Book Now!

Roamers Therapy | June 2024

During a fight with your partner, especially when emotions run high, you may need to defend yourself or express your point of view. Amid this, hurtful words can be exchanged, leaving you feeling misunderstood and the issues unresolved. John and Julie Gottman created The Aftermath of a Fight exercise to manage and process past conflicts where there may be regret of things said, emotional injuries, or a lack of understanding of why things unfolded the way they did. A key word in this exercise is processing, meaning that there is enough emotional distance placed so that when you and your partner are discussing a past conflict, you can talk about the incident and discuss each other’s perspectives without it turning into an argument. The ultimate goal is for you and your partner to understand each other’s feelings, perspectives, and triggers better. With this knowledge, you can establish pathways to process fights and learn from past mistakes and different ways of behaving and communicating in the future. In this therapy sketch, we will focus on how to process regrettable incidents between you and your partner. 

What is Regret? 

Regret after a conflict can be due to the words that have been said or behaviors that might hurt your partner. The conflict between you and your partner can arise from a daily need, such as where to have dinner, or from a disagreement over a fundamentally important decision in the relationship, such as when to have children. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; the magnitude of the argument and how you approach your partner during the conflict will change the course of the fight. One or either of the parties might use unhealthy communication styles such as criticism (criticizing the partner for not only behaviors but also personality), defensiveness (counter-attacking the partner), contempt (expressing thought in a way that might make the partner feel disrespected), or stonewalling (not answering any verbal or nonverbal attempts) in the moment of conflict, which might be rooted in temper, sadness, or disappointment. These actions further lead to other emotions after the incident, especially regret. 

Regret is feeling remorseful or disappointed about past actions or decisions, whether taken or not taken. Although regret is known for its emotional aspect, it also has a cognitive aspect. Regret might cause one party to ruminate about the action or incident that happened for a long time, which can impact the decision-making process. Even though regret can be defined as a negative emotion, all emotions evolved because they have adaptive value. Regret can be processed as maladaptive, such as repeatedly ruminating about the same incident or harshly criticizing yourself or your partner. However, not every regrettable incident between you and your partner must be maladaptive. You and your partner can process the regrettable incident using the “Aftermath of a Fight Exercise” to understand the other’s feelings, points of view, and hot buttons.

The Aftermath of a Fight Exercise

The aftermath of a fighting exercise is little more than problem-solving because a regretful incident hosts many unfolded emotions and ruminating thoughts. Problem-solving is also essential for healthy communication between partners, but this exercise mainly focuses on emotional repair and taking the perspective of others in addition to problem-solving. Before you implement this exercise, there might be a few things to consider:

  • Willingness: First and foremost, both partners must agree to talk about the conflict. Neither partner should feel forced or rushed into this conversation.
  • Stability of the emotions: Secondly, you and your partner should be calm and have settled emotions. If you or your partner feel flooded before you implement the aftermath of a fight exercise, it would be even more damaging. In this case, waiting until you and your partner calm down emotionally would be a good starting point. Calming down from a fight might take hours or even the next day of the fight, depending on the magnitude of the conflict. You can gently suggest discussing this conflict later, such as, “ Can we set a time for discussing what happened today so that we can both calm down?”
  • Finding the right time: Since the exercise requires much listening and talking about sensitive issues, you and your partner should find a distraction- and interruption-free time. You can gently suggest discussing this conflict at a specific time, such as, “How about discussing this tomorrow morning?”
  • Suitable Environment:  In addition to willingness and scheduling, setting an environment would be essential to implementing this exercise. You and your partner should feel safe and secure while implementing the exercise. 

If you regret an incident with your partner and are interested in learning more about the Aftermath of a Fight Exercise, there are five steps to follow. Each step includes taking turns as a speaker and listener. This means that when you are in a speaker role, your partner should be a listener and vice versa. In this exercise, we will explain those steps as you were a speaker. 

1. Sharing your feelings: Focus on what you felt rather than why you felt that way. While listening to your partner express their emotions, avoid commenting on how they felt. You must listen rather than judge their experience. To address this step, you can fill in the blank in this sentence as many times as you like: “I felt………” You can use a checklist of feelings to express them in your way and say them aloud to your partner. 

2. Describe your “reality”: The point here is to transfer your point of view. To address this step, you can answer the following question: “How did you see this situation from your perspective?” As mentioned above, each person should have the opportunity to share their point of view, and the listener should be able to summarize and validate some of their partner’s experience. It is crucial that there are two points of view, and not one is right and the other is wrong. Also, the way you express or which words you choose while describing is irrelevant as long as it is not defensive for your partner.

3. Identify and name your triggers: No matter how we think we know our partner better than anyone else, we might still be unaware of some hot buttons. Those can escalate the magnitude of emotions experienced during the incident. Getting or sharing this information between you and your partner might be essential to avoid escalating fights.  To find those hot buttons, you can answer the following questions, “What happened when things escalated that triggered you and maybe contributed to why the situation spiraled for you?” Try to reflect on the history of your trigger. “Is there a story in your experience that can explain why this triggers you?” After that, you can try to explore the story tied to this with your partner and share it with them. Your partner’s role here as a listener is summarizing and validating the speaker’s trigger. Identifying and naming your triggers or your partner’s triggers is essential for conflict management and the love map between you two. 

4. Accepting responsibility: Accepting some responsibility might be challenging for several reasons. It might be due to defensiveness rooted in the heat of an argument, habitual patterns rising from childhood or early adulthood, or a lack of awareness. However, accepting responsibility is vital that you can identify and share what you’ve acknowledged you could have done differently in the situation. A helpful way of thinking about this is to consider what conditions contributed to why there may have been miscommunication. To address this step, you can answer the following questions: “What set up the miscommunication?”; “What was your contribution to this regrettable incident?”; “What do you wish to apologize for?” ”Apologizing without going through three steps before this might cause the incident to happen in the future. 

5. Developing Constructive Plans: This last step allows you to collaborate with your partner about what each other can do differently to avoid this from happening again. It provides a level of accountability surrounding changed behavior. In exploring what this could look like going forward, share one thing that your partner could do differently to meet you where you’re at in the future, identify what you can do differently next time, and reflect on what you need to be able to move forward. To address this step, you can answer the following question: “What can be done to ‘make it different?”

Addressing regrettable incidents using “the Aftermath of a fight” will help you and your partner improve your communication styles if you are using criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling during the fight. It provides you with a tool for getting your partner’s point of view. Since it includes emotional validation and building trust, it will help you maintain emotional connectedness between you and your partner. Since the exercise has a step toward developing constructive plans for the future, it will help you cope with issues more constructively than destructively. The gains of this exercise will impact your conflict resolution with your partner in the long term. Handling perpetual problems with the gains gained from this exercise will help you and your partner navigate ongoing issues better in the future. When we think about ongoing issues, it’s essential to reflect on whether you’ve ever indeed processed them in depth with your partner and whether there was an effort to understand the different perspectives. When things are brushed under the rug and left unresolved, they can build up and become more unmanageable or overwhelming in the future. Arguments can be challenging, but they provide an excellent opportunity to learn about each other, and by following this exercise, you can create more productive ways of meeting your and your partner’s needs. 

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.  

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.