Mindpath Health’s Leanne Leonard, LMFT, helps discuss how to recover from a bad fight with your partner.
No matter how healthy or stable your relationship is, getting in a bad fight can throw you off balance.
Depending on what was said (or not said), you might be left struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, sadness, or anxiety. In some situations, you may even feel insecure about your bond, or question your long-term compatibility.
But couples’ therapists say it’s totally possible to bounce back from a fight even stronger than before. The key? Taking a few steps that will help you learn from the experience, repair the trust, and rebuild emotional intimacy.
“Think of a fight in a relationship as an injury or kind of like a small tear in the fabric of the relationship,” says Marc Zola, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It can be healed, but it requires attention and care — just as any wound would.”
According to Zola, we all seek emotional security in different ways after a fight. While some people need some space to process what happened and recenter themselves, others crave connection. So just keep in mind that what works for one couple might not work for you — and furthermore, you and your partner may have different needs.
That said, there are some strategies that can benefit almost any couple.
“You want to ask yourself: ‘How can I show my partner they still matter to me?’” says Stacey Sherrell, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and co-founder of Decoding Couples.
After a bad fight, experts recommend trying the following techniques for recovering and moving forward.
Check in With Yourself
Before you do anything, Sherrell advises doing an internal check-in to see what you might be needing. Remember: there’s no right or wrong answer here. Taking the time to consider what will be most helpful to you in the aftermath of a fight will ensure that you can move on more quickly and effectively.
“If you are still upset or dis-regulated from the fight, it is going to be hard to make up or repair with your partner in an effective way,” she explains. “By doing a self-check-in, you can then take care of your own needs first — whether that’s having some alone time to cool off or facilitating closeness with your partner.”
Find yourself needing some space? Shivers recommends taking a walk, hopping in the shower, working out, or doing another activity that will allow you to mentally disengage from whatever the argument was about.
Find Some Common Ground
After a disagreement, it can feel like you and your partner are worlds apart. Since these situations highlight your differences, it’s more important than ever to rediscover what opinions and perspectives you do share.
“Find something your partner said during the fight that you agree with and start there,” says Leanne Leonard, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Mindpath Health. “This strategy helps you to not only empathize with and validate your partner’s position, but it shows them that you’re listening.”
It could be something as small as, “It sounds like you were really hurt that I didn’t show up on time to that event, and I know I would feel the same way,” or “You mentioned that you’ve been feeling like I prioritize work over our relationship, and that’s something that would really frustrate me, too.”
“Most times, once we feel heard in some capacity, our levels of aggression will lower, and we become more receptive to hearing our partners and working toward solutions,” adds Leonard.
Take Some Ownership
While one person may have ‘started’ the fight, a lengthy one is often the product of both people’s misbehavior. Maybe you reacted to your partner by raising your voice, which escalated the conflict — or maybe you shut down and left the room, which made them even angrier.
Whatever your role in the conflict was, licensed marriage and family therapist Michelle Shivers advises taking responsibility and admitting what you could have done differently. This shows that you can recognize how you played a part, and that you’re committed to doing better next time.
“This strategy is effective in reducing finger-pointing and blaming,” adds Leonard. “Acknowledging your own shortcomings can help your partner feel like you are in this together.”
Try Physical Connection.
Numerous studies have shown that physical contact with another person can trigger a flood of feel-good chemicals in your brain — specifically, oxytocin, which dampens stress and fear to help you to feel calmer, and is associated with empathy, trust, and bonding.
For that reason, Sherrell highly recommends trying to initiate physical touch with your partner as soon as you feel ready. This can mean a hug, holding their hand, or even just grazing their back as you walk by.
“These small gestures of physical affection are another simple way to initiate repair,” she says.
Of course, you’ll want to be mindful of your partner’s boundaries, so if they’re not open to making physical contact yet, you can simply ask them to let you know when they’re ready.
Lean into Humor
It may seem counterintuitive, but Sherrell suggests finding opportunities to use humor after a fight. Laughter doesn’t just break the ice — it can be incredibly healing.
“This can be self-deprecating humor, referencing an inside joke, or doing something you know your partner will find silly,” says Sherrell.
To be clear, you probably don’t want to make jokes about your fight, or about your partner, while the wounds are still fresh. But if you see something your partner might think is funny, or you can turn the joke onto yourself, you might be able to ease the post-conflict tension.
When in doubt, even just watching a comedy together or sending them a funny YouTube clip can go a long way in lightening the mood.
Something to keep in mind: Even if you try some or all of these tactics, and things don’t feel back to normal just yet, that’s totally fine.
“Don’t expect things to feel better immediately,” says Sherrell. “When we put pressure on things to be OK, it can oftentimes dismiss the reality of what we or our partner is feeling.”
The point is that by just showing an effort to move forward after a fight, you’re sending a powerful message to your partner that you’re still invested in the relationship, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to repair and rebuild your bond.
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