How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

Three Parts:Handling the Aftermath of a FightFixing Maladaptive PatternsRestoring the Relationship

You may feel so angry or betrayed after a fight that it may seem near impossible to even imagine repairing the relationship. Yet, it’s difficult to have a healthy relationship without disagreements. Finding a balance of managing the fight and moving on can be difficult, and the way you manage fights can influence your relationship for the better or for worse. Choose to handle the fight in a way that benefits you both and helps move you in a positive direction.

Part 1
Handling the Aftermath of a Fight

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    Take some distance. When you’re in the heat of the fight or the stinging aftermath of a disagreement, it’s difficult to see things as they are. You may start to see the person as “all bad” and that every action he or she takes is somehow an act of defiance against you. However, with some distance, you can start to see the situation (and the person) more clearly. Take a couple steps back and allow yourself to gain some perspective. You may realize you are being critical or harsh, or not taking responsibility for what you contribute.[1]
    • Reflect more on yourself than the other person. Are there things within you that you’re unable to examine, such as guilt, shame, or fear? How do your shadows or demons contribute to your relationship?
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    Talk about the feelings involved. Without jumping back into the fight, talk about what feelings, situations, and other factors led to the poor communication. Specifically, talk about your feelings. What were you feeling before the fight? What about during the fight? Ask these questions to this person and discuss your feelings clearly and openly.[2]
    • You may have felt tired, lonely, hungry, or overwhelmed before the fight. Perhaps you were feeling stressed from work or school and carried the stress home with you.
    • During the fight, you may have felt ignored, defensive, criticized, misunderstood, fearful, overwhelmed, ashamed, or unloved.
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    Identify the missing pieces. Together with the person, ask what went missing in the fight. Was there a misunderstanding? Misperception? Poor communication?[3] How did a discussion turn into a fight, or how did it stay a fight? Identify what set things off course.
    • Think about how to communicate more clearly in the future, or not to jump to conclusions so quickly. What can you learn from the misdirection of this fight?
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    Validate each other. Take a moment away from the specific subject of the fight and focus on validating each other’s feelings. Listen intently when the person speaks. Avoid interrupting or jumping in with your opinion or perspective and instead, allow the person to complete each thought. Lower your defenses and open your heart.[4] Talk about each of your perspectives of the situation, keeping in mind that there is no “wrong” perspective.[5]
    • For instance, the fight may have been about finances, but this person may have been triggered by a fear of not having enough money and lashed out. Instead of fighting about money, acknowledge your partner’s fear and validate those feelings.
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    Accept responsibility. Take ownership for what you contributed to the fight. Admit that you accused your partner, said something mean, or spoke before having all of the information. Admit if you’ve been emotionally closed off, running on empty, taking your stress out on this person, or taking the person for granted. Take responsibility for your words and actions without blaming.[6]
    • Say, “I know I contributed heavily to this fight. I’ve been working overtime at work which has caused me a lot of stress, and I’ve been taking out this stress on you. I haven’t slept well in weeks, so I feel overly sensitive and irritable, and these feelings definitely contributed to the fight.”
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    Forgive. Forgiveness is about freeing yourself and letting go of any resentments or hard feelings.[7] When you hold onto resentment, it can have physical and emotional impacts that negatively impact your life.
    • Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or pretending that the situation didn’t happen, it just means you’re willing to let it go and move on.

Part 2
Fixing Maladaptive Patterns

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    Avoid cycling through demand and withdrawal. Demand and withdrawal can be a popular pattern in a relationship: one person brings up a topic (such as household cleaning, money, or childcare) and the other person immediately withdraws (such as crossing the arms or becoming immediately disengaged). If you notice patterns in your fights, learn to block them from the very beginning. For instance, if the withdrawal response is crossing arms, notice if you (or the other person) begins to cross arms, then take a different approach. Call a “time out” and come back when you feel you can engage differently with each other.[8]
    • When you notice withdrawing behaviors, say, “ I don’t want this conversation to spin in circles like other conversations. Let’s take a break, process what’s going on, and then come back.”
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    Express your feelings. Get out of the habit of blaming the other person for things. This can lead to the person feeling defensive. Saying, “I’m really sad I didn’t see you at the party last night” has a different tone than saying, “Why weren’t you at the party last night? Where were you?” Instead of putting your focus on the other person, put the focus on yourself. Own your feelings and express them in conversations openly. While it may seem more natural to place blame or accusations, turn the focus on yourself and express your feelings.[9]
    • For example, if you’re mad at someone, avoid saying, “I can’t believe what you did, you’re so careless and unkind” and instead say, “I feel really hurt and I’m having a hard time understanding your actions.”
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    Practice self-control.[10] When you’re tempted to explode, start blaming the other person, or get stuck in negative thinking, practice self-control. Find ways to mitigate your negative emotions and control them when they start to erupt. Practice mindful awareness by noticing when your thoughts become negative, what triggers them, and how you release the negative emotions.[11]
    • When noticing negative thoughts or emotions, switch your awareness to your body. Where do you feel the negativity? Can you relax that part of your body? What does the relaxation do to your thoughts and emotions?
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    Change your patterns. You may be more upset with someone’s patterns than who the person actually is. Spend less time figuring who is “right” or who is “wrong” and instead focus on the pattern that is enacted. You may notice you fight more around certain times (like right before visiting your family) or situations (like when rent or the mortgage is due). Instead of getting mad at the person, determine to change the pattern.[12]
    • If you see a pattern of fighting when dishes are in the sink, say, “I notice things get tense between us when we neglect the dishes. I don’t want to fight, so I’m wondering if we can do this differently.”
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    Acknowledge your differences. Some things will be near impossible to accept or see eye to eye on with certain people. Accept each other’s differences without criticism or blame.[13] Acknowledge that you can love this person despite the differences you have. Recognize that there is no one person on the planet that will agree with you on everything. You can learn to talk about why you hold these specific differences and how they are influenced. Some things cannot be changed and it’s okay to acknowledge that.
    • For instance, you may have a particular political stance due to how you were raised, what you’ve experienced, or in tandem with certain beliefs. Express this to the other person and allow the other person to express this view to you, too. Then, accept the person, even if he or she differs from you.

Part 3
Restoring the Relationship

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    Build trust. Trust is an integral part of a relationship, and there are ways to gradually build trust over time. When you suspect the person is distressed, choose to move toward the person and not away from the person. Respond in a gentle, kind, understanding, non-defensive and empathetic way.[14] This is especially important when you want to do one thing but it looks like the person needs some support. Make the decision to support the person and let go of your wants for the moment.
    • If you notice the person looks sad, ask what is going on. Show your care and trust in small ways by being there and not ignoring even “small” occurrences.
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    Share insecurities with each other. Reflect on whether shame exists in the relationship. You or your partner may feel shame about behavior or one of you may try to shame the other in a fight. As much as you can, keep shame out of the relationship. If it does exist, talk about it. Things like guilt and shame do not motivate positive behavior or encourage change.[15]
    • To deal with insecurities, guilt, and shame, talk about the insecurities you have in your relationship. Share your story and ask for empathy from your partner.
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    Restore emotional intimacy. One of the best parts of a budding relationship is getting to know the other person, finding commonalities, and discovering parts of yourself along the way. Relive this period by sharing and asking questions. Share your hopes, dreams, silly thoughts, and even your insecurities.[16]
    • Find some discussion questions or come up with your own. You can start with, “If you could know one thing about your past or your future, what would it be?” or “If given the chance to speak with an animal, which animal would you chose, and what would you ask?”
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    Touch. Reach out and bridge the separation between the two of you with a warm hug. Touch (like hugging, placing your hand on a shoulder, or holding hands) can help to connect you two and build compassion.[17] Touch can help you re-establish connection and begin to rebuild emotional bonds.
    • If your fight is with your romantic partner, don’t lose sight of touch. Reach out and show your partner that you are there in support and love, both emotionally and physically.
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    See a therapist. Especially if you have a fight with your partner, a therapist can be helpful. A therapist can help you work through deeply embedded problems in your relationship and approach them more healthfully. Couples therapy can help you communicate better, resolve conflicts more effectively. And enhance your emotional connection.[18]
    • Even if the relationship is not romantic, you can still seek therapy together. Therapy can be helpful in healing family relationships, such as with your parents or siblings.

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Categories: Relationship Issues