“Okay, but what happens after the fight?” I ask.
The various couples on my screen shift uncomfortably and exchange guilty looks. Nobody answers. You’d think I’m a principal asking a classroom of third graders who let the class hamster out of the cage and fed it my lunch? Today’s topic, making up instead of breaking up, is part of several classes on communication and fighting fair. Over the last several weeks the couples in my online program have learned how to understand each others’ perspective, identify destructive arguing styles (including the Four Horsemen) and apply the antidotes, use a detailed time-out, process the underlying causes of their disagreements, use a mindful apology, and go through a deep forgiveness ritual. But now we’ve hit a big snag. After the fight, after the processing, after the forgiveness…these folks don’t know how to begin again.
Look, we all know we are going to disagree. Whether it’s a gentle argument over a parking space on your second date or a flooded, twelve-round verbal boxing match that leaves you emotionally reeling, fights happen.
Even when we successfully and compassionately resolve our argument, we can still be left disconnected. Don’t you hate the distressing emotions and confused stories that run through your head post-fight? Well, you are not alone if you don’t know what to do next to help you feel close and loving again.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start over.
As you will see in this video, great couples know how to come back together after a conflict. They develop a toolbox of making-up techniques. So, let’s get started on yours.
When I finally coaxed the couples on my screen to share how they handle the aftermath of an argument, here is what these brave souls told me.
“We say it’s all forgiven, but we feel awkward and formal. Like the closeness is missing. We don’t know how to get it back.”
“We focus on chores or a family outing and things look fine, but I have an emotional wall up.”
“It takes way longer than it should. Like my brain understands and forgives but my body doesn’t, you know?”
Sounds like Dr. Cheryl to the rescue time!
Just like I show you in the video, I start by teaching these couples three tools for reconnecting after disconnect. See if any or all of these might work for you.
Relevant Products Based on 50+ Years of Couples Research
When you mess up, do it over, and do it better. Sometimes I call this a “Love Mulligan.” I’m not a golfer, but apparently, when you make a lousy shot, you can ask for a mulligan. That’s where you erase the mistake and get an opportunity and take your shot again. Well, this works well in love, too. I use this tool a lot myself. When I’m impatient I sometimes speak to my beloved in an unpleasant, mean tone of voice. I try to catch it immediately and do it over. I select my words carefully and say my piece again with a calm, kind tone. And boom, the mistake and the disconnect are erased.
You might be surprised how powerful this can be and how creative you can get with your own do-over techniques. One couple in my program shakes hands and re-introduce themselves: “Hi, I’m Julio, nice to meet you” and they smile. The slate is clean, and they begin again. Watch the video for some more do-over examples.
Fewer Words, More Touch
When we struggle to find the right words, we often forget that words aren’t everything. Silence and loving touch can speak volumes. Don’t over-rely on words. When you long to feel close, to come back together, try a deep, connected hug and breathe in and out together. Hold hands. Look into each other’s eyes. This can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you calm down, feel safe, and re-establish closeness. Without saying a thing.
Shake your booty
One of the best ways to quickly change your mood is to change your physical body. That’s why, when my husband or I have a tiff or one of us is in a bad mood we try to challenge each other to “shake your ass.” Yes, you heard me correctly. We learned this particular technique from a speaker at a big event I taught at. And boy, does it work. Try it right now! Stand up and, well, shake your booty. Then quickly check in with your heart, your mind, and your emotions. Notice how you feel. Couples report they feel light-hearted, playful, and able to laugh at themselves—all of which are fantastic antidotes to irritation, sadness, or disconnect. So shake your ass for a quick path back to closeness.
So after the fight? Reach into your toolbox and reconnect after disconnect. Because it’s never too late to begin again right now at this moment.
Learn more about Dr. Cheryl’s Passion Masterclass.
Sign Up and Start Your Relationship Transformation
Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month.