Injuries happen in all relationships. You can hurt each other even when you didn’t want to. Maybe you two aren’t even speaking right now, but you want to feel close again. So, how to heal a relationship after a fight?
Some couples can work through hurts fairly quickly. They talk about what upset them so they both understand what happened. Then they can move on and feel close again.
Other couples feel an unwanted distance growing. They try to talk, but end up fighting instead. Pain and anger grow. That makes it harder to figure out what is broken and heal it quickly. These couples may need some new ideas to get back to feeling close.
Feeling cut off from the love you need can make you desperate. Here’s how you can fix a broken relationship by being more responsive to the disconnect itself.
Most Couples Fight Over Losing Their Connection
Dr. Sue Johnson spent her life studying how to fix broken relationships. She found this: When our need for safe, secure attachment gets denied for too long, we literally freak out. Most couples fight out of panic.
Each person needs to know: “Do I matter to you?”
Couples fight because they feel hurt and disconnected. They’re desperate to get a response: “Are you there for me?”
Fighting is often a symptom of a deeper problem: feeling alone, invisible, or unwanted. Anger makes your problem worse. People acting in anger tend to raise their defenses just when they need to lower them! You can’t tell each other, “Yes! You matter to me,” when you’re blaming each other or feeling attacked.
The good news: You can heal a relationship after a fight. It will take some hard work. Sue Johnson has a process — Emotionally Focused Therapy — to help couples rebuild deep, lasting love. At its core, healing is about being able to show you are there for each other. You do this by becoming more
The memory cue is ARE, as in, “Are you there for me?”
Learning about being accessible, responsive and engaged can help in good times and bad. Think about how accessible, responsive or engaged you were before your last disagreement. You might recognize where things ARE not working:
- Someone was too distracted, too busy or too far away to be accessible.
- You didn’t respond when your partner needed you, because you didn’t see the need at the time.
- One of you tells the other to “Get over your feelings.” This is the opposite of engaging to know more about your partner’s experience.
- You may have shut down, turned away, or tuned out. You chose to withdraw, rather than engage your curiosity, your caring side, or your truth.
How To Heal a Relationship After a Fight in 3 Steps
Here are some steps to help heal a relationship after a fight, by being Accessible, Responsive and Engaged.
1) Make your gentle side accessible.
Healing a relationship after a fight takes many gentle moves. The first is to step back from anger. Commit to avoid another argument before it starts.
Do you notice blame, attacks, painful words, a shouting match, threats to leave, or insults creeping in when you talk? Stop. Don’t go there. Refuse to re-engage this way, even if you’re feeling right, justified or defensive.
The moment you feel things heating up:
- Think “we” and “us”, not “me” and “you”
- Use phrases like: “Can we stop here?”
- Ask: “We are getting upset again — can we slow down?”
- Pause: “Let’s not fight now — let’s hold on a minute…”
Recognize that you and your partner may be hurting so much, no one feels safe enough to be tender. It may take some time.
2) Be responsible for your own actions. Notice your part in what happened. Respond by gently sharing what you find.
Being responsive includes taking responsibility for your own missteps — not your partner’s. Could some of your words have caused injury? Claiming them gives you far greater power to heal them.
Yes, this takes courage and practice. Some examples may help:
- “I did some name-calling there. I was so angry, I went on the attack.”
- “Yes, I got mad and defensive, I fired right back.”
- “I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. I was shutting you out.”
- “Those were some awful things I said, just to get you to react.”
Why does this help? When you name what went wrong, you can come to terms with it. If your actions left injuries, you can ‘drop the weapons’ that caused them. You free yourselves for something better.
By being less reactive, you can become more emotionally responsive.
3) Engage Your Deeper Feelings.
After a fight, partners need to know they matter to each other deep down. Speak from the heart. That’s how the message “You matter to me” gets through.
If you follow the anger all the way down, you may find you feel rejected, hurt and alone after what happened between you.
Sue Johnson worked with one couple at a low point in their marriage. The husband felt deprived and angry because the wife came later and later to bed. Sue asks the husband gently how it feels, waiting in bed for his wife:
“It is bitter… It’s agonizing. That is what it is…. And I can’t handle feeling that way…. I don’t feel important to her at all. She fits me in the cracks in her busy schedule. We used to always be close before going to sleep. But now when she doesn’t come to bed for hours, I just end up feeling pushed aside….”
It takes courage to speak from the heart of what’s bothering you like this. You need even more courage to engage with your partner about it. You may feel vulnerable saying you feel unimportant. Be vulnerable anyway. It reconnects you when your connection is breaking down.
That’s how you learn what you need to know: Are you there for me?
Keep Showing You Are There for Each Other
Partners need to know they matter to each other. They need to feel safe, seen and cared about each day. To keep a partnership strong, couples need to renew, nurture, and recharge their relationship every day. Even little ways of being attentive, responsive, and engaged can add up to a strong empowering bond.
This process of healing after a fight comes from a series of steps for creating connection — part of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT). Sue Johnson calls this step “Revisiting a Rocky Moment.”
We know this isn’t easy. It’s incredibly difficult. In fact we know it’s some of the hardest work you can do as a couple.
Creating a safe process for healing after a fight can actually build a stronger emotional bond than before. It works. We have seen it in our practice. But it is not a magic cure for every couple. It could work for you if you and your partner want to do what it takes to co-create secure love.
The basis of strong love is emotional connection. By noticing and responding mindfully to each other, you begin to make yourself a better partner. It’s the fastest way we know to create a better relationship.
We Are Here for You
You can create safer, more deeply connected relationships. Our couples counseling services and the “Creating Connection” couples workshop in Alexandria, VA can help. We can answer your questions at: 703-768-6240