What you will learn from reading this article:
- Why many couples feel distant after a fight even though things go back to “normal”
- How to connect with your partner after a fight
As therapists, we often have couples asking us how to repair their relationship after a fight. The issue is that although things go back to “normal” after a fight, something seems amiss:
- There is an unsaid distance between the couple that they are unsure how to fix
- The pain and hurt from the fight still lingers, and comes up again in future fights
- The fights bring out differences between the couple that are so deep that the couple wonders how to connect again.
So why does this happen?
The most common reason this takes place is because couples focus on damage control and quickly moving on, instead of addressing the underlying issue of the fight.
- One partner might apologise to please the other, but continues to hold resentment because this person never got to share their side of the story.
- One partner might back down to stop the fight, but inside they feel it’s unfair to always sacrifice their needs for the other, and they resent the other for being “selfish”.
- Partners try to brush aside the past and instead focus their attention on other things such as work, chores, or children, but the pain from past fights remain unresolved.
Here are 3 ways couples can repair their relationship after a fight and truly grow together…
1. Recognise when your partner is reaching out
Often after a fight, our defenses are still high and it is difficult to be vulnerable. We are afraid to reach out because we don’t want to be rejected or hurt again.Yet there is a deeper part of us that longs to reconnect with our partner. We might show this in indirect ways like cracking a joke, offering food, moving closer, gentle voice and soft touch, to name a few.These are hints that beneath the tough and fierce exterior, our partner’s tender heart is actually saying, “I don’t want to fight anymore. I miss you. I miss us.”Unfortunately, these signs can be often missed or misconstrued.
For example, during a fight, your partner might ask if you have eaten or if they can make something to eat. But you might say “no” because you are angry with them.
Making an effort to recognise and respond to the subtle ways partners reach out to each other is key to reconnecting after a fight.
2. The one who is more aware has greater choice to respond than react
In our experience, cliche relationship advice about resolving conflicts, like “take time to cool off” or “listen to each other” is NOT PRACTICAL.In reality, it is rare that both parties are able to regulate their emotions and really practice active listening after a fight. It is more common that both parties want to be heard, and no one wants to listen.The only way out of this stalemate is for one party to take charge of their own emotions and hold space for the other. But who will?It is common that one partner may feel that they are the one who is usually more aware and tries to make peace after the fight. If this is you, please know that this does not make you superior or “more evolved”. It means that you have greater power to choose to put your emotions aside and listen to what your partner needs in that moment.
This is very different from suppressing emotions. It is about being fully present with someone – to listen to what they are actually saying and feeling beneath their words, and not allowing your own thoughts and emotions to interfere.
Know that you can process your emotions later, and share how you felt with your partner when they are in a calmer state.
3. Set aside time to reflect and talk about what happened
Every fight reveals a part of ourselves and our partner that we do not fully understand.If we leave each fight unresolved, we continue this lack of understanding, which deepens the divide between partners, and subjects us to having the same argument again and again.The purpose of talking is not t determine who is right or wrong, but to understand each other’s thinking mechanisms better.It is normal for each party to have different mindsets, values, beliefs, fears, needs and wants, depending on past experiences and personality. Each partner’s perspective is valid.
Couples can reflect and talk about:
- Why was I triggered?
- What were my thoughts and feelings at that time?
- What was I actually trying to say?
- What impact did my words and actions have on my partner?
- How can we better manage our emotions and communicate better next time?
A successful relationship is built on consistency. Trust and commitment do not happen overnight, but are built brick by brick when a couple chooses to consistently repair their relationship after every fight.
Every time we get into a fight, we reveal a bit more of our inner self to our partner, beyond the mask that we wear and present to the world. This is how couples grow closer and closer with every fight.
We know from our own experience as a couple that the practice of repairing a relationship is extremely difficult. When your partner is accusing you of things you feel you did not do; when your partner is focusing on your mistakes and not seeing all the good you have done; when your partner is delivering a version of reality that you think is completely untrue and ridiculous, how can one continue to love and connect to your partner?
This is the only way we truly learn how to be a better person. It is easy to show kindness and compassion to someone who is not close to us and is not triggering us. Our true capacity to love reveals itself when the one who is closest to us triggers our deepest flaws and insecurities.
At a deeper level, our partners do this not because they want to bring us down, but because they love us so much that they want to see us become the best versions of ourselves.