How to Get Your Relationship Back on Track After a Terrible Fight
It’s not easy to bring your relationship back to equilibrium after a major fight. Even if you and your partner have come to an agreement, the arguing can really put a damper on things. It might take some time to restore the romance and affection.
If you’re in an unhappy, unhealthy relationship, that’s one thing. Sometimes you just need to know when it’s time to call it quits. But if we all gave up after every fight, everyone would end up alone, so let’s assume you’re in an otherwise healthy relationship and just need to shake off a recent fight. Here are a few ways to bounce back after you’ve both decided the fight is over.
Don’t drag it out
When the dust has settled after a fight, your emotions might still be running high. You may be tempted to throw in some last minute passive-aggressive jabs—maybe you want to make your point, or maybe you just want to get back at the other person. Either way, these jabs, as small as they may be, only prolong the nastiness.
It’s easy to disguise these remarks as jokes, too. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a sense of humor about things, but you’re probably both a little sensitive after an argument and your partner might take a joke the wrong way. Here’s what HelpGuide has to say about it:
Humor can only help you overcome relationship problems when both partners are in on the joke. It’s important to be sensitive to the other person. If your partner or friend isn’t likely to appreciate the joke, don’t say or do it, even if it’s “all in good fun.” When the joking is one-sided rather than mutual, it undermines trust and goodwill and can damage the relationship.
It might feel like you’re walking on eggshells until things go back to normal, but that’s better than prolonging the fight.
Give them space
Give your partner space, but also take some space yourself. After things get ugly, you might need some time alone to reflect, recover, or heal. You might need to not be around your partner while the bulk of your negative feelings pass, and that’s okay.
However, if your partner needs space and you don’t, it can be disconcerting. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Avoid clinging: Sometimes one partner want space after a fight, whereas the other feels clingy. It might feel satisfying to have your partner nearby, but the time they take to reflect can strengthen the relationship in the long-term. Clinging can also make things worse when that person needs to take a time out.
- Reflect: Take the time to focus on your own thoughts and feelings, too.
- Don’t punish them: If your partner says he or she needs some time alone, respect that. Don’t take it personally and later withhold yourself as punishment.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Bernstein, psychologist Dr. Hal Shorey explains that it’s important to wait to talk. Space can give you the necessary time to cool down:
“You don’t want to have a discussion while the other person is still hot,” Dr. Shorey says. “I can’t tell you how many people will think it’s better to say right away: ‘I’m sorry. I was a jerk.’ And the other person says, ‘Yes, you were.’ And then the argument escalates again.”
Of course, if you need space, at least reassure your partner that you love them and things will be okay. A little emotional support can go a long way, even if you need to go cool off.
It’s cliche, but communication really is key in any relationship. To get back on track with your partner, it’s important to understand and communicate how you feel about the situation. Even if you don’t know how you feel, or you feel like you need time alone, you should let the other person know where you stand. It can be hard to communicate honestly and calmly after a fight, but eHow puts it this way:
Go out of your way to be open with him, no matter how hard it may seem as first. If you do not know what your partner expects of you and he doesn’t know what you expect of him, you are both setting yourself up for a lot of misunderstandings and a potentially big disaster.
If you’re having a more detailed conversation to reflect on the fight, keep a couple of things in mind to keep from opening up recent wounds:
Give up the need to be right
Accept responsibility for how you made your partner feel, Dr. Shorey says. For the well-being of the relationship, give up the need to drive home your point.
Don’t be defensive
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. If your behavior made your partner feel a certain way, give up your need to defend yourself. This could keep the argument going. Accept their feelings and consider the big picture. If you really feel you need to clarify why you behaved a certain way, you can always do this later, when the fight is truly over and things have calmed down.
Dr. Shorey offers another great tip: accept that the relationship might take some time to fully heal, but schedule some time to check back in about where you stand after some time has passed. This could be especially useful for more intense fights.
It may also be helpful to come to an agreement and set boundaries and rules for the future. In reflecting on the fight, consider what you could do differently next time. The University of Texas’ Mental Health Center has some ground rules to get you started:
- Deal with only one issue at a time. Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
- No hitting below the belt. Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
- Avoid accusations. Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than on understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
They offer more guidelines in the full post. Overall, you want to make sure your post-argument communication is productive. It might be necessary to establish some rules as a couple or even individually to keep from dragging out the fight.
It’s rarely productive to force things, but there’s something to be said for “fake it til you make it.” When you find yourself in a rut after a fight, sometimes it helps to simply be kind and affectionate to each other. eHow explains this:
Show a little love and caring by sharing sweet words and actions. Relationships often experience hostility and resentment when one or both parties feel unappreciated or unloved… Whether it is engaging in small acts of affection (such as giving your boyfriend a pat on the back as you walk out the house in the morning) or sending him a “just because I care” text message when he’s at work, the little things can go a long way.
This may not work as well if you’re still really steamed. But it’s a good start if you’re feeling stuck. A little kindness could serve as a reminder that you care about each other, and you care about the relationship. You don’t have to pretend like nothing happened; it’s just a little nudge in the right direction.
Talk to a professional
If you’re really having trouble seeing eye-to-eye, it could be that the conflict isn’t truly over. In this case, it might be best to talk to a professional. A counselor or therapist can help you understand your feelings and work through them in one way or another. Also, check out our posts on how to pick a couples therapist and what to expect when you start seeing one.
Recovering from a fight can take time. Even if you’ve both agreed that the fight is over, it can be hard to move past that situation and get back to where you were. Communication, understanding, and respect will do well to get your relationship back on track.
This story was originally published in 2015 and was updated on December 1, 2020 to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.