It’s not the actual tiff that matters, but what comes after it that can make or break your bond. Rock that part, every single time. Here’s exactly how to bounce back from a fight with your partner.
1. Bring your body to neutral
Often arguments – even over something as silly as who’s been slacking on the dishes – cause some level of distress, making your adrenaline rise and your muscles tense up, says Dr Holly Parker, clinical psychologist and author of If We’re Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone? When that happens, the situation is likely to escalate, while your ability to have a calm conversation, no matter how mentally prepared you feel, is shot. So separate yourself from the stress source (your partner) and take at least 30 minutes to reset via a relaxing activity, like a warm shower or an episode of Friends. Don’t just storm off. Say: “I want to hear you out, but I need a few minutes to simmer down so I can do that,” Parker suggests. He should appreciate that you’re looking out for him too.
2. Reframe the narrative
“Under stress, people divide into opposing camps,” says Dr Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and the author of Why Won’t You Apologize? “We overfocus on what our partner is doing to us or not doing for us and underfocus on ways we can de-intensify the situation.” Sound familiar? You replay the fight in your head, zeroing in on the worst moments, until the idea of snuggling up feels out of reach. Turn the story around: “Think about a time when you weren’t your best self and your partner showed up,” says Parker. Approaching them kindly won’t feel martyrish when you see them as the good person who loves you rather than the jerk who just hurt your feelings. But! Try to avoid communication until you’ve truly hit this step.
READ MORE: 10 Signs You’re In A Toxic Relationship
A couple of hours later…
3. Emphasise the “we”
A big mistake that many of us make after a disagreement is trying to get our point across the second we feel calm again. The problem? Your partner may not be ready to listen to you, for several reasons: they’re still hyped up, they haven’t fully gathered their thoughts or they’re worried that talking will lead right back to fighting. When they’re in a more accepting mindset, they will better hear your feelings, so instead of letting everything gush out, simply remind them that you’re on their side, says Parker. Tell them something reassuring, like “I know we had a hard time there, but I’m confident we’ll figure this out together when we’re ready.”
4. Plan an easy outing
“You can still be affectionate without ‘letting it go’,” Parker says. Meaning, dropping your grudge doesn’t equate to sacrificing your emotions – those are real and shouldn’t be ignored – but it can be a way of helping you reconnect after you’ve cooled down. Once you’ve assured your person that you’re on Team Us, throw out an offer to grab a bite to eat or to see a movie. Enjoying a joint activity takes your minds off the argument and can actually make any bad blood feel a bit less serious, since you’re both reminded of all the fun and light-heartedness you share.
The next morning…
5. Ask the right questions
Try to go about your day as you normally would (e.g. if you usually pour them a cup of coffee, don’t stop now), but make an extra effort to check in. Say: “I had a great time at dinner with you and I’d like to make sure we learn from what happened before that. How are you feeling about it?” Parker recommends. After they respond, follow up with: “How could I have made you feel more heard?” The phrasing lowers their defensiveness, so you should hear sincere feedback expressed in a gentler way. If they’re not ready to talk, ask when they might be ready to; if they say they don’t need to talk at all, ask why they feel that way. Just do your best not to press – “most of the time, they’ll come around to you sooner when they feel you’re respecting their need for space from the issue,” says Parker.
6. Show the love
The day after a fight, when we’re still annoyed by our partner, and they by us, we may be extra sensitive. Normal talk (even “Did you remember to buy toilet paper?”) can somehow sound a little critical, which doesn’t inspire let’s-make-up rosy feelings. “It’s not enough to stop the fighting – you need to speak positively and make them feel valued and chosen,” says Lerner. “No one can survive in a relationship if they feel more judged than admired.” You don’t want to go overboard and be patronising, but a sweet text during the workday can help you both recalibrate.
A few days later…
7. Offer – and accept – the olive branch
Ideally, some breathing room and the opportunity to talk constructively have allowed the two of you to work out your grievances. But if not, it’s time to make amends anyway. Waiting too long to clear up a fight gives resentment a chance to build and can set a standard of avoidance. “Making peace doesn’t mean you’re finished talking about a painful issue; it simply means you have the maturity to end the fight and, if necessary, re-open it later with goodwill,” says Lerner. Even if you don’t come to a plan of action (like making a dishwashing schedule), it’s a resolution in itself just to let your partner know (a) that you realise this is a hot-button topic and (b) what you think you’ll need from them if it comes up again.
8. Set rules for the future
Now that you’ve made up, prevent bigger tornadoes down the road by laying down some guidelines you’ll both be responsible for following, even in the heat of the moment, says Lerner. A few good ones: no name-calling, no threats and no bringing up past wrongdoings. If you or your partner can’t keep the fighting under control, it’s wise to seek professional help. “You should never act as if the intensity of your anger gives you licence to say or do anything,” she says, since, in the end, you’ll only be taking yourself further away from the end goal – a stronger relationship.