What you do after an argument is much more important than what you actually argued about. The behaviors you exhibit following conflict, determine how the two of you will feel about each other. It also impacts how you will approach conflict in the future.
For example, if after an argument the two of you can talk calmly and reconcile, it can be very comforting. Reassurance after an argument helps solidify the relationship. It communicates to your partner, “I may get mad at you sometimes but I still love you.” It also helps reassure you that despite your disagreements, your partner isn’t going anywhere.
If things get heated during an argument, it is important to take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. If you resorted to raising your voice or making accusations, apologize for these things. Talk to your partner about how to resolve the problem and make it a priority to address your behaviors. Learn new strategies so you don’t resort to these tactics in the future.
Many people fall into patterns of behavior following an argument that are not helpful. In fact they can be harmful to the marriage. Here are some of the most common destructive behaviors people exhibit after an argument:
Holding a Grudge
After an argument, sometimes people can’t let it go. This causes anger to build up and it can come out like an explosion. Sometimes these erupt during an argument where people bring up past hurts. At other times people leave an argument still seething with anger that they won’t soon forget.
This can lead to people keeping score as well. For example, “I am going out with my friends this weekend because I had to put up with your mother all last weekend.” These sorts of tit-for-tat arguments can turn the marriage into a competition. It prevents you from being able to work together.
Holding a grudge can impact your intimacy as well. As resentment builds, your emotional and sexual intimacy will likely decline. Learn how to work through past hurts and let go of those grudges.
Giving the Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is usually meant as a punishment. For example, “You said we shouldn’t buy a new television right now so I am not going to talk to you.” Sometimes this can lead to the other partner giving in, almost like a parent who can’t tolerate a child’s whining any longer. Although it may sometimes work in the short-term it will cause long-term damage to your marriage.
The silent treatment tends to be a way to manipulate your spouse into giving you what you want. It doesn’t help the two of you to work together to resolve conflict. Instead, it breaks down communication efforts.
The silent treatment is different from a time-out. If you are too angry to continue discussing an issue with your partner, it probably makes sense to take a break. However, the silent treatment goes beyond a time-out. It lasts after the initial cooling off period and causes you to pretend your spouse doesn’t even exist.
If you are guilty of giving your spouse the silent treatment, learn new ways to get your needs met and manage your anger. It isn’t healthy for your marriage to try and punish your spouse. Instead, it is important that the two of you learn how to work together on resolving issues.
Making threats or offering ultimatums is not healthy for your marriage. Of course, if you truly are giving your partner one last try to do something and then you plan to leave if it doesn’t happen, it would be important to talk about it first. For example, “I can’t stay in this marriage if I catch you cheating on me again.” But it is important that you intend to follow through before you make such a bold statement.
Frequent threats of “I’ll just get a divorce if you don’t…” isn’t helpful. People may threaten to take the children away or get a divorce if their spouse doesn’t change their behaviors.
Sometimes threats are about less serious behaviors as well. For example, “If your mother comes for the weekend I will just leave.” If you are threatening to leave in an attempt to manipulate your spouse into not inviting his mother over, this could be harmful to the marriage.
If after or during an argument you seem to be making ultimatums and threats, take a look at the damage this is doing to your relationship. Repeated threats are going to cause your spouse to stop taking you seriously. It can also lead to resentment and anger. If your spouse complies to your demands, it will be out of fear, not out of a genuine attempt to make positive change for the relationship.
What Can You Do to Help After an Argument
After an argument it is important to take a step back and examine your behaviors. Take a look at how the conflict was resolved. Did you behave in a manner that was helpful or harmful? Talk to your partner about your conflict resolution skills.
Learning how to handle disagreements can be an ongoing work in progress. When emotions are high, people often don’t make the rational, logical decisions. However, it is important to learn from mistakes and focus on what you want to do differently next time.