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Anu Sharma-Niwa,
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Cleaning up the Fight

Ever wonder why it feels like the same fight keeps coming up, like a broken record? Do arguments get so heated that you say and do things you regret? Do you feel so angry that you feel like you might explode? Do you feel like you don’t know how you can stand to be in the same room with your partner, let alone in a committed long term relationship?

There will inevitably be times when feelings get hurt or mishaps occur in relationships. It is possible to use some concrete tools to ensure proper resolution occurs after an argument or regrettable incident so that you and your partner can dialogue collaboratively, rather than face off like injured adversaries. Trying to heal from an upsetting fight by returning hurt for hurt, blaming, criticizing, humiliating, name-calling, or resenting each other only creates more emotional upset, hurt and disconnect.  One of the most damaging things one can say in an argument is to use the “D-word”....to threaten DIVORCE in a “one-upping” fashion could actually increase the likelihood of divorce.  

The dialogue for processing what happened during the fight is critical in preventing it from coming up again.  To process is to be able to talk about what happened without getting back into the fight.  Figuring out what happened is the first step.  You know what you did and felt, but that is only half the story.  To figure out the full picture, you also need to hear your partner’s perspective.  Both are necessary to complete the puzzle.  The Gottman Model of Couples Therapy stresses that there is no absolute “reality” in a disagreement but rather, there are always two “subjective realities”….each person is right but trying to understand each other’s reality instead of arguing for your own reality is critical.   You also need to trust and accept what your partner is describing to be true.  Listen to learn and gain understanding.  

Perhaps one of the most important pieces to also consider is how to apologize effectively.  A full apology is so much more than the simple words “I’m sorry”.  An apology is actually a very involved and powerful phenomenon.   There are essentially six steps to making a full and effective apology:  

  1.  Express regret.
  2. Accept responsibility
  3. Clarify non-intentionality
  4. Explain the circumstances
  5. Repair damages and prevent reoccurrences
  6. Learn for the future.  


Full closure occurs when you have figured out how to prevent a repeat of the problem. In order to achieve this, it is important to:

  1.  Talk about and accept what each of you were feeling
  2. Discuss and validate each subjective reality.
  3. Admit your own role in the fight.
  4. Identify triggers for each of you that escalate the fight.
  5. Understand the triggers.
  6. Figure out how to make it better next time.

Counselling can help equip you with the right tools to clean up fights or regrettable incidents effectively, and repair any wounds to your relationship.




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