You had a fight, but even though the fight is over you are now left feeling raw, distance, and uncertain. Every couple fights. Fights and disagreements are a normal part of relationships, but what makes the difference in a relationship that flourishes vs. one that flounders is their ability to repair and make up after a fight. So how can you make up, resolve conflict, and repair effectively after a fight?
THE DON’TS: What not to do to make up and resolve conflict
Don’t Pretend It Didn’t Happen: You know, you wake up the next morning and life goes on as usual without mention of the night before. The problem with this is that those feelings from the night before get buried rather than resolved. This leads to resentment and to future fights that are fueled and intensified by these unresolved feelings.
Don’t Shutdown and Stay Distant: Sometime the distance can come from a punishing place, but often it is from a more self-protective place. You may be feeling hurt and wanting to protect yourself from more pain. Or you may be feeling uncertain of what to say or how your partner will respond. You may be trying to wait it out to see if it is “safe” again. But often when we are shutdown and distant, it ends up communicating rejection and punishment rather than repair and safety.
Don’t Punish: Often when you feel hurt, it is easy to become punishing because you want your partner to understand and feel the hurt they have caused you. It can be a way of trying to be understood and listened to. You may also want to make sure your partner is uncomfortable and affected by what happened so they don’t hurt you again. You might want them to “learn their lesson,” so you can feel safer coming close again. Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t bring the closeness and safety we are seeking.
THE DO’S: What to do to make up and resolve conflict
Do Take Time to Calm Down: This is an important step. During a fight, our bodies become physiologically aroused. When we are aroused, our heart rate goes up, our breathing becomes shallow, and our ability to listen, problem solve, rationalize, and be self-controlled goes off-line. We need to take a minimum of 30 minutes to calm down and do something to get our mind off the fight. It you keep thinking about the fight, you will continue to stay heightened. You will not be able to make up effectively until your body is calm.
Do Talk About What Happened: This is a time to share your perspective with one another and try to understand how each other felt and experienced it. It is important to not criticize one another or try to describe your partner; you are describing your perspective.
Here is an example of a destructive way and a constructive way to communicate:
Destructive: “Last night you were so selfish when I came home. You didn’t even say hello. You just kept looking at your phone. Why is work more important? You don’t even care. I wanted to spend time and you couldn’t even be bothered.”
Constructive: “Last night when I came home, I was hoping to have a warm hello. When I came in, I saw you looking at your phone and I did not see you look up or say hello. I felt ignored and hurt.
Notice the difference: the first one is criticizing the partner, telling the partner what their motive was, and tearing down their character. It judges, criticizes, and falsely describes what the partner was thinking. In the next scenario, the speaker is sharing what they saw, what they hoped for, and how they felt when they saw something different than what they wanted. They stay with their own experience and what they felt.
Do Apologize: Apologizing doesn’t mean you were wrong and they were right. They are not about admitting defeat. Rather, apologizing is about acknowledging that your action and behavior had a negative affect on your partner. It acknowledges you hurt their feelings even if it wasn’t your intent. It’s about taking responsibility for what you contributed.
Do Reflect on What Triggered You: What made me so upset? What was the feeling I was having? What is so difficult for me about having that feeling? What need did I have? Asking those questions can help you gain insight into what was going on inside of you. Often, we focus our attention on what our partner did that was so upsetting, but we need to focus our attention more on what was happening inside of us. This will help us understand and communicate our needs better and also become aware if certain things are “triggering.” When we understand our triggers we have a better chance at understanding what is going on and responding constructively rather than reacting destructively.
Do Acknowledge What You Contributed and What You Could Have Done Differently: It takes two to tango. Both of you contributed to the fight to create it and sustain it. By looking at and talking about what each of you contributed can help you understand the pattern of your fights and dynamic, and begin to find new ways to interact that can deescalate things and keep you in a dialogue rather than a fight.
It takes practice learning to make-up and repair effectively. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind the next time a fight comes up, and try putting it into practice. We can feel awkward and uncertain trying new things, but stay with it and become a master of making-up!