I apologize in advance for being the voice of doom and gloom. But, if you invest your heart and love in someone inevitably you will hurt or be hurt by that person.
Disclaimer: I am not referring to physical violence or emotional abuse. I am referring to what often happens when you are in a long-term relationship. The old "Foot n Mouth" disorder! You didn't mean to hurt them. In fact you had only their best interests in mind before you said or did whatever caused the hurt. Usually, you're partner's reaction is swift like they have just been punched in the stomach. In turn, you suddenly have a deer in the headlights look on your face and the caption above your head reads, "uh ohhhhh"
All is not lost, even though in the moment it feels that way. I believe that in every relationship debacle there is an opportunity for growth and connection. Of course there is also an opportunity for it to turn into a huge irreconcilable fight. Unfortunately, many of us fall too easily into the latter category. To avoid falling into the pit of relationship despair, several things have to happen. Two of which are: you must learn how to tolerate your own feelings when you've hurt someone and you must learn how to tend to the hurt you've caused your loved one.
This takes time and practice and if your relationship hurts turn into disasters often, I would encourage you to seek couple's counseling. But, to explain the concept further, here is a starter list to avoiding a big fight and growing closer.
1. Talk: Ask to talk about what happened. Ignoring the situation will not make it disappear and probably only increase the tension and distance between both of you.
If your partner is very angry or sad they may need some time to regroup before getting into a discussion. If they aren't ready to talk about it, don't assume you are off the hook.
It is up to you to ask again later. If they still don't want to talk about it when you've asked a second time then you can let them know that you are available to talk whenever they are ready and to let you know.
2. Listen: when your partner is talking really focus on what they are saying. Tune out what's going on in your head and listen. As you listen, accept their thoughts and feelings even if you do not understand. If you are confused by something they are saying it's ok to ask questions for clarification. Be careful not to interrogate or dismiss. Just be a good listener!
3. Acknowledge: Repeat back in your own words what your partner said. Most importantly, focus on key thought and feelings. It does not have to be word for word, just the key points. Again do not be dismissive or defensive.
4. Apologize: Apologies only work if they are genuine and until you really understand why your partner was hurt it's going to be hard to offer a genuine apology. They usually sound something like, "if I have said or done anything to offend you...I'm sorry." It acknowledges nothing and accepts no responsibility and often drives the wedge in further between you.
A genuine apology accepts responsibility and is specific to the hurt. For instance; I know that I hurt you when I said (or did) ______ (fill in the blank). I am so sorry.
5. Problem Solve: Ask your loved one how they would have liked you to broach the subject so it won't happen again. Problem solving helps both of you feel empowered and on the same team. It is instrumental in resolving the issue and feeling more connected to your partner.