Relationship Connection: Should we go to bed angry?

Question:

What do you think of the advice to “never go to bed angry?” Our pastor told us this before we got married years ago and my husband and I happen to have different opinions about it. My husband will try and keep me up late into the night to work things out so we can go to bed in peace while I prefer to get some sleep and work on it later. I cringe every time I hear newlyweds get this advice at their wedding receptions. I don’t like it. What do you think?

Answer:

I remember getting this same advice at my wedding reception 16 years ago! And, I believe I’ve had the same conversation with my wife about sleep versus resolution on more than one occasion. This question can certainly feel urgent when the hour is late and disagreements aren’t settled.

I’m guessing that this advice comes from the Bible verse found in Ephesians 4:26 that reads, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” I agree with principle taught in this verse. I think it’s good counsel to work to resolve your differences as soon as possible and not let them build into something more impossible to untangle.

However, the timing of all of this is important, especially when sleep beckons and patience has run thin.

I have a hard time believing a couple would be doomed if they closed their eyes to sleep before an issue was fully resolved. In fact, most couples would be doomed if their marital success depended on getting things resolved every night before bed. There are simply too many issues in marriage that can’t get resolved in one conversation.

I like the counsel shared by Dr. Brent Barlow from Brigham Young University. He suggests that couples give themselves 24 hours to come back to their stuck issues. He doesn’t suggest that couples have everything resolved in 24 hours, but instead commit to addressing the issue within that timeframe. There may be many nights of having to put aside the conversation for sleep, but as long as couples keep coming back to it in a spirit of reconciliation, they can resolve their long-term concerns more effectively.

In my experience, there are some differences that can be resolved by taking a few extra minutes before bed, and there are some that are more complex and require more levelheaded thinking. Giving yourselves the flexibility of coming back to the issue at a later time when physical and emotional resources aren’t depleted will ensure a more positive outcome.

Perhaps it’s helpful to consider that this marriage advice may simply address the need to reestablish your commitment and connection to one another everyday, even if you don’t agree on how something should be resolved.

For example, if you’re having a disagreement about finances, feelings are delicate, and there is no resolution in sight, it could be a wise idea to pause long enough to reassure your partner that even though you both see things differently, you are still committed to them and this relationship. Sometimes that extra reassurance in the midst of conflict can remind each other of what’s most important. Disagreements come and go in marriage, but the commitment to work on them together should never be up for debate.

This reassurance can be given regardless of how tired and worn out you are. It could be as simple as telling your partner, “I don’t think we’re going to get through this tonight and I’m exhausted and could use some sleep so I can think more clearly. Can we pick this up again tomorrow?” Sometimes that little reassurance can settle down the fear of the issue creating a wedge.

Sleep is a good thing and it gives us more perspective, more patience, and more capacity to do the hard work marriage sometimes requires. If you’re stuck, go ahead and get to sleep, but make sure you reassure your partner that they are important to you. When we have disagreements, knowing our partner is there for us and cares about us is the main question we need to be settled. Once we know that, it’s easier to be flexible and work things out the next day.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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