Marriage and Mexican Sponges: Why Repair Attempts Matter

A little known fact: our family enjoys the show iCarly. It's probably considered old at this point, but offer up a reasonably clean show with clever characters, for free on Amazon Prime, and you've got yourself some committed Goehmann fans. There is no reason you would need to know or care about this little known fact, save for a thirty-second clip of one episode, involving high emotions and Mexican sponges.

Here's a small synopsis:

There is some drama happening. It is distressing to the friends in the show. It is distressing enough that they have a heightened emotional reaction to it. They are discussing said drama with raised voices, faster speech, wringing hands, and anxious faces. They feed one another's deep concern over the drama, bantering back and forth about who did what and what is going to happen next. They reach a near frenzy of stress over the whole ordeal. At this moment, the oldest brother walks into the house from a shopping trip, and is met by three voices firing words at him like cannons, words like, "You wouldn't believe it! Guess what happened! What are we going to do? How did this happen?" And so on and so forth.

Spencer, this brother, with eyes like a deer caught in the headlights of a semi, reaches into his shopping bag, pulls out a single item, and sings these words jovially:

“But Mexican sponges!”

Problem solved.

Not really, but the entire room of zigging and zagging emotions comes down about twenty-seven notches, everyone takes a deep breath, and they all sit down to discuss the problem. These characters can talk, discuss, and have a conversation that sounds kinder and more pleasant, even if the topic is still distressing.

It may be a sitcom, but these fictional characters just used an important skill in any family, in any marriage, called the repair attempt.

Dr. John Gottman, a prominent marriage researcher and therapist, defines the repair attempt as “any statement or action---silly or otherwise---that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”

This is how this might play out in your own life. The evening starts off well enough. You have dinner, maybe you take a walk, or you watch a show. Then someone says something, and the race is off. Someone is mad, someone else is hurt, words start to fly around, you each attempt to solve whatever problem has come up but each of you are just becoming more frustrated, more shocked at your spouse's position on the matter and their lack of empathy toward your stance. Anger rushes in, maybe some sadness too. The words get harsher and louder, and you can feel that shutdown is imminent. It's time for a repair attempt.

Ephesians 4:32 shares this truth with us -

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Repair attempts help us to return to that tenderhearted place where the forgiveness of Christ can roll out of our hearts. When emotions overload and we feel like we're coming undone, we need Jesus to step in and remind us that our spouse is the very image of God, His precious child, dearly loved, by Him and us.

A repair attempt reaches out the hand of kindness so that forgiveness can happen.

In our house, it has taken sixteen years to really find a good one. We've tried hugging it out, someone making a joke, and someone getting a tissue to hold it out as a peace offering. These are great repair attempts. They just never worked for us. They never returned us to kind and tenderhearted. The goal of a repair attempt is the break into the emotion of the moment, to bring it back to a reasonable place where you can move forward as a couple. Mexican sponges finally did that. When one or both of us gets so emotionally charged that we start to sound like chipmunks and the words begin to pummel rather than gently express a viewpoint, one of us says “Mexican sponges!” in this really silly voice. You would think it would be annoying or make someone more irritated, but it doesn't. Every single time we start laughing and the tension of the moment is broken, and we can have a conversation like normal human beings.

“I'm sorry” are two of the most important words you will ever use in your marriage. Vital. Life-altering. Forgiveness and reconciliation is the glue of marriage. Verbally stating, “I forgive you” is the voice of Jesus to your spouse speaking grace and mercy into their life. What a blessing!

But first we need to get there---to open the door of tenderhearted and the eyes of kindness on our spouse once again.

What is your repair attempt? You might be able to identify something you or your spouse does that you now have a name for. If not, you now have a fun new marriage project. Work on finding one! Talk it out with your spouse. Ask them, “What would be something silly or tender that would help each of us return to acting reasonable when we get in a heated argument?”

God is alive and well and at work in each of our marriages. Jesus cares for you, He cares for your spouse, and He cares for your family. Utilizing repair attempts is just another way to invite His kindness, His forgiveness into the stressful moments of life and let Him do His work.

Who knew that kind and tenderhearted looks a lot like Mexican sponges?

Thanking God today for small victories and His presence in my marriage and yours.

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Heidi Goehmann

Heidi is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health provider, deaconess, writer, speaker, wife, mom, and advocate. She can always be found at, advocating and providing resources for mental health and genuine relationship. Heidi loves her family, sticky notes, Jesus, adventure, Star Wars, Star Trek, and new ideas . . . not necessarily in that order.

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