If your relationship is like many others — you and your partner tend to avoid each other after an argument. After the yelling, and harsh words, most couples are glad it’s over. They would rather move on, and hope it doesn’t happen again. “I’m sorry” may pop up a few hours (or days) later to get things back on track.
It’s not often couples sit down after a fight, and discuss how the argument itself played out. Let’s call that a recovery conversation. It goes beyond the typical exchange of “I’m sorry.”
The pushback to talking about the argument is that “we will just get into another argument.” Fair enough. If you have tried this, it’s likely the same fight happened again.
But, consider the following…
Recovering from an argument takes practice. The more you do it in a structured, intentional way, the easier it becomes. When I say easier, I’m alluding to the process. The angry, hurtful, resentful, and exhausting emotions don’t get easier. But an intentional, structured process does help alleviate those feelings. They feel less overwhelming.
The recovery process also acknowledges that arguments are bound to happen in relationships. They’re unavoidable. The goal is to find a way to effectively incorporate them into the relationship. You don’t have to get rid of them — just learn how to recover.
Clinical Psychologist, Daniel Wile, says: “Individuals who view anger as indicating that they have a ‘bad’ marriage will be demoralized by its presence, and will be unable to deal with it effectively.”
Often, you or your partner’s expression of anger is a result of suppressing what needs to be said. When it all comes out, the complaints are usually magnified because of the strong emotions tied to them.
Suppressing your complaints happen because of two common reasons: being interrupted in the past, or your partner immediately offering solutions. Both leave you vulnerable to feeling that your partner doesn’t understand, or just doesn’t care.
The arguing is oftentimes your opportunity to say things you have been wanting to say for a while. You need the chance to give full expression to your frustrations.
Here are two ways the recovery conversation can be helpful.
Being able to develop your position more fully strengthens your argument. What you say will lose its effectiveness if it’s mired in accusations and attacks. The idea is to express anger without being hurtful.
For example, what if you believe your partner has been acting like a jerk. If I tell you: “don’t call him a jerk,” you can’t give full expression to how you feel, and end up suppressing it. And likely, it will present itself later with more forcefulness.
But what if you say: “It almost feels like you would treat a stranger on the street better than you treat me. I can take someone I don’t know being a jerk, but I would expect you to treat me better than that.”
This may offer you the satisfaction of expressing your complaint fully, while being thoughtful in your delivery.
A Second Chance
When arguing, you’re blindsided by its overpowering emotions. Attacking and defending takes precedence, and you don’t have the chance to discuss the issue.
The recovery conversation is an opportunity to talk through the emotions underlying your disappointment. For example, your argument may be “we never spend time together.” What’s not being brought up is the feeling of isolation, how that scares you, and what it means for your relationship.
The second time around allows both of you to say, with more depth, what you have been wanting to say.
Listening from a place of curiosity softens the moment. — Do you really feel that way, or was that comment said out of anger? Can you tell me more about why that bothers you? Why is that important to you? I guess I could’ve responded to you better, huh?
Many times, arguments are indicative of couples not allowing each other to express their disappointments fully. The idea isn’t to avoid arguments, but to become better at recovering from them.