What to Do After You Hurt Your Partner

What to do when you've upset your partner

Verywell / JR Bee  

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Face it. 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've done to hurt them.

While you may prefer to feign ignorance and wait for happy days to come again if your partner is hurt by something you've done, 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 hurts caused by emotional or physical abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek professional and legal help asap.

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 okay 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 okay 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 comforting.
  • "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, say so.

Take Responsibility

When you do something that hurts your partner, whether intentionally or not, it's always best to admit what you did wrong. If you're not clear on what you said 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 full responsibility for your actions.

This means avoiding annoying phrases like, "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 the two of you are dealing with.

Explain, Don't Excuse

Prefacing your apology with "I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses, but..." sends the wrong message. So does saying something like, "I guess I shouldn't have yelled at you, but I'm really stressed."

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

On the other hand, an explanation like this one gives context: "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

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 okay. Tell them that! Make it clear that you're willing to do whatever it takes.

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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  1. Overall NC, McNulty JK. What type of communication during conflict is beneficial for intimate relationships?Curr Opin Psychol. 2017;13:1–5. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.03.002