Conflict is inevitable, but relationship damage is not. Knowing how to make up after a fight is called relationship repair. If you learn how to repair your relationship after a fight, you will build trust and security. You also will make it more likely that your future arguments will be shorter and less severe.
Relationship repair has five parts.
- Accepting that you are partly responsible for how the argument ended.
- Approaching your partner in a spirit of humility and concern.
- Allowing your partner to tell you what the argument was like for them.
- Apologizing for what you did that hurt your partner.
- Announcing that you are committed to doing better, and asking your partner to do the same.
When you reach back toward your partner to make up after a fight, you are not admitting that you are wrong or guilty. Circling back is not the same thing as admitting guilt.
The first step, accepting your role, is the hardest. Like most people, you probably find it easier to see your partner’s bad behavior than your own. Even if you don’t know how you contributed to the argument, you can be certain that “It takes two to tango.”
The second step, approaching your partner, is a way to break through avoidance and stonewalling. Even if you’re the one who usually reaches out, it’s in your best interest to clear the air.
“That didn’t go so well, did it? Do you feel ready to talk about it?”
It’s important to reach out in a spirit of humility and concern. Humility shows that you accepted your role in the creating the bad outcome:
“I really got upset back there. I am sure I hurt your feelings.”
The third step, allowing, gives your partner a chance to talk about how your behavior affected them. It’s very important in this step to keep the focus on how the two of you behaved. It’s not time yet to switch to talking about the problem that started the argument.
“Tell me what that was like for you. It couldn’t have been easy.”
When you apologize, in the fourth step, remember that you are apologizing for your hurtful behaviors in the argument. There is no need to apologize for a laundry list of things you’ve done in the past. It’s okay to remind your partner that you’re referring only to that one, recent argument.
In the fifth and final step, you announce that you are committed to doing better. List the specific ways you will try to improve. Ask your partner to tell you exactly what improvements he or she will make, as well.
Once you and your partner have gone through these five steps, you will be ready to go back to the problem you were trying to solve before you had the argument.
If you follow these five steps, and hold each other accountable for using them after arguments, you will build a foundation that will allow you to resolve conflicts more quickly and easily.
However, sometimes patterns are so entrenched that change is difficult on your own. If so, we can help. It’s easy to learn good communication skills and repair your relationship while you solve your problems. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation, to learn about our services and see how counseling can help.