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June 10, 2013

Sleeping On It

Couple lying in bed awake
Someone recently asked me to recall the worst marriage advice I had heard.

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.

11 fabulous comments:

  1. This is great advice! I've often wondered about the saying, "never go to bed angry." It's great if you can do it, but I get horrible when I'm tired! It's much better to do as you say, to take a bit of a break from each other & try again. I think by that time, I would just say "let's just go to bed!"

    Great post!


  2. So true! Silly to think all issues are small enough to resolve in a day - I wish!! :)

  3. Rosemary! The 20 time out is so freakin' key here! Yes, yes, yezzzzz, reset and think straight. Most of the time, you realize you were in agreement anyhow, only phrasing things a bit differently. Even real issues often turn out not to be that big of a deal after a time out. Then, later that day or the next, the couple can attack the issue as a team. That has always been very effective for us;)

  4. I like this advice, Rosemary, as it is so practical. No one wants to live with regrets, so calling a time out is a great idea. Everyone knows they're loved, and the problem will get attention when everyone is rested. Everything is always better in the morning - or at least it is for me.

    Now all I have to do is get CJ riled up today (very tough task indeed) and see if it works. ;)

    1. Tammy, I have a suspicion that your efforts to get him riled up would just be too darn cute and you'd end up with nothing but more laughing and dancing.

  5. This is a great post, Rosemary. I must admit though, I have a different take on this. What you've mentioned as the worst piee of advice is actually what my husband and I consider one of the best pieces of advice we ever got (from a psychologist we went to for pre-marital counseling). Here's the difference though between the way you describe it and the way we've always understood it (doesn't mean one is right and one is wrong; just different). There's two parts to the advice we were given and have heeded the past 10 years: 1) Never have weighty conversations at night when you are tired (as you will be likely be short on patience and a much poorer communicator); and 2) Never go to sleep while you are still angry.

    Those who fall asleep in the midst of an argument make an assumption their spouse will still be there when they awake to continue the conversation. But what a tragedy it is for those who go to sleep angry and are never given the opportunity to make it right in the morning.

    My husband and I are incredibly honest and transparent with each other and we don't sweep anything under the rug. So I'll tell you what that piece of advice has done for us. We are constantly reminded that we are not promised tomorrow and even if we don't agree about something, for the sake of the evening, we will "put a pin in it" and come back to it in the morning. But for the purpose of the night, we will end the evening loving each other like it is our last and if we're blessed with another day, we will resolve the disagreement at that time. But we truly believe there is no issue important enough to allow anger or frustration to trump love, kindness and respect.

    As Richard Carlson said, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff.

  6. By the way, I quoted my friend's husband, Richard Carlson, in that last comment but what I should have also added was she and her husband lived by that piece of advice and she's so happy they did.

    She went to sleep and when she awoke at 6:05am, her husband had already boarded a flight to New York and she didn't get a chance to talk to him. At 45 years old, and in otherwise great health, he died of a pulmonary embolism before his plane landed in NYC. This was just 6 years ago. This is the reason my hubby and I never go to sleep angry (I did this once many years ago and it was the worst bit of sleep I've ever had - never again). If we have a disagreement, we don't feel pressured to resolve it before the end of the night. In respect and love we agree to continue the conversation in the morning, but for tonight...we just love.

  7. Turning off your anger is a great idea, but most of us aren't so perfect that we can do that. I like the idea that you can take a break and calm down, and recognize that you love each other, even if you are still a bit angry. That is doable, and it will give you no reason for regret should the worst happen.

  8. AnonymousJune 12, 2013

    I don't think most people can adjust their emotions to a schedule. Even if it's bedtime, that doesn't mean you can suddenly be all sweetness and light without faking it. 20 minutes to cool down might help.

  9. I've always seen the command to not let the sun go down on our anger as being about anger, not fixing anything.

    We live in a world that tolerates, encourages, and even worships anger, and it is too easy to fall into that. We can learn to control our anger - it's neither easy nor fun, but it is healthy for us and for our relationships.

  10. I was doing a search for "the worst marriage advice" and nearly every one I found lists don't go to bed mad. Issues can't always be fixed and it isn't always possible to feel all lovey dovey when you face a serious problem. I think your advice is a good way to go and I the person who disagreed with you didn't really read what you were saying.


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