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What to Do After an Argument

It’s the day after an argument. Maybe it was just a few harsh words, or an awkward interaction, but you’re feeling pretty bad about the whole thing. You wish it had gone differently.

What do you do now?

Well, that depends on exactly what kind of bad you’re feeling.

The Remorse Test

If you’re not sure exactly what you’re feeling, try this simple test for remorse:

In your imagination, picture yourself apologizing to the other person.

If picturing this makes you feel a bit better, you’ve got some remorse going on… or regret … or shame. Or perhaps all three?

An apology would probably be a good move, at the very next opportunity. See my post on how to apologize for tips on how to get the best results with your mea culpa’s.

The Hurt Test

If the idea of saying you’re sorry to the other person makes you feel worse instead of better, or if you’re resisting the mere thought of apologizing, it sounds like you got hurt.

You might be feeling attacked, betrayed or let down. If so, a straight-up apology is not the way to go. It wouldn’t be heartfelt and the other person would see through it.

In this case, there’s nothing for you to do right in this moment but feel your pain and think about how best to protect yourself from further harm.

Saving the Relationship

If the relationship is important to you, you’ll probably choose to clearly communicate to the other person that you’re hurt by what happened. Repairs make relationships stronger in the long run.

If they’re not able to hear that they hurt you, or don’t appear to care, you may be in a relationship with someone who has limited relational skills. That’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post.

If you’re flipping back and forth between being hurt and regretting hurting the other person, you’ve tapped into the reality of relationship conflict…

In the vast majority of encounters that go badly, there are two victims and two perpetrators. Both people end up feeling unheard, injured and/or wronged in some way.

Some things to remember:

  • Try being honest about the fact that you want to apologize but you’re too hurt to do it well. Ask the other person how they feel about it — do they feel hurt too? — and what you can do to work through this together.
  • Make it crystal clear that you don’t see this as their fault, but as something bad that happened between you.
  • If the relationship is important and the repair isn’t going well, consider seeing a therapist to help you work through this difficult passage together. A family or couples counselor is well trained to help people deal with these kinds of issues, and you don’t have to be a couple, or even related, to benefit from relationship counseling. You can find a good therapist at www.GoodTherapy.org.
Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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