All couples argue from time to time, and even the most attentive boyfriend or husband occasionally gets things wrong. The result? You're in the doghouse for at least a day or two. Here's our guide to making that stretch as short as possible, and making sure whatever got you in there doesn't do any lasting damage to your relationship.
Accept your mistake
You may be in the doghouse because of an issue you disagree on. It could be that you don't have a clue what you've done wrong. And it could be that you've made a mistake, or made a bad situation worse with harsh words or thoughtless actions. If so, accept it. If not, at least acknowledge her point of view. Everything else stems from that.
Have a cooling off period
You don't have to accept all the blame if you don't think you deserve it. But if there's an issue between you, you do need to talk.
Just not yet. "There's no point arguing when you're both mad at each other," says relationship counsellor Elly Prior, of website professional-counselling.com. "The logical, analytical part of the brain which you need for problem solving is impaired. It means that on top of the original issue, you now have a second layer of trouble caused by the row itself."
Give yourselves time to calm down before you talk the talk. "But you need to distract yourself", says Prior. Go for a walk, do a few chores or read the paper in a cafe. Don't simply work yourself up by rehearsing your debating points.
Make some rules
You may both be angry, and one or both of you may feel hurt. That's why, even after a cooling off period, you still need to set a few rules.
Most importantly, suggests Elly Prior, you should set a time limit on the conversation, and both agree to stay calm throughout. Setting a limit an hour, say will stop you falling into the trap of going round in circles, and repeating upsetting things again and again.
Fact is, couples that argue badly are rarely together for the long haul. But according to relationship therapist Julia Armstrong: "Couples who argue with respect and minimum criticism can grow closer rather than further apart."
So this isn't just an opportunity to get out of the doghouse, it's an opportunity to make things better. Armstrong suggests using 'intentional dialogue' which, at its simplest, means making sure you listen properly to what the other person is saying and try to see the issue from their point of view.
"Really step into the other's shoes and hear their position and understand that it is valid even if entirely different to your own," she adds.
If you are debating a contentious issue, start from the position that there is no wrong or right, simply differing opinions.
Then avoid criticism and personal slights. Use positive language. Instead of saying "you never do this", say "I'd love it if you did this." Instead of saying "I don't know what you're talking about", say "can you explain that again so I can grasp it better?"
In a nutshell, says Armstrong, "keep in mind that you love this person and that they have a valid position." If you do, you won't necessarily resolve the issue to everybody's complete satisfaction, but you will take the sting out of it, and with that its capacity to poison your relationship.
Be prepared to apologise
After talking things out calmly and reasonably you may realise that you are in the wrong and need to make amends, or at least that things you've said or done have made things worse.
Julia Armstrong acknowledges that apologising is particularly hard for men, but says you should view it as an opportunity for self-development. In other words, get out of your comfort zone.
Say "I was wrong about that, I'm sorry", and remember that how you say something is as important as what you say. Make sure your tone betrays no hint of resentment.
Alternatively, you may think that the quickest way out of the doghouse is to say how sorry you are, even if you don't really believe it. But apologise out of a pragmatic desire for a quiet life (or to get back in her bed), and the issue will simmer.
Say why you're sorry
It can be a good idea not just to say you're sorry, but to reiterate why you're sorry. You're sorry because you realise you could have been there for her more. You're sorry for getting angry. You're sorry because talking it through has made you understand how much it meant to her.
Actions speak loudest
One way she'll really know you mean it is if you act on it after you've talked it through. That doesn't mean showering her with flowers and chocolates, which could be seen as trying to buy her forgiveness. It means postponing a night with the boys and spending the evening with her, or unexpectedly showing up at her office to take her out for lunch.
Wanting to spend time with her is the best way to show that you won't let anything come between you, and that nothing is simmering under the surface waiting to erupt later.
Face the bright new dawn
If you've accepted your mistake or your part in the argument, talked constructively and apologised sincerely, then put the episode behind you. You don't need to feel guilty.
Everybody makes mistakes, and by proving you're man enough to accept your share of blame you may even have come out of it with your reputation, and relationship, enhanced.
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