So, you had a big fight with your husband or wife. Maybe it was a three-hour screaming match; maybe it was a 20-minute heated discussion. Maybe it was some combination of the two. Either way, it happened. Things were said. Anger erupted. Feelings were hurt. It happens. The steps you take to reconnect after a big fight are important.
Arguments happen. Big ones. Little ones. It’s completely normal and healthy. Agreeing on everything is not possible. And a marriage without arguments — big or small — is a marriage without productivity. The act of arguing shows that there’s work to do in a relationship and that both partners are, in their way, trying to make something happen, working towards a larger goal, and attempting to understand ways to do better.
That said, what you do after a big fight is as important as what you do — and don’t do — during a fight. It’s easy to float around in the aftermath of an argument and just wait for things to become normal again. Understanding when someone needs time or space is important. But acting like nothing happened is the wrong approach. It’s important to take action so that you both can, eventually, get things back to normal. So, what can be done? Here, in no particular order, are 33 small, nice things to do after a fight.
- Write something about how you feel. Anything. Put it in writing. The act of writing is meditative and helps you understand your thoughts better. If it’s something you want to share with your partner, do so. Because that is something she can hold onto (and re-read).
- Let them break the ice. If they don’t want to laugh about it, take their lead.
Resolve It Quickly (If You Can)
“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 “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 it. Don’t let it fester.”
- Clean your house. Top to fucking bottom. Don’t ask for credit. Don’t point out how spic and span the toilet is. Just do it.
- Play with the kids. Turn all your attention to the kids. This should help you cool off (if you need it) and makes you emotionally useful while you two are shoring things up.
- Exercise, clean up and take care of yourself. You two need to repair a rift. This starts with a bit of self-care for both of you.
- Makeup in front of the kids. Children learn by watching adults. When parents make up with each other after a fight, they should do so in front of their children to help them understand that even though people might fight and argue, it does not mean those relationships are irreparable.
- Do something to make them laugh. Shared laughter is incredibly powerful because of the neuropeptides that are released when we smile and guffaw. When partners share laughter, it can ease tension and break down walls making it easier for a couple to find their center.
- Give them the dumbest card possible. There’s nothing more diffusing of any remaining tension than the cheesiest apology card on the greeting card rack. The sappier it is, the better.
- Write a sincere love note. Tell them that even after an argument you are still their partner and that you will never stop loving them. They need to hear it and you need to be reminded that’s the case. It will help.
- Tell them that they were heard. Say those words. “I heard you.” They are uncommon and they are powerful. And mean them when you say them.
- If you’ve been putting off doing something that’s boring/annoying because you don’t feel like it, now is the time to do it. So buckle down and install that damn smoke detector or fix the broken lock. It’s a small gesture that will be noticed.
- Don’t jump into 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.” So save it for later.
- If they need space, give it to them. Everyone processes things differently.
- Reflect on how your choices and actions may have affected the other person.
- Validate your partner. Find a moment to compliment them on something they did —as a parent, as a partner, as a friend, as an employee, whatever. Be genuine. State the specifics. This helps close the rift.
- If they want to talk about the fight — and you have both cooled down enough — listen. Really, truly listen. Let them tell you how they feel, without you having to justify your reactions or actions.
- After a cooling-off period, sit down together and come up with a few things you can do to not repeat the situation. Come to a joint conclusion. Is it sexy? Is it dramatic? No. But it works.
- Turn on some music. Something you both like. It will help fill the silence a bit.
- If you realize you were wrong, say so and own it. Admit you made a mistake, don’t man-splain, and just sit quietly and let them express how they feel.
- Suggest watching something you don’t want to watch and you’ve said you don’t want to watch. Watch it anyway.
- Order the worst fast food you used to have together when you were dating. Consider it an olive branch, but with more saturated fat. Besides, fighting makes you hungry.
- If there’s something that she’s been wanting to do together that you haven’t gotten around to scheduling (therapy? a vacation? dinner at a new restaurant?), make arrangements to do that thing.
- Give them the gift of sleep. Let them sleep in on a weekend, take the kids out, and bring them back a croissant for her to eat — at 11. Make it a whole thing.
- Take ownership of the things you said over anger. Explain that you lost your cool in the moment. Don’t retread over the things she said or place blame. Apologize for a specific outburst and move on.
- If something made you incredibly angry during the fight, explain why it triggered you. It’s important to understand what mechanisms are at work and they probably didn’t say it to intentionally piss you off.
- Don’t post about your fight on social media. Bad move.
- Avoid giving them the cold shoulder. This behavior, as known as “stonewalling” in marriage counselor-speak, is extremely harmful. If you need more time to process the argument, let them know. Say, “I’m not ready to talk just yet.”
Mind Your Pronouns
That is, say “I”, not “You” when you’re discussing the issue again. 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 Jasmin Terrany, LMHC. Additionally, speaking this way will make your intentions much clearer upfront 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. “When we frame statements in this way, our partner may not really hear us.”
- If you want to apologize, don’t just say “I’m sorry.” This phrase alone is hollow. Instead, explain that you understand their specific point about X and Y and that you took things too far. Or say that you’re sorry for a specific act. Otherwise, it’s useless.
- Speak to their love language. Do they appreciate acts of service? Affection? Quality time? Do something that appeals to that core instinct in them.
- Much like the blanket “I’m sorry,” avoid saying that you didn’t mean it. This doesn’t do anything. You may not have meant them, but words are already said. You can’t take them back. You can, however, apologize for saying specific things and explain to them that you understand why they were so hurtful. Taking ownership helps.
- Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. Acknowledging that you made an error — and forming habits that will work to ensure it doesn’t go this far again — is important. The only way to truly recover from a fight is to learn from it.