What to Do After You Hurt Your Partner

what to do when you've upset your partner

Verywell / JR Bee  

There are times when your partner will be upset with you. Maybe you'll know why they're upset, or maybe you'll have no clue what you did to hurt them.

While you may prefer to avoid further conflict and wait for things to blow over, research shows that tackling the issue head-on is usually the best course of action. Though it may be uncomfortable at first, cleaning up your emotional messes can lead to honest conversations that benefit your relationship in the long run.

​Below are some simple ways you can improve your communication with your partner when they're hurt and avoid angry stand-offs and silent treatments.

Please note that this article is not about the hurt caused by emotional or physical abuse. If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Acknowledge Their Feelings

Don't ignore the situation or try to make a joke about it. You may not like how your partner feels, but you should still respect their feelings and show empathy.

All they want is to feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. Like you really get them. It’s OK if you disagree with their response. That’s not the point. The point is to simply acknowledge their hurt feelings. 

Think about how nice it is to hear the words, "I can understand why that would make you angry." That type of statement can make your partner feel heard and that it’s OK for them to feel the way they feel. 

What Not to Say

Here are some examples of phrases that are not helpful and can actually make the conflict worse:

  • "It's not a big deal." It's a big deal to them, so it should be to you, too. It doesn't matter if you think your partner is overreacting. They're hurt because of something you've done, and now it's your job to make them feel better.
  • "I can make this better for you." Thinking you have the solution to your partner's problem or issue will probably be taken as patronizing. Your partner may simply want understanding from you, as opposed to problem-solving.
  • "You don't make sense." Your partner may have a different take on the situation, but that doesn't mean their concerns aren't valid.
  • "..." Saying nothing at all or avoiding the conversation won't help resolve the conflict. Instead, if you need a timeout or space to cool down for a bit before coming back to the conversation, say so.

Take Responsibility

When you do something that hurts your partner, whether intentionally or not, it's always best to own up to what you did wrong. If you're not clear on what you said or did that was hurtful, just ask.

It's important to show your partner that you know you made a mistake and that you're willing to take responsibility for your actions. This means avoiding annoying phrases such as, "I'm sorry if you were hurt," or, "I'm sorry you were upset."

All these statements do is shift the responsibility from you to your partner. It's basically you saying, "You weren't supposed to get hurt/upset about something so tiny, but I'll apologize out of pity." Instead, take responsibility for the hurtful things you said or did.

Here are some helpful phrases:  

  • "I know what I did was wrong. I wish I had thought before I acted. I made a big mistake."
  • "There’s no excuse for what I did."
  • "The way I spoke to you was wrong, and I didn’t realize how much I hurt you."

Whatever you do, don't get defensive. It will only escalate the argument or issue.

Explain, Don't Excuse

Prefacing your apology with, "I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses, but...," sends the wrong message.

An excuse is about not taking responsibility. It's meant to deflect the blame to someone or something else. For example, "I shouldn't have yelled at you but I'm really stressed," is just an excuse. All it does is weaken your apology.

On the other hand, providing an explanation while still acknowledging the wrongdoing emphasizes the apology: "I've been under a lot of stress, but that's not an excuse for yelling." It gives your partner more background that helps explain why you hurt them.

Show That You're Sorry

Be sincere in your apology. Own up to exactly what you did wrong and identify it. It can be a good idea to go beyond just saying you're sorry by following through with actions that reflect what you're apologizing for. Be patient—showing you're sorry can take time.

While it's important to ask for forgiveness, keep in mind that your partner may not be ready. Think carefully about what you can do to make things right. If you're not sure what would help, ask your partner what you can do to make them feel better. Token gestures, empty promises, and insincere apologies can do more harm than good.

You may not know what to do to make things better with your partner, and that's OK. Tell them that. Make it clear that you're willing to do whatever it takes.

Be Open and Flexible

You may find it hard to not get defensive when your partner expresses dissatisfaction with something you did or said. It can also be difficult to put yourself in your partner's shoes. Resolving conflict in your relationship can feel uncomfortable, but being flexible in how you think about the situation can be helpful.

Try to see the situation from your partner's perspective. Not only could this be a step toward understanding them more deeply, but it also may indicate to them that you're invested in resolving the issue.

Learn From What Happened

Because conflicts that linger can be detrimental to a relationship, it's helpful to learn from what you did to prevent the same thing from happening over and over again. Remember what upset your partner and store it away. Taking steps to get to know and understand them better can strengthen your relationship.

If you do find that similar conflicts are reoccurring and you're not able to get past them, this could be a sign that professional counseling could be beneficial for you and your partner.

When Your Partner Is Still Upset

If a lot of time passes and your partner is still upset, you may need a bit more help. Conflicts that fester aren't beneficial for anyone, so it's a good idea to resolve them as soon as you realize they're still lingering or reappear. Getting professional help could be the next best step if your partner is still hurt over what happened.

Get Professional Help

It can be difficult to heal a relationship after major hurts have occurred. If you feel stuck in your efforts to repair the damage, you may want to consider couples counseling

Couples counseling can be very effective, especially if couples seek it out sooner rather than later. A counselor can help you identify destructive patterns and teach you how to communicate more effectively. Counseling may also give you insight into your partner’s feelings and concerns. 

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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