So you just had a huge argument with your long distance partner. What now?
The good news is that you won’t have to choose between the awkwardness of going to bed angry together or one of you sleeping on the couch. The bad news is that it’s difficult to guess how they’re feeling and figure out when to try to fix things, since they’re so many miles away.
So, what can you do to patch things up, and when is the best time to give it a go?
Here are 10 practical ways to get back on track after a fight with your long distance partner.
1. Give each other space to reflect
Depending on how serious your argument was (and how often you normally communicate), the appropriate amount of time might be anything from a few hours to a few days. Either way, it should be long enough for you to both reflect and ‘cool down’ enough to pick up the conversation again without your emotions still running at 110%.
Although conventional advice is ‘not to go to bed angry’, I think there are times when at least sleeping on things is a good idea. Giving each other space will also give you the opportunity to miss each other a little, which can’t hurt.
2. Agree on a time to talk openly and honestly
When it comes to who breaks the silence, it’s easy to end up at an impasse because you’re both waiting for the other to reach out first – especially if you both think you are in the right. But if neither of you makes that move, you might end up creating misunderstandings and damaging things more than you would have otherwise. In my opinion, it’s much more sensible to touch base as soon as you feel like it would be a good time to pick things up. This doesn’t mean you’re the one who ‘gave in first’, it means you were level-headed enough to try to fix things and keep them moving forward.
A few tips for sending the first text after an argument:
- Keep a neutral tone and don’t be passive-aggressive or accusatory, even if you feel like you’re firmly in the right – just let them know that you’d like to talk things over
- Make it clear that you’re not looking to fight again but want to discuss things properly with a view to getting some closure
- Emphasise that you want to find a solution that works for both of you, if possible
- Mention that you want to know more about how they feel and would like them to listen to your thoughts about it too
3. Get your feelings and reflections down on paper
This is also a good time to make some notes about how you feel. This means you won’t forget anything important when you sit down to talk, and it also helps you to get your own feelings in order.
You might also be someone who feels they can only really articulate themselves well in writing and always feels at a disadvantage in a face-to-face discussion. If that sounds like you, perhaps you and your S.O. would be best off writing your thoughts down in a long email to each other and then following up with a video call once you’ve had a chance to digest everything.
4. Hear each other out – properly
Arguments often spiral out of control because you allow your emotions to get the better of you. When you go in for ‘take two’, let each other speak without interrupting. Agree on this as a ground rule before you begin.
When they’re talking, listen actively and take a mental note of each point they make, as this will help you to acknowledge and address their feelings when you respond. This isn’t just about being thorough, it’s about letting them know you were listening and are willing to engage with their point of view. If you feel like interrupting (and it’s almost a given that you will, at some point), resist the urge and simply address what they’ve said afterwards when it’s your turn to speak.
Even if you disagree with some of what they’re saying, try to keep a neutral expression and avoid passive-aggressive things (like rolling your eyes or making exasperated sounds when they talk). These are often ‘kneejerk reactions’, but they’re not helpful – your partner will only feel comfortable being open with you if you make it feel safe to do so.
It goes without saying, but they should do all the same things for you when it’s your turn to speak.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff (but let it help you identify the larger issues)
Sometimes seemingly small disagreements are just the thin end of a wedge that indicates a bigger problem with how you communicate, or emotions that are unspoken because you’re having trouble identifying them.
If you’re not really sure why you blew up at your partner (or vice versa), try to look at your emotions in the context of your entire relationship and figure out the underlying issue. For example: why are you annoyed that your partner forgot a date night with you? Is it really because your evening was ruined, or because you feel like you’re putting more effort into the relationship than they are?
This exercise helps because emotions we can’t identify often end up being expressed as anger or helplessness. Figuring out how you really feel can diffuse some of this and allows you to address your fears head on.
6. Don’t jump to conclusions
Perhaps your S.O. forgot your date night because they’re not as invested in the relationship as you are. Or perhaps it was because they lost track of time at work because they’re deeply invested in your shared future together and want to get a promotion so you can afford a house one day. Or maybe they just had an emergency.
Of course that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to feel hurt by it, but try not to make any big assumptions before you’ve heard their version of events.
7. If it’s a serious disagreement, review your shared values and goals
Ideally, talking about shared goals is one of the first conversations you should have before deciding to begin a long distance relationship. However, if you are both young, there’s a good chance that one or both of you will change some of your views and ambitions as you get older.
This doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, though. Plenty of couples work well together in spite of – and sometimes because of – their different approaches to life and work, communication styles, levels of introversion/extroversion and so on.
On the other hand, if the gap is too large (for example, if staying together means compromising your most cherished values) then it might be a deal-breaker.
Either way, if you’re concerned about this then the best thing to do is to address it directly. Be specific about what you’re worried about to clear up any potential misunderstandings.
If things have changed and you’re unsure what this means for you, ask yourself whether you can both truly be yourselves – and be your best selves – in this relationship. If you can confidently answer yes to this question, that’s a good sign for the two of you lasting the distance.
8. Decide what you’ll do differently in future
How will you avoid another argument in future? There are several practical steps you can take:
- Agree that if you ever feel a fight coming on, you’ll both take a rain check and return to the conversation later
- Create some boundaries for when you disagree on something: no name-calling, no attacking each other
- If your partner does something that upsets you (or vice versa), agree that you’ll do your best to hear each other’s explanations before making assumptions
- When you’re talking, try to frame things in terms of how you feel about something, rather than making statements about the other person
Make a commitment to each other to stick to these actions and hold each other to account. This requires emotional maturity from both of you, and some self-control, but it’s worth it to give your relationship the best shot at success.
When you’ve talked things through together and discussed how you’ll avoid a situation like this in future, you should both say sorry for hurting each other.
10. Let them know how much you love and appreciate them
It’s not uncommon for an argument (especially your first one) to be a bit of a wake up call that helps you realise how much you value and love your partner. If that has happened to you, don’t hold back expressing it – they’re probably feeling vulnerable right now, so a little extra attention can go a long way towards repairing the relationship.