Making up after a fight: how to do it right

February 2014

“Are you ready, honey?” This text on my whatsapp, usually brings a smile to my face.  There’s just one small detail that needs mentioning: we had an appointment at four o’clock. An appointment yes, because my husband is so busy that quality time will be lost if we don’t put it in the calendar.

I’m looking at the clock. It’s 6:30. PM.

Quality time is over. Time for a quality-fight!

As soon as I put my head around the bedroom door, he says he’s sorry. He pulls in a guilty face. Mmm. The frown on my face has not melted yet. But a few more nice words…

“Sorry. “I should’ve set an alarm.”
“You  should’ve set what?”
“Set the alarm, then I wouldn’t have forgotten the time.”
“So you’re sorry you didn’t set an alarm?”

My calm and sensible ratio doesn’t stand a chance; my temperamental emotions take over.

Clearly, we’re not ready to make amends yet. We still have to fight first.

Making amends

Making amends is a precise job. If you do this half, the damage is sometimes greater than the incident itself. So you really have to mean it and not do it because you want to get rid of the hassle or to show your good will. Another person feels when your motives are not completely sincere.

Making amends is a process. How the process goes depends on how the ‘injuring’ and the injured person deal with the situation. The reason for a quarrel often arises from an action plus a reaction in which the injuring and injured person change roles. This makes good quarreling (and making up for it) complicated.

I know my own role all too well this time. When I was waiting longingly and it was after four, I could have shown my best side. If I had walked into his office in a promising tiny outfit on my high heels and crawled on his lap, he would have dropped his work right out of his hands. But I chose not to do anything. And doing nothing is a clear action in this case.

Because quarreling is a process, clear steps can be distinguished. Take a look.

The kiss-and-make-up process consists of 5 phases

  1. In a hassle or argument: recognize the difficult situation that has occurred.
  2. Take ownership for your role. Show vulnerability.
    Sketch exactly how the situation was, show that you understand where you hurt the other person, take full responsibility for what you did and repent.
  3. Forgiveness can follow when pain is recognized and acknowledged, even though this sometimes takes time. If you find that you have done everything to make it right, but the other person is still angry, don’t feel rejected, give it some time.
  4. Fix what went wrong.
  5. Reconciliation.

How the injured person deals with the event depends on the following

  1. How close is the relationship you have with the other person?
  2. How intense the hurtful event is.
  3. To what extent is the injured person able to let go?
  4. How benevolent is the hurt person to accept the other person’s mistakes and have compassion?

How the offender deals with the event depends on the following

  1. To what extent does the offender feel that the victim is to blame?
  2. To what extent does the offender repent of what happened?
  3. To what extent is the offender sincere in the apology?

What influence do you have on the course of the argument? Good to know what not to do

  1. Explaining why you did what you did. As if the pain of your partner will vanish when you explain it right. Usually this won’t work. In most cases, the hurt person wants to be understood first, before there is room for understanding the other person.
  2. Trying to avoid the bullet. “I didn’t do it on purpose, did I?” or “It was because of…”.
  3. Implicitly putting the blame on the other e.g. by saying: ‘I’m sorry that you feel left out”. As if the way someone else is feeling is the problem, instead of the difficult situation caused by you.
  4. Only apologize for the act and not for the consequences. “Sorry, I forgot to set the alarm” instead of “Sorry, I forgot you and our date-time.”
  5. Half apologize. “Sorry, I guess.”

From quality fight to quality time

It’s nice to make amends. You show character. You restore the bond. It gives confidence. It inspires. And you feel it right away when something’s right. You recognize it by the click. The moment you can touch each other again. You feel the connection. Everything is pronounced. There’s nothing more between you.

The quality fight, became quality commitment and ended in quality time.

When I offer my husband an opening, and show him what it does to me, instead of criticizing him, he takes up the glove and steps in. He knows he can make me feel, that he is taking me for granted. That everything and everyone else comes first: work, friends, lover, kids. This is not how he wants it to be either. Just the acknowledgement is already a game-changer. We make up.

“Are you still mad at me?”
“Ofcourse”.  It’s a joke and he knows it. I lie next to him, feel his arms around me. Caress his chest.
“I’m sorry I forgot about you.” He means it.
“I’m sorry I didn’t go to you.” I’m serious, too.
“Still, I’m gonna set my alarm next time.”  Now I’m laughing about it.
“I’ll text you next time; what surprises you’re preparing.”

He’s grinning. He accepts the challenge immediately. He’s good at surprises.

7 Years after this column

We discovered that difficult situations have a relation with the level of arguing. As if some situations are more sensitive. With every change in the situation we can get of balance and the arguing increases. The more one of us is in love with someone else also makes the existing relationship more vulnerable, or having to deal with a metamour that is not a friend of the relationship. But also having kids together who live at home can be a factor. I sense that how relaxed partners in their thirties without kids can be, but when they get children, the biological parents sometimes feel the need to be (temporarily) monogamous again or tend to be more hierarchical. In the last option the arguing can reach a more intense level when e.g. a new love enters the scene, than it did before they had kids. And I also notice this the other way around. Our kids have all left the house to study and even though my husband and I plan to date again, we are more relaxed than before. Apparently feeling the responsibility for a safe nest for the kids, also can make couples more vulnerable and sensitive. 

We still argue, but the way we argue has changed. The defense mechanisms we had (high moral standards, exquisite logical arguments), are less than before. Which makes us capable of getting to the core of the struggle (read: emotion) faster and easier, as arguing is more an emotional process than a rational one. On the other hand, we also have more scars then we used to have and every storm they can all itch. After six years we had a crisis that lasted 3 years. So when the shit hits the ven, it can really turn very ugly. But sailing in calm waters again, I would say arguing has become easier and more rewarding then before.

With my lovers I’m more polite. In a way this is nicer, softer, more pleasant. Almost like a perfect poly person, the downside however is that it can get in the way of real connection. And going through defense mechanisms (see above) can be nice with the first lover, peeling of every layer, but with the fourth and fifth it can also be discouraging. When partners are still in the labeling and lecturing phase, then you know someone is not ready to show their vulnerability yet. It takes time to create a safe surrounding where in a new relationship partners have the courage to step into this vulnerable area.    

How do you feel when it’s time to make up for it? Do you find it humiliating, feeling like you have to crawl through the dust? Or does it feel like recovery? And when your partner makes up, can you let it in?

As always I’m very curious how your experiences are with arguing and making up. Especially with regard to a non-monogamous relationship of yourself or of your parents (other loved ones)


Rhea Darens

EFT-relationship counsellor, so if you and your partner(s) get stuck:

Call or whatsapp: +31 6 4158 7202

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