Arguments happen even in the strongest, happiest relationships. They are sometimes critical in getting to a deeper understanding, but only if the argument is ended by making up. This, unfortunately, is not always as easy as it sounds. But there are some key steps in making this happen. The main goal will always be the same: let the other person know you regret what happened, and reassure them about how much they mean to you.
Apologize immediately if possible.
If you can make up immediately, this is typically the best course. This is especially true if:
You accused someone of doing something, and you were wrong.
You are not overly angry. Anger, frustration, hurt, and other such emotions are the reasons you may wait to apologize, so you do not let them get in your way. But if you can put these aside, make up now.
The other person is willing to make up. Sometimes the other person will not immediately want to make up. But if he or she is, then do not put it off–do it now.
You are not doing so just to pacify the other person or avoid conflict that must be addressed. Some people make up just to avoid a fight. But sometimes this is at the risk of squelching your own needs.
Wait until you are calm before making up.
If you try to talk with the other person while either of you is still angry, neither of you will be receptive to listening.
There is an adage of: “Never go to bed angry” which has some wisdom to it. Waiting too long will often make anger fester, and make you sleep poorly and less able to be in a good frame of mind the next day. This in turn can lead to more arguing.
However, not every argument will be settled by bedtime. Depending on the depth of the argument, the complexity, or simple logistics, you may not be able to make up immediately. But do not put it off.
Manage your impulses.
It is perfectly normal to feel upset with the other person after an argument, and it can feel natural to want to hurt them in some way, such as lashing out with snide or sarcastic comments or pointing out their failures. These actions aren’t constructive, however, and should be avoided when you approach the other person to make up.
Separate your feelings from the issue.
How you felt about whatever caused the argument between you is different than the actual issue (or issues) that may have initiated the argument. Keeping them separate in your mind will allow you to be honest about your emotions and still have a productive conversation about what happened.
Avoid discounting the other person’s feelings.
Don’t discount feelings by saying things like “You shouldn’t have felt that way” or “That’s not right.” Accept that the other person did feel the way that they did.
As you prepare to approach the other person to make up, don’t assume that you know how the argument made them feel. Try to go into the situation without preconceived ideas of what the other person thought or felt, and don’t “read in between the lines” of what they tell you.
Write down your feelings.
If you’re still upset about the argument, or you feel like you have some very emotional things to say to the other person, try writing them down first. You won’t share this with the other person: the point is to explore your own feelings and try to clarify them before sharing them with someone else.
Choose your moment wisely.
Try to avoid approaching the other person to make up when they’re experiencing a lot of stress or heightened emotion (for example, a big project at work, a personal issue, or a major holiday). Wait for a time when they have fewer other worries.
Arrange to meet with them in person, if possible.
It is important that you be able to talk with each other face-to-face if at all possible. While the statistic that 90% of human communication is non-verbal isn’t exactly true, non-verbal cues do play a huge part in how we interpret each other’s words and actions. It is helpful to be able to talk in person so that you can, clarify what you’ve said and keep an eye on how the other person appears to be responding.
Frame your invitation as an offer, not a demand.
You don’t want the other person to feel as though they’re obligated to talk with you. Instead, express your regret over the argument and invite them to express their feelings in a conversation.
For example, you could send the other person an email or even a handwritten card or letter that says, “I’m sorry about our fight. I’d love to talk about it so I can understand your feelings better. Would you like to talk about it with me?”
Give the other person space to talk.
While you do want to convey your feelings about the argument, you also want to make sure the other person feels heard. Offer the other person the space to share their perceptions about the argument.
This also allows you to gain a better understanding of how the other person sees your role in the argument, which will help you as you form your apology.
For example, you could say something like, “I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please help me understand what you were feeling.”
Listen to what the other person has to say.
If your feelings were hurt during the argument, it’s fine to express that. However, you should first listen to what the other person wants to say. Listening to them communicates that you value their feelings.
Don’t interrupt the other person as they’re talking. Wait until they’ve finished, and then ask for any clarification you need. Don’t contradict them: making up is about accepting responsibility first, not determining who was more right than the other person.
Verbalize your understanding of the other person’s feelings.
After the other person expresses a thought or feeling, try to put it into your own words. This not only shows that you’re paying attention, it offers space in case you misunderstood what they were saying. Once you’ve done this, ask for the other person’s feedback to check that you heard correctly.
For example, if your friend tells you that they were really hurt and felt left out when you didn’t invite them to your Halloween party, restate what they told you in your own words: “I heard you say that you are hurt because I didn’t invite you to my Halloween party.”
Remember the “Three R’s”.
According to marriage and family therapists, an effective apology incorporates “the three R’s”: regret, responsibility, and remedy.
Regret: This element is an expression of genuine regret that you caused the other person unhappiness or hurt. For example, you could say something like “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings by not calling you when I said I would.”
Responsibility: a good apology should speak only about your actions, and should not make any excuses for yourself (regardless of whether you think any exist). For example, try not to say things like “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings, but you forget to call me all the time.” Instead, try something like, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings by not calling you when I said I would. I know that was important to you.”
Remedy: a good apology will also focus on how you can repair the hurt you caused. This element shows that you are not only sorry for what you did, you are willing to work to keep it from happening again. For example, this could be something like “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings by forgetting to call you. I know that was important to you. Next time, I’ll put a reminder in my calendar so I remember.”
Express empathy for the other person.
Acknowledge the other person’s feelings when you apologize. This expression is very important in allowing the other person to know that you mean your apology. It shows that you are actively trying to imagine the consequences of your actions and that you care about them.
For example, try saying something like, “I can see why my going out with your ex without telling you would hurt you. You two had a rocky breakup and it sounds like you felt as though I went behind your back instead, of being honest with you. I want you to know that our friendship means a lot to me.”
Use “I” instead of “You.”
Keep the focus on what you did and how you felt, rather than making accusations about the other person. If the other person feels accused, it may simply trigger another fight.
For example, if your argument was about you saying something hurtful to a friend, don’t say “I’m sorry you were hurt by my remarks.” This puts the responsibility back onto the other person for feeling hurt, rather than accepting the responsibility for making the hurtful statement.
Don’t just say “I’m sorry”. Simply saying “I’m sorry” may end up coming across as dismissive. Instead, listen to the other person and then make your apology as specific as possible.
Don’t stop at “I didn’t mean to.” This doesn’t matter. What matters is that you did hurt the other person. You can say that you didn’t mean to hurt the other person, but you should follow it by saying that you acknowledge it happened and you regret it.
Avoid the “but”.
It can be so tempting to make an apology but then follow it with a disclaimer: “I’m so sorry I hurt you, but you were really mean to me.” This but can end up invalidating the entire apology for the other person. Keep your apology and your own statements about your feelings separate.
Don’t stand your ground.
One of the most damaging things that keep people from making up after fights and arguments is the determination to maintain that they were right. It’s okay to admit that you hurt the other person. Remember: admitting that you did something that hurt someone else isn’t the same as saying you intended to hurt them.
For example, if your partner is upset because you forgot your anniversary, admit your fault: “I can see why you would feel hurt. I don’t want to hurt you, and I’m sorry I did.”
Talk about the future.
In addition to saying you’re sorry, your apology should also make a future-oriented statement to let the other person know that you’re serious about maintaining your relationship. Say something like, “In the future, I will do X to keep this problem from happening again.
Avoid making promises you can’t keep.
Saying that you’ll never hurt the other person again isn’t really truthful. It’s natural for conflicts to arise. Instead, you can say you will take conscious action to avoid hurting them again.
Suggest a pleasant activity to do together.
Once you’ve made your apology, suggest something that the two of you can do together. This will demonstrate that you’re committed to the relationship with the other person and that you want to make them feel valued and happy. If possible, make the activity something personally meaningful to the two of you.
For example, if both if you enjoy cheesy movies, offer to host a “Bad Movie Night” for just you and the other person.
Activities that prompt discussion and interaction are a good idea, because they offer you both a way to return to having positive feelings about interacting with the other person. This type of interaction actually serves as a reward for your having been constructive with each other, which reinforces that behavior in the future.
Talk about what caused the argument.
Once you have apologized and are back to a secure place with the other person, it could be helpful to discuss what triggered the argument. Usually, arguments are about larger underlying issues, and if those issues aren’t resolved, you may keep fighting about the same things over and over again.
Avoid totalizing words when discussing your feelings. Words such as “always” and “never” don’t allow any room for nuance. Generalizations are usually inaccurate and immediately put the other person on the defensive.
For example, if the argument was triggered by your partner forgetting your birthday, don’t say, “You always forget important things” — even if it feels like they do! Instead, try saying something like “I felt hurt when you forgot my birthday.” This way, you are only making statements about what you felt and experienced, not about what the other person intended.
Arguments will sometimes happen, but valuing clear communication can help reduce the arguments you have and make it easier to make up after them. Speak openly with the other person about your feelings, and invite them to do so as well.
Don’t confuse openness with saying anything you want. While it can be tempting to point out a laundry list of the other person’s flaws or call each other names, this doesn’t do anything except foster feelings of hurt and frustration in the other person.
Check in with the other person.
Especially if you’ve had the same argument several times, check in with the other person occasionally and ask how you’re doing in changing your actions.
Understand that a certain degree of conflict is normal.
All relationships, whether they’re with a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner, mean that you are working with a person who is often very different than you. Because of this, it’s natural to have some degree of conflict at times. The important thing is not to ignore this conflict or pretend it doesn’t exist, but to manage, it.