When my husband and I got married at the very young age of 22, I remember receiving a lot of advice from family members. One of the most common pieces of advice we received was, “Don’t go to bed angry.”
As a marriage and family therapist—and someone who has been married for over a decade—I can say: It is okay to go to bed angry with your partner. Actually, in some instances it is ideal.
Disagreements are part of healthy relationships, and disagreements in marriages can be wonderful opportunities for growth. Early in our marriage my husband and I cycled through the same few fights over and over again. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing when it came to being married. We have always been best friends and love each other very deeply, but when you make lifelong commitments at 22 years old there are a lot of growing pains.
Since we were clueless, we took the advice that was given to us and made a real effort to not go to bed angry. Which resulted in a lot of missed sleep. Our main argument at the time was that my husband would throw his dirty clothes next to the hamper. Like, inches from the hamper. Back then, we fell into more gendered roles, and I was the main person who did the laundry.
Every time I would walk into our small bathroom and see a dirty piece of his boxers inches from the hamper I would become LIVID. I would curse under my breath, grab the clothes, and dramatically throw them into the hamper. I would say something like, “How many times have I asked you NOT to put your clothes next to the hamper? What do you think I am YOUR MAID?”
He would reply with something along the lines of, “I do not understand why you are SO angry. It was an accident and it is not that big of a deal.” Then would come the fight that would never get resolved and last into the night as we tried to not to go to bed angry, when in fact we were really angry. We would wake up feeling like we failed, yet again.
As I have grown, not only as a therapist but as a life partner, I have come to realize that we wasted a lot of nights and tears over not knowing how to communicate with one another. We stayed up late trying to work out a problem we did not have the skills to work out, leaving us more disconnected. Trying to not go to bed angry led to drawing out fights that we did not have the ability to resolve in the first place. We had not learned what was under the surface of this fight—what was under it for me and for him.
Most small things are just bigger things we are either not aware of yet or not communicating. So if you are finding yourself and your partner having the same fight over and over again, it can be helpful to dig deeper individually and together. We realized over time, our small fight over the laundry was linked to much bigger issues under the surface—and let me tell you, there was no way we were going to discover this at 11 p.m. while we were both angry. Getting to the root took us finally giving up on trying to stay up late and instead taking that energy and time to talk about things the next day when we were no longer angry and when we were refreshed from letting our bodies and minds rest.
There are rules to going to sleep with an unresolved disagreement. Going to bed in the midst of a conflict does not mean avoiding it forever.
Here is some advice on going to bed angry:
1. Set a time to discuss the conflict the next day.
2. Do not allow yourself to spend the night obsessing over it, distract yourself.
3. Before the time allotted take time to gather your thoughts and what you want to convey.
4. If anger is the main emotion in the conflict when you meet again, it is okay to try again later.
It is really hard to communicate when anger is present. It can lead to further disconnection and drawn-out disagreements. If your options are to go to bed angry and talk about it in the morning or stay up and keep fighting, then shut your mouth, then your eyes, and try again tomorrow.