Stale, negative energy. That’s the best way I can describe the situation of having made up with your partner after a fight, and the bad feelings continue to linger. Relationship arguments are extra confusing to settle when your head and heart don’t forgive and actually let things go at the same time. Because though on face value, you’ve each said what you need to say and heard what you need to hear, settled the issue, and are cool again with each other, you’re not quite there yet 100 percent and earnestly. And when your partner tries to extend their olive branch even further, sending you a cute meme or a text, no part of you wants to respond. Is it rude to ignore? Are you still angry? Could this mean the issue isn’t even resolved properly?
First, know that this continuum of feelings is oh-so normal, and there’s a difference between a cooling-off period and subjecting someone to the silent treatment. When what you’re experiencing is a simple, healthy cooling off period, the two of you maybe just need some emotional and physical space or some time apart.
The silent treatment, though, is kind of a no-no. When done with intention, it functions as a passive-aggressive mechanism to control and punish your partner, and can even be a sign of narcissism. Furthermore, one 2017 study points out that in the efforts to end an argument, turning to methods like withdrawal, the silent treatment, and compliance (meaning blindly and perhaps apathetically agreeing to end things) allowed for heightened psychological distress. So if you can help it, fight the urge to serve your partner with the silent treatment.
So assuming you’re in that reflective, cooling-off phase—and not resorting to giving your partner the silent treatment—try to introspect about whether the two of you were bickering or genuinely fighting and whether the issue is a recurring problem or more likely a one-time mishap. Understanding the issue better can help you discover how you actual feel about it from all angles. Maybe, upon thinking more deeply about it, you’re not as angry as you thought you were. Or maybe, the period of reflection has only further proved to you that the issue is worth readdressing.
“Isolate whether you’re feeling discomfort for having had a disagreement in the first place, or if it’s because you don’t believe what your partner has said or promised.” —Susan Winter, relationship expert
“We may not know that the issue in question has been solved until we come to it again,” says New York City-based relationship expert Susan Winter, who suggests taking inventory about what aspect of the unresolved-in-some-way argument is still troubling you. “Isolate whether you’re feeling discomfort for having had a disagreement in the first place, or if it’s because you don’t believe what your partner has said or promised,” says Winter. If it seems to be more of the latter, meaning you’re not really buying the apology or terms of conflict resolution, further conversations are likely necessary.
The bottom line is that relationship arguments are basically inevitable. Even if you’re one of those cute-as-a-button couples that “accidentally” coordinates outfits, you’re simply not going to agree on everything. What matters is how you approach and resolve fights—and approach your lingering bad feelings regarding fights that are already resolved. Usually honest, direct communication is the name of the game for every single one of these types of matters.
But mostly just remember to never give your partner the silent treatment. It’s cruel.
Even if you get into a next-level fight with your partner, four relationship psychologists suggest that you stay away from these forbidden phrases. And if you’re interested in having the upper hand, here are three ways to change your argument style.
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