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So You had a Fight! What to do to Recover.


Conflict in relationships is completely normal. Ideally conflict is resolved with good listening, communication and collaborative problem solving. So what do you do when you have a huge fight or regrettable incident in your relationship? 


According to the Gottman’s, it is not what your conflict or fight is about but rather the steps you take to repair when unavoidable differences in perspective, personality and needs collide.


Many couples will start counselling with an accumulation of open wounds from fights left unresolved or avoided. The issue with this is that it leads to guarding or “stonewalling”. Emotional disconnect is the opposite of vulnerability which is the essence of positive connection.


Through conflict can build connection, understanding and even a deep bond. This requires a different skill set and sometimes reactively to a conflict that did not go as expected. So what can you do if your fight went sideways?



According to the Gottman’s the first step is to individually ask yourself,

  1. Am I ready to process this regrettable incident? According to Julie Gottman, “processing” means that you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again.
  2. Have my emotions been calm today and can I have a calm conversation about this incident? It’s helpful to think of watching this incident on your TV. This can help create some emotional distance necessary to discuss what occurred.
  3. Am I willing to seek to understand my partner’s experience of the event and validate that each of our emotional realities are legitimate? Hint: Don’t focus on “the facts.”
  4. Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade my partner?
  5. Am I willing to ATTUNE to my partner’s feelings and what the event meant to them?
  6. Are we in a distraction-free space where we can be fully present with each other?


If you have BOTH responded yes to these questions then.

Step 1: Express How You Felt During This Event, use “I feel” statements and make sure to allow space for each other to express feelings without judgment.

Step 2: Share Your Realities and Validate Each Other, tune in and listen to each other. Validate each other’s feelings even if you do not agree.

Step 3: Disclose Your Triggers, work to understand each other and the triggers that escalated the incident. Be sensitive to each other and each other’s triggers.

Step 4: Take Ownership for Your Role, be accountable and available to accept each other’s ownership. This requires a lot of vulnerability and often will include apologies. Be forgiving.

Step 5: Preventative Planning, be reflective. How could you have handled this situation differently? What steps might you take differently in the future?


Building a great relationship can be hard work and requires reflection and growth from both partners. At times this will mean processing difficult conflicts and tolerating emotional discomfort. The good news is these regrettable incidents or fights, when processed, can be used to build a stronger, deeper and more connected relationship.


For more information or support you can visit, or read Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making a Marriage work. For couples counselling you can also look for a Gottman trained counsellor. 




Carrie-Lee Gibson, MACP is a Canadian Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association and specializes in the areas of stress management, personal growth, as well as many others. For more information on Carrie-Lee and her work,  click here to link to her full bio page.