Maybe it was the don’t-you-dare-side-with-your-mother-fight. Or a you-let-the-kids-do-what?-spat snowballed into a two-hour argument that touched on every subject. Whatever started the fight doesn’t matter; what does is that it was a doozy, one that left a smoking crater and will have inevitable aftershocks. It happens. But what’s the best way forward?
The key is to prevent them in the first place. Communication and taking the time to listen can make a big difference in healing the rifts and preventing spats from reaching nuclear proportions. “Many times, individuals in relationships just want to be heard and have their feelings validated,” says Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW of the Ambrosia Treatment Center, “and by listening, this goal can be achieved. Fights will happen, but major blowouts don’t have to be a part of a relationship.”
Still, the fact remains that fights are a natural part of two people being in a relationship together. When those major fights do occur, here’s how to do damage control.
Resolve it Quickly
A lot of experts advise couples to never go to bed angry. Sometimes, though, that’s not an option. Still, it’s not wise to let any disagreement linger much beyond the next morning. “Explain why you were/are angry, and talk about what you feel is needed to go forward with the issue and/or prevent further fights about it,” says Laura MacLeod, a licensed social worker and founder of the From The Inside Out Project. “Do this early. If you wake up and still feel so mad you don’t want to talk, say that. Acknowledge it and figure out when you can resolve. Don’t let it fester.”
Take Time to Process
Fighting can be unpleasant, but it can also be a learning experience if you let it. After an argument, a post-mortem can be useful in getting to the bottom of what happened, how it could have gone differently, and what can be done to make things better going forward. “Use this as an opportunity to get to know each other better, and feel closer,” says Jasmin Terrany, LMHC, a life therapist and the author of the upcoming book Extraordinary Mommy. “As painful as fighting can be, there something open and beautiful about the willingness to let your feelings out.”
Say “I” Not “You”
This simple pronoun flip can go a long way towards making a relationship squabble go down a lot easier. “There is much less cause for disagreement when you are simply stating your feelings,” says Terrany, “however when you start pointing fingers there’s much room for defensiveness and disconnect.”
Additionally, speaking this way will make your intentions much clearer up front and let your partner know that you’re not just on the attack. “We tend to say things like, ‘you made me mad,’ where we use ‘you’ statements,” says Celeste Viciere, a mental health clinician who runs a private practice called The Uniting Center. “When we frame statements in this way, our partner may not really hear us.”
Everyone says things in an argument that they later regret. But the fact that they didn’t mean the words doesn’t dull their impact. “Take ownership for the things you said out of anger,” says Anna Osborn, a family therapist in California. “Don’t focus on what your partner said as that will deflect from responsibility for your own actions. Typically when one partner is able to do this, the other is more willing to follow suit by owning their part of the argument.”
Avoid Makeup Sex
Sorry, but jumping into the sack post-argument, while great in the moment, can, per marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar, actually set a bad precedent, one that could inadvertently lead to a cycle of more fights. “It may create a pattern that fights serve as an aphrodisiac,” she says, “both produce adrenaline and a rush. So be mindful of getting into habits of fighting and sex.”