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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 1

How to End a Fight with Your Partner

The apology matters less than altering your level of engagement according to your partner's needs

After a fight, most people want their partner to either disengage or to engage more meaningfully, according to a study of 953 married or cohabitating couples in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Which strategy to use depends on your partner's underlying concern in the argument: is he or she perceiving a threat or neglect?

A perceived threat encompasses anything that puts a partner's status in doubt, such as blame, criticism or demands, explains lead author Keith Sanford, a psychologist at Baylor University. In these scenarios, the offended party is more likely to want their partner to passively disengage by halting adversarial behavior and relinquishing power. “Giving up power comes in many forms, among them, admitting faults, showing respect and being willing to compromise,” Sanford says.

When perceiving neglect, individuals wanted their partner to actively engage by showing investment, communicating more and giving affection.

No matter what the tenor of the fight, the participants ranked an apology as the least important factor in resolving the issue.

This article was originally published with the title "After an Argument."

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