What to Do After a Fight: Five Steps to Increased Intimacy and Connection
Updated: Jul 4
All relationships continually move through a cycle of harmony, disharmony, and repair. Most of us think that the problem lies in the disharmony, the fight. Too many of us have bought into the idea that in "good" relationships couples don't fight. But disagreements, disappointments, and even big blow out staying up until all hours of the night arguments are not the problem in our romantic relationships. In fact, these ruptures are natural in all human relationships and if handled with a few skills and techniques can offer an opportunity for actually getting closer to our partners.
The problem comes when we can’t move from the conflict into repair, and instead of getting closer to one another we’re driven further apart. But if you can follow these five steps in the aftermath of conflict you can move your relationship into greater intimacy and deeper connection with every fight you have.
1 - Cool Off
The best thing to do in the immediate aftermath of a fight depends on how “hot” each of you remains about whatever it was you were fighting about. If it’s something that you can’t talk about without reigniting the conflict take a full 24-hour break from talking about anything related to the topic. For specific steps on how to take a break check out my Free Relationship Tools to download a high quality PDF of my Guide to Relationship Time Outs based on the work of Terry Real.
2 - Apologize
If you have been able to calm yourself down about the issue first check where you can take responsibility for the fight and apologize for that specific behavior. - Did you say something hurtful?
- Did you jump to a conclusion?
- Were you too edgy, or impatient?
Let your partner know that you don’t like fighting and that you are sorry about what you are prepared to apologize for.
3 - Ask for More Information
After you have moved into a calm state and apologized for your part in the conflict express curiosity about your partner's point of view and ask them for more information to help you understand their perspective.
“I really hate it when we fight. I’m sorry that I got so angry and defensive when you said that I should look for a new job since my boss is taking advantage of me by having me work so many hours. I was already on edge because of all the work stress, and I took it out on you. But I’m curious how you think I’m being taking advantage of. I’ve just been seeing it as ‘paying my dues’ at this point in my career. What is it that makes you see it differently?”
4 - Make a Change
If the fight arose from your partner trying to share feedback, or even criticizing or complaining, about things that they want you to work on or change don’t worry about what they asked for that you aren’t willing to do, focus on what you are willing to change, and let them know.
If your partner has had it with you being messy and they blew up at you and listed five things from reading a book they got for you about how to get organized to you getting into therapy about “why you are such a slob” think about which of their suggestions you are willing to try. Tell them you’ve thought about what they said and then list the things they suggested that you are going to do.
Don’t even bring up the things you aren’t willing to do, in most cases, your partner will be so pleased by what you are willing to work on that they won’t even think about the other suggestions.
If there isn't a behavior that your partner has asked you to change or work on, reflect on how you acted during the fight. For any behavior that escalated the conflict or pulled you further away from connecting with your partner try to discern what parts of you drove you to behave counterproductively and share your insights with your partner. "I think the reason that I blew up when you told me that I should find a new job is that in some ways I feel like I'm not really qualified to be doing this kind of work. Because I'm already battling imposter syndrome when you said I should find a new job I imagined that you were trying to tell me that I can't do this job."
5 - Reconnect
Of course, after a fight in addition to the repair, it’s crucial to reconnect. Once you’re both feeling free of the immediate anger and resentment of the fight two great ways to reconnect are by doing something fun and doing something physical. Sex is a great option that checks both of these boxes, but an intense partner workout, a run, a hike, taking a yoga class or just a walk together can also get you back to a place of reconnection.
And One More - Express Appreciation
Once you've had the opportunity to reconnect take the time to let your partner know how much you appreciate them and what you enjoy about your relationship. After the upheaval of an emotional rupture, most of us still feel some level of insecurity, or may even hold onto some of our upset. By cherishing your partner in words or actions you help your partner to feel loved and appreciated. Buying flowers for your partner after a fight may be cliche, but gestures of love and appreciation are meaningful if you don't skip past the emotional work of reconnection first.
If One or Both of You Can't Move Through These Steps
Most of us have times in our relationships or topics that we just can’t return to without fighting. Many couples try to find ways around these topics by burying or ignoring them, but just a few sessions with a good couples therapist can help most couples find a way through even their most difficult topics, and by proactively dealing with these issues and moving back into repair and reconnection your relationship will be deepened and strengthened in a way that will make it easier to handle future conflicts.
Next week I’ll share more about the fifth of the Losing Strategies that get us into conflict with our partner. Learn more about these Losing Strategies as well the Five Winning Strategies that you can use instead.
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The relationship you wish for is possible, but sometimes skills and tools aren’t enough to get you there. Most of us have times in our lives when we need help to rebuild the passion and connection in our relationships. If this is where you are - reach out. I can help.