Updated: Oct 8
Have you ever had an argument with your partner that left you seething with rage? Are you left with the sting of hurtful words and actions long after your partner is ready to move on?
Whatever the case, fighting with your partner is painful, but you can do a few things to ease back into things after a fight—even in a high-conflict relationship. So here’s everything you need to know about how to make up after a fight with your partner.
What Causes Couples to Fight?
It's a question that has plagued humankind for centuries—why do some couples fight viciously while others seem to coexist in bliss? If you're struggling to understand why your partner is constantly at odds with you, you're not alone. After years of research into what makes couples tick, studies have drawn some compelling conclusions.
Couples that have been together for two years or less fight about sex and trust.
At the beginning of a relationship, you're still trying to establish your boundaries, wants, and needs. So naturally, the issue of sex can be a real trigger early on. How often do you both prefer to do it? What kinds of fantasies and preferences do you have? What insecurities do you have? If your desires aren't understood or aligned, it can quickly lead to discontent.
The issue of physical intimacy frequently leads to another significant hurdle of budding romance—building trust. You may find yourself wondering if your partner is genuinely faithful or if you can actually trust their word. Liking another woman's post on social media or referencing a co-worker as a "work-husband" may stoke the flames of jealousy and spark a slew of explosive arguments between you.
Couples that have been together for longer fight about annoying habits, chores, and money.
When you first start dating someone, you tend to overlook specific quirks that could potentially drive you crazy in the long run. After all, you're more worried about whether Dave from accounting will swoop in and whisk your lover away from under your nose.
But once you get past the honeymoon phase, especially for cohabitating partners, you start to notice little things about your partner that get under your skin. Piles of laundry, dirty dishes in the sink, overspending on delivery, the way they clink their spoon on the bowl while they slurp cereal—everyone has their little pet peeves regarding irritating habits. Over time, these minor issues can turn into big problems that cause couples to fight.
Most fights have this one thing in common.
No matter how long you've been together or what inspired your disagreement in the first place, most fights can be traced back to one fatal relationship flaw.
Bottled-up feelings, misunderstandings, and miscommunication are the root causes of most fights. You leave room for misinterpretation and misalignment when you don't communicate effectively. This lack of clarity can easily lead to resentment, anger, and frustration—and that's when fights break out.
What Not to Do While You Fight With Your Partner
Once communication goes off the rails and things start to get heated between you, it can feel tempting to let the adrenaline take over. But succumbing to the temptation of your fury and frustration can lead to explosive tempers, hurtful words, and regrettable actions. So let's cover what you shouldn't do next time things go south.
Don't stonewall your partner.
In Dr. John Gottman's years of relation expertise and research into what makes relationships fail, he found four toxic communication styles that tend to degrade the integrity of a relationship over time.
The first is called stonewalling. Stonewalling is another way of saying you're giving your partner the cold shoulder. While taking time apart is fine, refusing to speak to your partner for hours, days, or weeks does far more harm than good.
Don't unleash all your bottled-up criticisms.
Another harbinger of death for relationships is word vomiting all the things that frustrate you about your partner at once.
Complaints about your partner's behavior or communication style are normal, but there's a time and place to raise your concerns. Listing all of your criticisms in anger will only make matters worse.
Don't speak with contempt and say things you'll regret.
The next toxic communication habit is allowing yourself to say mean-spirited things while you're angry with your partner.
Contemptuous remarks can eat away at the trust and affection that bonds you together. So avoid letting your sharp tongue get too carried away.
Don't be defensive about your partner's feelings.
Finally, Gottman identified defensiveness as the final harmful communication pattern between couples.
Defensiveness means defending your position by attacking your partner instead of listening to them. Instead of trying to understand your partner's point of view, you attack theirs.
How to Make Up After You Fight With Your Partner
Making up after a fight can be difficult, especially if it was a big one. However, getting back on track doesn't have to be complicated if you follow these expert tips for clearing the air.
1. Take time apart.
When you're upset, it's easy to want to lash out at your partner. It's also natural to feel like you need to "get things off your chest." The problem with this approach is that it rarely works. In fact, studies show that taking time apart from each other actually helps you both calm down and come back together stronger.
So instead of letting things continue to escalate after the fight, take a breather. Go for a walk, take a bubble bath, whatever you need to do to relax. Just avoid engaging in unhealthy coping strategies like drugs and alcohol.
2. Start with an apology.
Once you've cooled it and you both feel ready to come back together, it's time to be humble. Fights are hurtful for both sides, no matter who "started it." Apologize to your partner for any words or actions that may have upset them. This is especially important if:
You raised your voice.
You made comments out of contempt.
You let your partner down.
Even if you feel like your partner did more damage than you, apologizing for the part you played in the disagreement helps your partner feel less defensive. In addition, you're opening the door for them to make things right and offer an apology of their own.
3. Validate your partner's perspective.
It's not always easy to hear what someone else says when you're mad. But listening without jumping to conclusions is essential to building healthy relationships. Once you've exchanged apologies, it's time to get back on the same page.
While it's not always necessary to perform a complete post-mortem on every fight, you should at least get to the bottom of what caused it in the first place. Start by asking your partner to share their perspective—and I can't stress this enough—don't interrupt or disagree with them as they share their side. Listen with neutral emotions.
Once they're done, ask them questions to help clarify any points that seemed foggy. If you disagree with their point of view even after gaining clarity, that's okay. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree to move forward.
4. Use I statements.
Now, it's your turn to share. Don't worry so much about whether your partner entirely agrees with everything you have to say. It's normal for couples to have diverging perspectives on what might have been done differently.
Instead, share what happened from your point of view and how it made you feel using "I" statements. For example, "I felt hurt when you said..." or "I was surprised when you told me..." These types of statements acknowledge your feelings without implying blame. They also allow you to express yourself clearly and honestly.
5. Set goals for next time.
Finally, it's time to look forward. What would you like to happen between you and your partner in the future? Think about how you'd like to handle disagreements in the future. How will you work on talking through issues before they arise? What will you do differently to show your concern for the other person's feelings?
Commit to doing better and stick with it.
When You Can't Stop Arguing With Your Partner
If you find it challenging to stop arguing with your partner, your communication styles could likely use a reboot. The good news is that once you and your partner start working on these steps, you'll find it easier to keep your cool.
Couples counseling is a great way to learn how to better communicate with your partner, navigate complex topics, and rebuild your relationship with a stronger foundation of trust and care.
Find out how couples counseling can improve your marriage.