Arguments are going to happen with your partner. This is a bold statement right out of the gate and you might even think to yourself “I don’t believe that” or “can that actually be right?” It is actually true because you and your partner are different people so you will have different perspectives on the events that happen in your life and you will also take things your partner says to mean something different than what they intended. Also to be completely honest, we are human too, so BOTH you and your partner will say or do things that you do mean, and it will hurt each other.
So don’t even try to avoid these things happening as in a way it’s like fighting against nature. But there are many things you can do differently than what you are doing now that will make you even better communicators and “fighters” when upsets do happen. All the experts say that when you get upset, you and your partner will either “fight, flight, freeze, or even fawn”. But what about what happens afterwards? No matter what your default response is, you end up where every couple ends up: feeling disconnected, drained, disappointed, or hurt. This period of time is called an “Argument Hangover©” and can last for hours or even days. This is the part of arguments that you should be focused on. When it comes to arguments it’s not about avoiding them it’s about shortening your argument hangovers and how well do you actually REPAIR after the argument.
Now, many couple’s version of repairing after an argument is to say “I’m sorry, let’s just move past this” and they truly believe this is the way to repair after conflicts. But you know this is not enough because you don’t necessarily trust that anything will change, you’ve probably heard that statement from them before, and you still feel the lingering emotional pain from the things that were said and done during the argument. This lingering unresolved emotion is what keeps you emotionally distant, you start to erode your feeling of connection, and it just leaves it open for that emotion to get triggered again in the future. But you don’t know what else to do, so you end up giving in and agreeing to just “move on” (until, of course, the same argument pattern happens again later).
What is needed is a process that you can rely on to effectively shorten your hangovers and have the emotion you feel be validated and understood before you just move on. This process is called the “5 Rs to Repair After an Argument”. If you are a visual learner there is a FREE 1-hour WebClass to learn these 5 steps, plus the missing communication skill to prevent unnecessary arguments from even happening. Just click on the link to register for an upcoming time.
The first “R” is for “REFLECT”
As soon as you recognize that emotion is escalating within you or your partner or you have the sense that this conversation is about to go downhill, you want to request a timeout. This isn’t a timeout where you just walk away from the conversation but you say to your partner “hey, I’m starting to feel something come up for me and I would like to take a few minutes to process it. I don’t want to make anything worse here, so let’s take this pause and come back to this conversation in 30 minutes.”
Every person processes emotion at a different pace, some can process it right in the moment while talking out loud, while some need their own space to think. Whichever one you are, don’t try and force your partner to be more like you. Give them the grace to go through the process in the time they need to. So the time that you request to come back to the conversation is based on the amount of time you really need. But don’t have it be much more than a few hours, otherwise you are just distracting yourself.
Now while you have this time to reflect on your own, you want to think about what the real root cause of this conflict was FOR YOU. By the way the answer to this is never “your partner”. Whatever they actually said or did, the reason it caused an upset for you is because it meant something specific TO YOU. So contemplate on what the reason is rather than stomping around blaming them and feeling as if you are a victim that had no control in this situation.
The second “R” is for “RESPONSIBILITY”
This step happens while you are still in your reflecting time. After you discover what the root cause of the conflict was for you, it’s about identifying where you have responsibility for how this conflict went. You might think that your partner started this whole conflict, and you might actually be right about that. But there were two people in that conversation and there was a role you played in it going from a simple conversation or misunderstanding, to a more emotionally charged incident. Or even if you didn’t and this conflict caused you to be in an argument hangover for a full day, there was something you could have done differently to shorten that time period and come back together faster.
In any case, if you are really wanting to truly repair from a conflict, you must identify WHERE you have responsibility, not IF you have any responsibility. If you are unwilling to do this step, you will never truly repair from conflicts, especially as it pertains to your partners experience of it.
The third “R” is for “RECONNECT”
This is the step that you actually come back together with your partner. So if you said that you were going to take a 30 minute timeout, then this is the step you take at that time. Depending on the severity of the conflict, you might ask your partner if they are actually ready to come back to the conversation. Provided that they are, the very next thing you say to them is “after I reflected, where I see I have responsibility is _______.” Share with them the role you played in this conflict and then ask them this following question: “I would like to hear how my actions impacted you”.
Now this is a critical point in the repair process. Once you ask them this question you MUST listen to whatever they say next. It’s not even about just listening as it is about validating their perspective and more importantly how they felt from the actions you took. The best thing to do is to just listen to them talk and only say back to them “I understand that my actions had you feel _______”. You will just summarize what you just heard them say no matter if you agree with it or even think that it makes sense to you. Without this validation you cannot move onto the next step and will never truly repair from conflicts.
Of the entire process this is the hardest step because it takes putting the ego to this side and thinking that this emotional conversation has to be logical. The fact is human emotion is not logical and to believe it should be will only keep you stuck. This step does need practice and that is why the FREE Webclass is available for you to help get better at handling conflicts. Just click on the link to find the next time that fits your schedule: “5 Rs to Repair After an Argument”
The fourth “R” is for “REMIND”
This next step is where the logical partners can now thrive and even step up as leaders in this repair process. After you have both been heard and validated in your perspectives and emotional impact, you get to create action steps. This step is all about reminding each other of your commitments and your agreements to each other. The last time you probably talked about your commitments was your wedding day!
For the purpose of this article let's focus on the agreement piece. For you, one of the biggest reasons that conflicts linger is because of missing agreements. Notice the difference in these two statements. “Ok partner, I promise to be better next time” and “Ok partner, I would like to make an agreement that we don’t swear at each other”. Which of these is more likely to produce a result? It’s obvious that the first statement is just something nice to say but is vague. When making an agreement, you are clearly stating the change in behavior that you are committing to making. Only with clarity can real change be made.
The fifth “R” is for “RECONCILE”
This last step is all about reducing the significance you feel from the argument. The last part of your conversion with your partner is about discovering what the lesson was from this event. This is about reconciling what could still be seen as a negative, into a benefit. This is not about trying to convince yourselves to believe something that isn’t true. It’s about acknowledging even the smallest thing that you learned about yourself or your partner, even a new clarity or understanding that you have that you didn’t before.
When this final step doesn’t happen it can be easy to look back the next day and feel regret or disappointment about that conflict even happening. When you being to focus on that, they you can bring up the same emotions again and put yourself back in the conflict pattern all over again.
Relationships are all about two people learning and growing together and as individuals. Each of us are on our own unique path and what we each learn can be different. For example one of you might be learning to be more loving, compassionate, and understanding; while the other is learning to be more assertive, authentic, and vulnerable.
No matter what your path is, you will find it difficult to make any progress if your conflicts go unresolved and you never get to the point of seeing what the lesson is. This is a lifelong journey and it can be made much simpler when you have a process that you can reliably come back to. To truly ingrain these steps into your relationship with your partner join the FREE 1-hour WebClass on the “5 Rs to Repair After an Argument”. Just click on the link to register for an upcoming time.
One of the most important traits of being a great partner is how you handle emotion when it comes up and how you fight. Challenges will come up but it’s whether you consistently follow health or unhealthy fight patterns. There are even more communication tools for before, during, and after conflicts, plus understanding your “Communication Personality Type” that can be found in our book The Argument Hangover.