opportunity to regroup and plan your “do-over.” 

Source: Wikimedia

So let's say you’ve been a bully or a doormat and want to save the situation, but you can't quite find the right words. To help you out, here are 5 ideas for looping back to those awkward moments and giving yourself a second chance. We’ve supplied “starters,” stories, and ready-made scripts that you could use for typical do-overs:

1. Starter: “I promised myself…”

Sara’s neighbor expects her to drive her to multiple appointments and never offers to split the cost of gas or says thank you. Sara feels disrespected and unappreciated in these situations. Still, she is afraid to confront her friend and possibly damage the friendship. But when her neighbor recently asked for yet another favor, she was prepared. She took a deep breath and said, “Audrey, I promised myself that the next time this happened, I would say something. Our relationship is important to me and I value the chance to discuss this. First, I could use some help paying for gas—can you chip in? Also, I sometimes feel taken for granted. It would mean a lot to me to hear that you appreciate it when I drive you around.”  Audrey harbored no hard feelings, and Sara felt a weight had been lifted off her.

Possible script: “I promised myself that the next time this came up, I would say something. When _____ happens, I feel _________.  I would prefer _______.”

2. Starter:  “I owe you an apology….”

As author Dana Adam Shapiro drily notes: “You can be right, or you can be married.”  Lindsay’s husband Andrew surprised her by picking up the groceries. Unfortunately, he forgot a critical item and she let him have it—again. He retreated in angry silence. Lindsay, instead of her usual justifying self-talk, realized that continually taking out her stress on Andrew was affecting their marriage. She took a few moments to calm down, sought out her husband, and said, “Andrew, I owe you an apology. I’m stressed about my new job, but regardless, I shouldn’t take it out on you, especially when you are trying to help. I’m truly sorry I yelled at you—can I have a do-over?” 

Possible script: “I owe you an apology. I realize that when I said/did _______, I was wrong. Can I have a do-over?”

3. Starter: “I’m so glad you like my idea!”

Jonathan and Annie are colleagues in a fast-paced, competitive field. During a team meeting, Jonathan presented an idea that really got his boss’s attention. The only problem was that it originally came from Annie. Fuming, she said nothing for 10 minutes—“good girls” don’t make a scene. As he continued, Annie suddenly realized a better option: “Jonathan! I’m so flattered that you like my idea…perhaps I could explain to the team what made me think of it and how we can apply it in this situation?” You go, girl!

Possible script:  “I’m so glad/flattered that you like my idea.  I thought of it when____.  I’d like to take a moment to explain how I see it applying to this situation.”

4. Starter: “I realized I made a mistake.…” or “Can we rewind?”

Often you will feel an immediate stab of regret after committing to a project or a person. If this is the case, remind yourself of a basic assertive right—the right to change your mind. For example, Penny’s friend Isabelle asked her to be treasurer of a group, flattering her ego by telling her how good she was with money. Penny agreed.  Later that day, she had qualms about taking on yet another project, so she called her friend and said, “Isabelle, I need to push the rewind button! Right after I agreed to be treasurer, I realized I just don’t have the time. Please find someone else, and I apologize if this is inconvenient for you.”  

Possible script: “I realized I made a mistake when I offered to________.  I’ve realized I just don’t have the _________(time/money/expertise). I’m going to have to say no/re-schedule for now.”

5. Starter: “I didn’t know what to say when you…”

Robert and his wife Janine were having dinner with friends when she made some “humorous” remarks about a poor financial choice he had made. He felt injured but didn’t know how to defend himself in front of his friends. Later, he said, “I didn’t know what to say when you made fun of me. I felt betrayed and disrespected. In the future, please do not bring up sensitive or personal subjects like that with our friends.”

Possible script: “I didn’t know what to say when you ______________.  I felt _______.  In the future, please _________________.”

“I think I need a do-over about something.”  This statement is itself an all-purpose way to start a courageous conversation.  Make mulligans a part of your relationship repertoire! 

© Meg Selig and Clare Lord, 2015

Clare Lord is the Executive Director of WISE Philosophy, a wellness program that helps people get to the root of their emotional hunger. Parts of this blog are based on her teaching materials. Clare lives and works in Montreal. For more information, visit www.wisephilosophy.ca, follow her on Twitter @WISEphilosophy or on Facebook at WISE Philosophy.

Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. For updates on health, happiness, and habit change, click on the Facebook and Twitter buttons below her photo at the top of the blog. To see more of her blogs, click on “Changepower” above the photo.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like these:

“The Assertiveness Habit”

“Speak Up! 18 All-Purpose Assertiveness Phrases”

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