By Kim Scott, LMFT
(with a little help from AI)
Recently my husband and I were on our way to breakfast, and we got into an argument over something silly. I think I reminded him to lock the car door, which drives him nuts! He hates me reminding him of things! I know this but sometimes I slip. This time my husband let go of his annoyance before we even got to the restaurant, and we went on to have a yummy breakfast together. Our recovery time was great!
Like us, every couple argues from time to time. It is a natural part of any relationship. But what really matters is how quickly couples can recover from the arguments and move on. We are not going to solve all disagreements and even when your partner knows that you really, really dislike something that they do, sometimes your partner will do it anyways because we are all imperfect and we all have our own inner turmoil going on.
One of the main reasons recovery time is important is that unresolved conflicts can build up over time and lead to resentment and emotional distance. When couples are unable to resolve their differences and move on, they may start to feel disconnected from each other and may begin to question the strength of their relationship. Plus, holding on to hurt feelings and arguments can ruin the breakfast, day or week depending on how long you hold on to your hurt or anger.
Unresolved arguments can also make us feel bad about ourselves because so often when we are having a hard time letting go of a comment or a disagreement it is because we have personalized the issue. We are not necessarily upset by what our partner says but more so by the meaning we ascribe to the words. So, in coming back to the argument my hubby and I had on our way to breakfast, me reminding him to lock the car door may seem like a little thing to many people but if my husband interpreted my words as meaning that I don’t trust him or that I think he is incompetent then you can see why these words would hurt so much. Or if my husband came from a family where his parents always reminded him what to do, a little comment like “did you lock the door?” could push a lot of old buttons.
So, what can couples do to recover more quickly from arguments? One effective strategy is to practice active listening and empathy. This means truly listening to your partner's point of view and trying to understand their perspective, even if you disagree with it…becoming curious rather than defensive.
Another effective strategy is to take a break if the argument becomes too heated. Sometimes, couples need time to cool off and process their emotions before they can continue the conversation in a productive and respectful way. Of course, when taking a break make sure you let your partner know when you will be ready to continue the discussion. This way no one feels abandoned or shut down.
And, finally check out your assumptions. So often our feelings are hurt because we make up a story regarding what our partner’s actions mean. For instance, when I remind my husband to lock the car, he makes the assumption that I think he is incompetent, and this makes him angry at me. But what I am truly feeling is anxious. If he could check out his assumption and ask me if I thought he was incompetent, I would heartily deny this thought and I would share with him how anxious I was feeling that morning. This kind of conversation would help my husband let go of his anger and lead to a great recovery time (and of course, a fun breakfast out). In summary, recovering quickly from arguments is essential for maintaining a healthy and happy relationship. By practicing active listening, empathy, taking breaks when necessary, and checking out assumptions couples can resolve their differences more quickly and build a stronger, more connected relationship.