What Your Wife Needs After a Big Fight Isn’t Make-Up Sex

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After a fight, make-up sex probably sounds good (and certainly feels good). But a new study suggests it is not necessarily a good way to reconcile with your partner. Although researchers confirmed that men appreciate sex as a way of making up after a fight, they found that women preferred when men apologize rather than try to get into their pants after fighting with them. Which means dads may be doing make-up sex all wrong.  

“I assumed that sex would be more of a focus for men than for women,” coauthor on the study T. Joel Wade of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania told Fatherly. In fact, tears may work better than moves. “A man crying as a way to reconcile with a woman was more effective than a man initiating sex as a way to reconcile with a woman.”

For the study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, Wade and colleagues initially asked 38 women and 36 men to list five acts they could perform to make up with their partners. While the researchers initially observed slight differences between men and women, neither gender listed sex and sexual favors as prominent ways of making amends. Then, in a larger experiment involving 41 men and 123 women, Wade and his team asked participants to rate each of the acts on a scale from one to seven, seven being the best way to reconcile.

Predictably, men appreciated make-up sex but also put stock in spending time together and laughing after an argument. But women barely gave make-up sex a second thought and ranked apologies and crying as far superior means of making amends. Of course, there are caveats to consider—both studies involved relatively small samples and participants seldom tell the truth about their sex lives or perception of sex on surveys. But there’s likely a kernel of truth to the idea that sex is great, but not the smartest way to recover from a spat.

Which raises a crucial question, straight out of rock n’ roll—if it’s so bad, then why does it feel so good? Isadora Alman, psychotherapist, sex therapist and author the book What People Keep Asking Me About Sex & Relationships, suspects the goal of make-up sex is more about relief than reconciliation. “It feels really good to reassure oneself and one’s partner that what was said was not a deal breaker,” Alman told Fatherly. Of course, even healthy make-up sex can be done wrong. Alman says that when couples have sex just to end fights or avoid the discomfort of hashing it out, sex solves nothing, especially if one partner believes sex equals capitulation. In other words, Alman says, have sex once you’ve reconciled—not when you’re still furious and trying to win a fight. 

But even as Alman raising the possibility of healthy make-up sex (“If the couple generally love each other, then love making is always a good idea,” she says), Wade is more cautious. Based on the results of this study, he won’t be recommending make-up sex any time soon. “I think it is not a good idea for making up with a woman.”

And if you don’t like it, you can cry about it.

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