5 Things Happy Couples Do After A Big Fight

What happens after the argument is as important as what happens during it.

Originally Published: 
Couple pressing foreheads together in intimate gesture
Getty/Delmaine Donson

Fights with your partner, even when rare — especially when rare — can be troubling. Just the fact that you’re arguing leads to a big question: If we’re so happy, should we even be fighting?

If it’s not nasty and hateful, the answer is yes, you should be. Fights are almost unavoidable. People get tired. Issues, like family and how to raise kids, are often personal and make you dig in. And marriage doesn’t suddenly make differing opinions disappear.

“If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary,” says Lesli Doares, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Hero Husband: Building a Super Marriage with Truth, Confidence and Authentic Leadership.

But the unasked question , “How do you define ‘happy?’” You think that since you were that way, you should always be that way and that’s a trap.

“Happiness is not a consistently sustainable state of mind,” says Peter Pearson, relationship expert and co-founder of The Couples Institute.

Our lives are like our workout playlists. They’re at first exciting but can quickly become stale. We need to keep finding new songs, but we stop looking. In that dynamic, a fight isn’t the worst thing.

“It can clean the cobwebs out,” Pearson says. “The fight starts to tell each person what’s important to them.”

The real issue is not so much that you fight, but how you go about it — and what do you afterwards. As Pearson adds, “Couples focus too much on the solution. No. It’s how you get there and who you become.”

That comes down to relationship basics: Listen. Try to express why something matters to you and how it feels. Try to understand the same for your partner. When in doubt, ask.

Pay attention to this and it can affect how the fight ends. But then the fight ends, and you have to transition back. Nothing is a surefire way to get there, because, well, you did just fight. But happy couples tend to do certain things afterwards. Here are a few to keep in mind.

5 Things Happy Couples Do After a Big Fight

1. They Don’t Try To Resolve Everything Right Away

The adage “Don’t go to bed angry”? Robyn Landow, New York City psychologist, hates that advice. It forces couples to force a resolution or keep talking way past dark. They should just go to sleep. It won’t be perfect, but it wasn’t going to be anyway and it’s far from destructive.

“You can go to bed angry and wake up not angry,” she says.

But taking a break can happen anytime. Parenting is about never being able to finish a conversation because dinner needs to get made or a bath is running. Those natural stops during a fight “help us cool off,” she says. And sometimes, you can call your own timeout and say, “We’re stuck right now. Let’s break and come back later.”

The only rule is that you have to nail down a time and come back to the discussion later. Otherwise, you’re just saying words to avoid the problem and building up resentment.

“If you don’t bring it up, you will never be able to hit pause on a conflict in the future,” Landow says.

2. They’re Patient

The fight might seem over, but there’s often “leftover emotions,” Landow says, and someone isn’t quite ready to go back to talking about the day. The length of this refractory period is different for each person, but good partners become more tolerant of waiting or speeding up getting over a problem, because it’s about understanding and respecting what the other person needs.

3. They Apologize

And they apologize fairly quickly. It’s got nothing to do with how you wouldn’t have let something get to you. At its most basic: A fight happened. You recognize that and that damage was done. Don’t do it and tensions and resentment will linger.

“You own your part of the disruption,” Doares says.

4. They Express Appreciation And Hug

First they say “thank you for listening,” which shows appreciation for taking part in the “discussion.” But the inclination is to just exit the space, which can leave someone cold. The hug physically reconnects you. “It’s shaking hands, but between partners,” Pearson says.

And then do anything else. It can be either together and separate — the hug makes going solo all right — but it just needs to be anything that doesn’t require emotional energy.

5. They Let It Go

This is the hard part and if you haven’t listened, apologized, and tried to understand each other, it’s even harder. What makes it especially tough is that the fight happened and is easy to refer back to, but that’s unfairly picking at the scab.

Ultimately, it’s about how you view your partner. Is their worst behavior an exception or to be expected? One is the more empathic, forgiving attitude.

“Happy couples don’t look at each other like the enemy,” Doares says.

A Note About Staying Happy

Once or twice a week, Pearson says to ask your partner what’s coming up that’s really important. This moves the conversation off the to-do list and makes it more intentional. Then ask, “What can I do to make it easier?” You’re offering support, which is rarely refused, and which will likely be asked in return.

That helps maintain your connection, but happiness requires novelty — a challenge when parenting is about routines and falling asleep. There’s no single solution, but it doesn’t hurt to occasionally splurge on something, anything that has the tinge of, “Should we really do that?’’

The answer is yes. It brings in fun, makes you smile, and when you’re relaxed and happy, you start talking about bigger ideas. As Pearson says, “it kind of wakes you up to other possibilities as well.”

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