Dear Darling D,
My girlfriend and I fight the same amount as any other couple, but recently we had a big blow up. We both said some pretty nasty things, but unfortunately, I said the worst ones. I feel awful, and while we would normally make up by now we’re still not in a good place. I didn’t mean what I said, and I don’t want it to be the reason things change or we end our relationship. How do I take back what I said and get things back to normal?
Mikey, Insert Foot in Mouth
I promise I will get to something helpful, but I want to answer your immediate question first. The honest answer is: you can’t take back what you said. I was in a workshop a while ago and this very topic came up. The best metaphor I’ve heard to describe your situation is this: trying to take back something you say is like trying to put toothpaste back in a toothpaste tube. It’s a messy, impossible process. BUT – all hope is not lost!
You both said things you regret. That happens, especially when emotions run high. There’s a way to deal with that part, and there’s a way to move forward so you’re not in this sticky place again.
This is a sticky situation, but if you approach it well and she is open, you can hopefully recover from it. Here is what I recommend:
- Give her some space: It sounds like she needs more of it right now. Give it to her. Allow her to process and cool down. And you should take the same space to reflect and prepare for what happens next.
- Take ownership: Be accountable for what you said. Own the fact that you said it. It gives your partner the right to be angry, instead of being expected to forgive you right away because you “didn’t mean to hurt them.” It doesn’t matter if you meant to hurt her or not, the fact is that you did. Taking ownership creates space for forgiveness, eventually.
- Ask what she needs: Her answer(s) may not be what you want to hear, but asking what she needs and then giving it to her demonstrates your commitment to her, and putting her first. During the fight it sounds like you both put your own needs before the needs of each other which is why you said things you did not mean. As part of the moving on process, putting her needs back in front can help rebuild trust and get to forgiveness faster.
- Agree to boundaries moving forward: Couples will fight. But some couples will fight well, and some will fight poorly. If you want to prevent another relationship-ending scenario, what can the two of you commit to help stop such hurtful things from being said? Look at your past fights, successful and unsuccessful, and agree on boundaries to fight fairly moving forward.
I hope you and your girlfriend can forgive each other and move forward from this fight! For an effective framework on how to disagree with your partner, check out this post that might help you in future conversations.
Only squeeze the toothpaste that you want out of the tube, Mikey!