It’s completely normal—and healthy—for couples to argue. You’re two separate people, and you’re going to have different opinions sometimes.
But what you might not realize is that how you act post-spat can be as important to your relationship as what you say in the heat of the moment.
Here are 10 reactions to avoid, whether you’re totally over it or still working on that whole forgive-and-forget thing.
1. Don’t give him the cold shoulder. If you need some space after a fight, that’s OK—as long as you tell him. “One of the biggest mistakes people make after an argument is stonewalling,” says Rachel A. Sussman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert in New York City. If you brush him off or ignore him, he may think you’re punishing him, which may make him hold back on telling you how he feels in the future. Instead, say, “My emotions don’t recede as quickly as yours, but give me 24 hours and I’m sure things will be fine. If not, we can discuss more.”
2. Don’t keep his words in your arsenal.You know “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? Whatever your partner says during a fight should stay there. “List-makers never tell their partners what bothers them in the moment,” says Michelle Golland, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who works with couples. So if he says something during the fight that bugs you, tell him his words are frustrating you. If his fighting words annoy you the next day, give yourself some breathing room instead of approaching him again so soon. Bringing up an argument too often can lead to talking in circles, not a resolution.
3. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry” if he’s still hurt. That says, “I’m sick of this. Leave me alone. I want to do something else,” says Laurie Puhn, a couples mediator and creator of the Fight Less, Love More program based on her bestselling book. “What you want to say is, ‘I’m sorry for…’ and explain what you’re talking about. The second part of the apology is, ‘In the future, I will…’ and fill in the blank with how you won’t make the mistake again.”
4. Don’t make excuses for why you fought. There are a million things on which you could blame an argument: a bad day at work, a headache, a restless night. In fact, a University of California, Berkeley, study says that couples who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to fight. Still, passing the blame isn’t fair to your or your partner. “Fights are about information,” says Dr. Golland. “If you’re angry, sad or hurt, that’s information your husband needs to know.” The next time you have a bad day at work, “warn your husband before you get home,” suggests Dr. Golland. That way, he knows that you may be more irritable.
5. Don’t walk away if he re-approaches the argument. If it’s been only a few minutes since your fight, tell your husband you’re open to any questions or hearing about lingering frustrations after he’s had time to think. If he wants to revisit the issue after a few days, though, don’t turn your back on him. “Non-verbal communication is as loud as yelling,” says Dr. Golland. If you find yourself walking away, apologize, return and hear him out. “Reflect back what he’s telling you: ‘So you’re saying [fill in the blank]. Correct?’ Check in to make sure you’re getting it right.”
6. Don’t keep getting in jabs. Still reeling from a fight? That doesn’t give you the right to mutter not-so-sweet nothings. “Never call a person a name. It’s hard to recover from that,” says Sussman. So if you fought about your vacation budget, don’t say he’s cheap when you’re looking at your friend’s photos from her trip to Greece. Name-calling only “makes him come back swinging with insults,” says Sussman. Instead, ask him to talk through what’s still bothering you once you’ve calmed down. Say something like, “I know you’re concerned we don’t have the money, but here’s a budget I made,” suggests Sussman.
7. Don’t have makeup sex if you’re not feeling it. You both said “I’m sorry” and meant it—but now he’s trying to get some, and all you can think is, Seriously? “It’s not that they don’t realize you had a fight,” says Sussman. “Many men want to have sex to feel close.” If going at it is the last thing on your mind, let him down gently. “Say, ‘Thank you for feeling like you want to be close to me, but I’m not in the mood right now,” she suggests. “Hug him, and tell him that maybe you can have sex tomorrow.” Don’t just roll over and refuse him without an explanation. “That will hurt his feelings,” says Sussman.
8. Don’t focus on what caused the fight. Your energy is better spent on the solutions for the problem. Puhn uses this example: Say your husband forgot to bring cash to a cash-only event. You had a tiff about it, but then you went to an ATM and the issue was resolved. Enjoy the night instead of replaying your partner’s screw-up in your head. “The difference between a bad fight and a good fight is whether or not you reached a solution,” says Puhn. On the other hand, if his forgetfulness is consistent, try saying, “I’m noticing that you aren’t carrying cash much these days. What’s going on there?” It’s a less judgmental way to get at the issue than, “Ugh! Not again!”
9. Don’t say, “I didn’t mean it.” “Saying this is like trying to use an eraser on permanent marker,” says Puhn. “It inflames the situation because your husband will say: ‘Yes you did!’” Going back and forth on what you said or didn’t say, meant or didn’t mean, keeps you focused on the past instead of working toward a solution for the future, which is the goal of any disagreement. If hesays, “I didn’t mean it,” say, “You didn’t mean it, but the result was that I felt this way. So in the future, please do XYZ.”
10. Don’t beat yourself up that you had a fight. Everyone wants a partner who’s invested—and fighting can be a sign that you’re both still working at the relationship (a positive thing!). Puhn says she knows a couple is doomed when they say, “We used to fight a lot, but now we raise our hands and walk out.” It’s not that they don’t disagree on things. “It means they’re letting the relationship go, which is what happens before they leave or find an affair,” says Puhn. So feel good that you both still care enough to get to the bottom of your issues.