A fight can weaken your relationship, or it can strengthen it — and its impact depends on how you behave afterward. The aftermath of an argument can be tense, but the fact that you just fought doesn’t mean you have to behave coldly or unkindly. In fact, if you’re careful about how you talk to each other, you can use the opportunity to start to mend your relationship.
"Arguments can even elevate relationships if they’re handled with tenderness and kindness. When people feel less understood by their partner after an argument, they feel less happiness, but people who feel more understood by their partner don’t feel that happiness dip," practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle. "If you confront upsetting issues in a real but kind way that takes your and your partner’s feelings into account, this creates far less weirdness than a drag-out fight in which two people are yelling at each other and trading snips, resentments, and insults."
Here are some things you can do after a fight that help you move on and use the conflict to your advantage.
1. Make Up As Soon As Possible
You may feel tempted to get in the last word or even punish your partner by making them wait for your forgiveness, but that could make you both unhappy not just in the moment but also in the future. "One of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your partner is to re-connect and restore harmony as soon as you can, rather than allow discord and fights to linger,” says Parker. "When we allow fights to amplify, this is called negative affect reciprocity, and it predicts eroding happiness in a relationship. So aim to make up before a fight escalates."
2. Cheer Yourself Up
"Enjoyable feelings can help our body relax and feel less keyed up, even during tense moments with our partner," says Parker. So, if you have the urge to drag on the fight even though everything that needs to be said has been said, try thinking of a time your partner did something nice for you, something you appreciate about them, or even a good memory unrelated to them. Or, do something that makes you happy, like having a cup of tea or playing with a pet.
3. Be Positive
If your goal is truly to make up, don’t rehash the argument. Don’t say “I’m sorry, but…” or “it’s just that you always…” This’ll just drag the fight on. "Choose your words carefully, striving to be sincere and kind,” says Parker. "Don’t use tactics that tend to wound feelings and escalate friction, like insulting a partner, throwing the past in their face, yelling, inserting sarcastic zingers, making harsh, critical comments, pointing the proverbial finger and blaming, or checking out and not listening.”
4. Acknowledge Their Side
To help your partner feel heard, Parker recommends imagining yourself as someone outside the relationship who cares about you both. Ask yourself what they might see that you can’t see from your own perspective, and acknowledge any valid points your partner has.
For example, you might say, "So, when you didn’t call to let me know you’d be coming home late from work, it was because you got caught up with a project and lost track of the time. I see where you’re coming from. I’ve certainly lost track of time, too."
5. Work Toward Results
What do you hope will come out of the fight? More validation of your emotions? Fewer misunderstandings when you're making plans? Whatever it is, think about a mutually beneficial goal you can achieve to avoid future conflict. "Rather than burying your own needs or your partner’s, or trying to win and or come out on top, it’s about working together to find a result that feels satisfying for you both," says Parker.
6. If You Can't Calm Down, Get Some Alone Time
If being around your partner makes it too hard to resist fighting, spend some time away from them. If you live together, take a shower or a walk, and you may be less tempted to lash out afterward. Parker recommends saying, "I’m still feeling upset right now and I just think I need to calm down a little. It’s nothing against you — I just need to hit my reset button. Is that cool?"
7. Forgive Yourself, Too
A lot of us behave in ways we wish we hadn’t during fights. “Even though we can share and hear anger and hurt without letting hostilities boil, it’s certainly not easy,” says Parker. "Try not to be too hard on yourself and welcome yourself to the human race. It can happen, and the key is bring the tension back down and get back to the business of making up and becoming closer."
Remember, arguing in of itself isn't a problem. Instead of thinking of an argument as a way to vent your anger, think of it as a way to discuss what's not working so you can arrive at a solution that does work, all while maintaining respect for each other.