June 10, 2013
Sleeping On It
Oh, there has been so much!
Not necessarily the worst, but probably the most repeated bit of dubious marriage advice is, "Never go to bed angry." Take that seriously, and you might find yourself popping caffeine pills day and night, living in zombie-like misery, for weeks at a time. Forget it! As Lydia Netzer writes, "Sometimes you need to just go to freakin' bed."
Most likely, the person who originated this advice intended to encourage couples to resolve their disputes quickly. If you are having a minor tiff, then by all means end it immediately. Perhaps it really was your turn to take out the trash, maybe the cat has put on too much weight, and it's entirely possible that LeBron actually is a better player than Kobe. Who cares? Kiss and make up and get some sleep.
Of course, some conflicts cannot be dismissed so easily. The matter is too complicated, and the feelings are too intense, to let it go without reaching some kind of resolution or compromise. But staying up all night debating the issue is not likely to make the situation better. By 2:00 am, neither of you will be able to form a coherent sentence. In the morning, fatigue will make you a hazard on the road and useless at work. So do yourself a favor and go to bed at a reasonable hour. There is a good chance that things will seem better in the morning. Even if they don't, you'll be better able to deal with them.
Some people find it difficult to sleep when they are angry and upset. Others worry that one partner may die during the night and the survivor will be left remembering that their last words to each other were spoken in anger. You can avoid this.
Start by calling a time out. Take 20 minutes (the minimum amount of time John Gottman recommends couples use to calm down and soothe themselves during a conflict) in separate rooms. Breathe deeply and slowly, relax your muscles, and picture yourself in a calm setting. Your partner should be doing the same thing in the other room. Then say something like, "Sweetheart, it seems that we can't resolve this tonight, and we're both exhausted. Let's get some rest. We'll feel better after a good night's sleep. We can talk about this some more tomorrow if you like. Remember that I love you, no matter what."
You'll sleep. In the morning you'll see things a little differently. Eventually you will work it out, even if it takes a few more nights. You may have to go to bed a little angry, but you'll also go to bed with hope.