It’s Not About the Nail – 5 Steps to Recover From a Fight

Have you ever wondered why your partner doesn’t just agree with you since you are making such perfect sense? Have you ever thought “if only I married someone who was as smart as me, we’d never fight?” Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s clear that you are in a relationship. So what happens after you fight? Do you repair it in any way or just avoid it and move on to the next fight?

Researchers at the Gottman Institute say that for every negative that happens in your relationship, you actually need 5 positives to make up for it. It actually takes work to recover from each one of those fights. Otherwise, those negative feelings linger and we have the Zeigarnik Effect – the tendency to remember incomplete and unresolved information. It’s the reason we can’t move on until we’ve actually resolved the fight. If we combine the Zeigarnik Effect with the 1 negative:5 positive ratio, we realize that avoiding talking about a fight or pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t solve anything. It actually makes it worse.

Leading researcher John Gottman has come up with a tool to manage these conversations, taking us step by step through a process he terms “aftermath of a fight or regrettable incident.” If you do it right and follow the rules, you’ll be on the road to erasing the Zeigarnik Effect and balancing your positive to negative ratio.

1. Feelings – share how you felt, not why. And you can’t cheat by saying “I felt…that you acted like a crazy person.” You’re only looking for “I felt…scared, sad, angry, etc.”

2. Realities – describe your reality, summarize, and validate at least part of your partner’s reality.

3. Triggers – share what might have escalated the interaction, things from childhood or other relationships that triggered a bigger reaction for you

4. Responsibility – Acknowledge your role in contributing to the fight.

5. Constructive Plans – Plan one way that each of you can make it better next time.

The goal here is understanding, not proving that you’re right. Each of you has your own perspective, and you’re both right because your feelings are always valid, regardless of how far from reality you have taken them. There is always an understanding that can be reached. Remember – do you care more about your relationship, or being right?

Check this video out to see what I mean

If you and your partner argued about this video, you might want to see me. If you think it’s funny, then you’re in a relationship where this is real. We’re not really taught how to handle this stuff, so if you’re like most of us, seeing a psychologist trained in this method can help you work with the 5 steps to repair a fight, which your relationship needs to survive and thrive. If you don’t need the extra support, and you can handle the aftermath of a fight, then good for you – maybe you are already doing the five steps in some way.

Jason Jones, B.Sc.(hons), MC, Registered Psychologist