You are ready to make up after your fight. But your spouse isn’t. How can you respond to this situation in a way that gets your marriage back on track?
Whether it was your fault or not, and no matter the reason for the fight, you need to get your marriage back on track. After all, prolonged distance means decreasing love. But, your spouse may still be so upset that you don’t know how you will ever get back on track. The longer your spouse stays upset, the easier it becomes to emotionally pull away from him or her. You don’t need to fall into that kind of vicious downward spiral if you know how to pull your spouse away from his or her hurt and anger. Here are four steps you can use for making up after an argument or fight with your husband or wife.
The first step to making up after an argument or fight is to see your spouse’s emotional and defensive reaction as normal.
Don’t be surprised and upset by your spouse’s reaction. We don’t need to blame our spouses for any patterns of behavior once we know how to deal with them. If the pattern is that you are usually the one who wants to make up first, then you can use this pattern to your advantage (and your spouse’s). That’s a lot better than being upset because he or she is upset. Realistic prediction and planning are two keys for getting off the emotional roller coaster.
The second step to making up after a fight is to take the action of listening.
Listening is one of the most powerful action steps that you can take toward resolving any kind of marriage problem, including making up. When your spouse is upset, listen to any continued attacks without defending or counterattacking. This should prevent another argument flare up. Just listen. Don’t try to calm, don’t try to reason. Listen, listen, listen. Let him or her get it all out. Put your hand on your mouth if you need to stop yourself from talking when you are listening.
The third step to making up after a fight is to watch for evidence that your spouse is not yet in control.
Being in control doesn’t mean having no emotions. Being in control is like a campfire that is safely burning inside a ring of stones. Out of control is when that fire is growing bigger and starting to leap out of the ring. We stop such a campfire problem by removing all the flammable stuff around it. You can do the same if your spouse’s emotions are flaring up. In this case, back off and come back later. He or she still needs to calm down more. Don’t give any fuel to the fire by saying anything. Try again later. Don’t give up. Don’t demand a quick return to normal and don’t give a lot of attention to him/her. Attention is another kind of fuel that can keep strong emotions burning. Let him or her get bored with sulking. Don’t make it your problem. If he or she runs out, don’t chase him her down–that would just create a worse pattern.
The fourth step to making up after a fight is to be agreeable.
If your spouse is relatively calm, but is still making attacking statements, think about his or her statements and agree with whatever you can without giving apologies, without defending, and without giving reasons. If you can’t do this, tell him or her that you need some time to consider what he or she is saying and then go away until you can find something that you agree with. Although you may disagree with some or most of what he or she is saying, there is going to be some part of it that is true.
You’re calm and want to make up. Your wife says that all you care about is yourself. You think about that for awhile until you find something you agree with. Then, you respond, “Sometimes I do get that way.” Or “If I were you, I’d probably think the same thing.” That’s it. No apologies, no excuses. No counterattacks.
Every time you agree (sincerely) with something your spouse says, you take more and more energy away from his or her anger and create a little more desire in him or her to cooperate with you. If you find it hard to think of how you can agree, I have written a book called Connecting Through Yes! which has many examples for using agreement to end even severe marriage problems.
Preventing the fight from flaring up again.
At this point, you need to be ready for the sneak attack. You are being calm while your spouse is not. There is a good chance that while you are trying to help your spouse to be calm, he or she will say something to make you really upset—a real low blow. Best thing to do—let it go, walk away. If she demands a response, then tell her that what she is saying is a very important subject, but you want to wait until you can both talk nicely to each other before you discuss it. Say that you both need to recover a little more before working on things (which is bound to be true enough). Then walk away. Do something else.
Your wife says all you care about is yourself. You agree with her that sometimes you do get that way. She says that she can’t keep living this way and wants a divorce because you are too terrible to change. You feel your heart beat fast, but you take a minute and calm yourself. Then you say, “That’s a really important thing to talk about, but we both need to recover from our fight before we get into such things. I’m going to go (for a walk, watch TV, get back to work, etc.). If you get feeling better, you are welcome to join me (call me, text me, etc.).” Then walk away without getting pulled into an argument. If he or she is upset about your walking away, that’s probably a whole lot better than what would have happened in a continued fight.
Repeat this process of listening, agreeing, and walking away as many times as it takes.
Usually, it won’t take more than two times of listening and agreeing sincerely with a person before he or she wants to reconcile. The exception would be if all you have left in your relationship is fighting. If all you do is fight, your spouse may use the fighting as a way of having more interaction with you. It is also possible that your spouse has already emotionally withdrawn from the relationship and uses the fighting to maintain the distance. That is particularly true if your fights are over small, stupid things. Many of the clients that I work with were in that situation when they began marriage coaching. The more your spouse argues about little things, or blames your for his or her unhappiness, the closer he or she is to deciding to end your marriage. Winning arguments or defending yourself won’t stop that from happening, but will only speed you toward it. To get your marriage moving in the other direction, you will need to learn to positively connect with your spouse.
If your spouse also admits to wrongdoing.
Listen quietly and respectfully. Don’t interrupt and don’t provoke. State your desire just to get back to a good relationship again. If your spouse doesn’t admit to anything, that’s OK. Working on how you handle this situation is more important to your relationship than trying to prove your spouse wrong. Your relationship will only be built through win-win.
Preventing future fights or arguments.
When things are going well, talk to your spouse about the way that you both fight and your desire to find a better way to work on differences. If your spouse blames you for that, don’t resist. Focus on your spouse’s agreement that regardless of whose fault it is (even if it’s yours), that the way you are both handling differences is not good. Brainstorm some different ideas with your spouse for how to handle things. Try out new ways. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always go back to fighting if it’s really better. If things have progressed to the point where it is just not possible to even talk about these things with your spouse, then it’s time for some professional help. Regardless of who is right or wrong, don’t let fighting end your relationship.