So you had a fight. A real knock-down, drag-out, low blow kind of fight. You might even have used the D word (if you’re married), or the B word (if you’re not–I mean break-up, not the other, or maybe that other one came up, too?)

Now what?1) Apologize.

I don’t care if the other person was slinging just as much (or even more) mud. Start by taking responsibility for your part, because you had one. The escalation was a shared experience.

And that’s a good thing, in a sense. It’s immediately bonding to recognize, together, that things got out of hand and things got said that either weren’t meant, or could have been said with a whole lot more diplomacy and respect.

An apology is a recognition that you said some things that were hurtful, and that once calmed down, you really regret having done your partner harm, and you want to do  your best to avoid that in the future.

By starting with a mea culpa, you set a tone of reconciliation. Often, the other person will respond in kind–if not immediately, then during the course of the conversation, so be patient. Just because you’re ready to own what you’ve done, the other person might be a bit wary, or too hurt to do the same. Which brings me to number 2….

2) Try to engage your partner with a loving and generous spirit, the kind that might have avoided the fight to begin with.

Focus on an emotional reconnection, which might mean just giving each other a hug or snuggling up, or more. Touch can do a lot of repairing.

It’s attitude that really makes reconnection possible, though. When we assume the positive intentions of our partner, when we assume that we’re in this together no matter what, when we assume that forgiveness is possible, we’re likely to have a better outcome. But…

3) Don’t assume that you’re going to actually settle the topic of the fight right away.

Having the goal of not only repairing the hurt but also resolving the issue is very ambitious, and often unsuccessful. It’s often more effective to reconnect and then return to the problem at another time, or another day.

This is not to say you should table that topic indefinitely, or sweep it under the rug. But getting to a more positive place in your relationship first, and then going into a difficult topic from there tends to work best.

4) Acknowledge what buttons got pushed in the fight, on both sides.

This is about emotional awareness. Were you most hurt, disappointed, or afraid? What was underneath the anger? Why did you come out swinging, in an effort to deal with those more vulnerable emotions?

Think how you want to engage in the future to avoid pushing those particular buttons. Respecting your partner’s sensitivities is key for a healthy relationship.

That’s not a lead-in to trying to resolve the issue itself; it’s a prerequisite for engaging at another time.

5) Don’t beat yourself–or your partner–up.

We’re all imperfect. We all screw up sometimes. And everyone fights, sometimes in ways that we’re ashamed of.

But dwelling in the shame won’t move your relationship forward. Compassion for yourself and your partner will.

***Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda (http://hollybrownmft.com/ ). She’s also the author of–what else?–psychological thrillers (http://hollybrownbooks.com/ ).