What’s the best thing to say after an argument with your partner?

spinsight Couples Therapy, Dr. Pam Wright, General Psychology ,
Marriage Counseling Series at The Life Change Group, written by Dr. Pam Wright, mental health expert. What are the best things to say after an argument with your partner

What to Say After an Argument

Couples counseling is filled with disagreements and sometimes even heated exchanges. And this is the purpose of the therapy. It's a controlled environment where both partners have an opportunity to communicate out in the open and are urged and guided to listen to each other. But what happens back at home? After the next argument has ended, what should you say to your partner to help repair the relationship? I was thinking about this topic and found this lovely article on Fatherly.com, a online parenting site to "empower men to raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives" (so their masthead claims). It's a great article and I wanted to comment on my 3 favorite things you should say to your partner after an argument.

In no particular order:

#1: Let Me Know What You Need Right Now

I love this phrase for several reasons. First "let me know" is an earnest plea to keep the lines of communication open. It signals that you are still invested in the relationship. Then the phrase "what you" underscores that your focus is on your partner and not your own self-interests. That last part "need right now" brings it all together because it defines the immediacy of the situation and again reinforces the commitment to being present in the moment.

In my couples counseling I've often used the 3C's - closeness, communication and commitment - as a framework for couples to use when working on their relationship and intimacy. This phrase nails all three of those. The "let me know" tackles the communication, the "what you" highlights the closeness, and the "need right now" speaks to committed action. All together, this is one of my favorite phrases to say or text to your partner after an argument.

#2: That Was Awful. I'm Sorry. I Let the Moment Get the Better of Me

Wow - this is another great way to respond after an argument or better yet on a pause or break during an ongoing disagreement. This phrase is stock full of empathy, apology and self-directed reflection and admission. Together this might be one of the most powerful ways to start the relationship repair process. Now with all of these, they need to be communicated with sincerity and the right tone. But in terms of structure, this one has all the right elements.

"That was awful" not only builds a bridge but it's also an attempt find common ground and understanding. Sometimes, if you and your partner can at least agree on how bad things got...that's a start. You physically can agree on something. Follow that up with the gold standard of apologetic keywords "I'm Sorry" and you're well on your way to mending your familial fence, so to speak. It's hard to go wrong with I'm sorry when you're talking about about couples counseling. It's rarely the easiest thing to say in the heat of the moment, but it's a go-to for post-argument phrases. And the last part, when delivered correctly "I let the moment get the better of me" has the potential to explain the situation without trying to blame your partner or reduce the significance of the situation. All together, pound-for-pound, this phrase is a top contender.

#3: It Makes Me Sad When We Can't Communicate

The last of my favorite selections from the Fatherly.com article is this one because it employs the "I feel" statement and then couples that with a specific example. In my couples counseling sessions I've seen the first part "it makes me sad" paired with a variety of other phrases depending on the specific argument or contributing factors. When we don't see eye-to-eye, when we yell at each, when we don't listen, when we mock each other, etc. All of these will work wonders in helping to put the relationship back on track because we're dealing with the emotions in a productive and personalized way. We're not making broad, sweeping statements. We're not polarizing or using absolutes.

But I really like this specific ending-phrase "when we can't communicate" because of word communicate. As a former news reporter we learned that communication is a two-way process of sending and receiving messages. There's a sender and a receiver, and the message must travel from the sender where it's encoded and delivered to the receiver where the message is decoded. Effective communication only happens when there is a successful encoding, transmission and decoding of the message. The practice of couples counseling is really about how to make communication work admist all the ways that life and emotions can mess up that flow.

Honorable Mention: [Insert private joke here]

I couldn't leave this last one off the list because I feel it is so important in a relationship - humor. We're not all Kevin Hart or Carol Burnett, but sharing a joke or funny moment between two people can work in so many great ways. However, please head this warning - negative humor aimed at your partner will not work. The humor must come from a good place. As long as you both think it's funny, inside jokes and asides can de-escalate a situation faster than just about any other method. It can remind both partners of why you got together in the first place and the simple joys that once were. A simple laugh can move mountains.

Final Thoughts from Dr. Pam Wright

Regardless of what approach you chose, TAKE AN APPROACH. Make an apology if you are in the wrong. Make an apology even if you weren’t in the wrong but your words were hurtful. And above all, make your apology sincere. There is nothing worse than being on the receiving end of an insincere apology.


Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and mental health expert. She is the founder and owner of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga.Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and a mental health expert. She is the Founder and Director of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga. Her psychology practice is a team of therapists, counselors and psychologists offering a wide range of psychological testing and individual, couples and family counseling. Dr. Wright is also a co-host of the "Middle Age(ish)" podcast and has appeared on NBC in Atlanta.