I used to be a big believer in a cardinal relationship rule: Never go to bed angry.
The idea of this was that if you get into a relationship argument, no matter the time of day, you should resolve your disagreement before you and your loved one retire for the night.
Depending on the time of day, this is a different ask. Trickiest of all is when the argument takes place in bed when you’re both trying to fall asleep. Then you’re looking at a time crunch. And depending on who you are, you can also be trying to talk things out when you’re in the worst shape of the day. When you’re cranky, exhausted, overworked, and just want to catch some shuteye.
But I’d heard this advice so many times, I thought there must be a reason for it. So I used to adhere to it strictly. And at times I’d even parrot it back to a partner who’d request, “Let’s just talk about this in the morning. I’m exhausted.”
“No, they say never go to bed angry!”
And I’d assume that this insistence meant that I cared about the relationship. Not that I was being rude. Or pushy. Counterproductive.
Or at the very least, insisting on hashing something out when the person I loved was least able to do so productively.
What was the result of this? Not a better relationship.
Instead, I was met with all-night arguments. Ones in which things escalated, devolved, got considerably worse. And inevitably, at a certain point, my partner would insist on going to bed anyway, storming off into the bedroom slamming the door, insisting I sleep on the couch.
We’d both end up going to bed angry anyway. (Or defeated, frustrated, and worried on my end — typically.)
And in the morning, we’d both be sleep deprived. And things would be more precarious, more unsure than they were at the beginning of the disagreement. A new gripe would emerge. They’d be upset at me for keeping them up all night “for no reason.”
And there was really no defense against that. Because that’s basically what I’d done. At least for no good reason.
What’s Important Is Addressing Your Conflicts & Not Just Expecting Them to Magically Expire
So I began to question this advice. Or at least question its ability to be successfully applied if either person weren’t fully on board, whether because of the specific conflict or their relationship with sleep (some people suffer worse effects when their sleep routine gets disrupted than others do).
And instead, I found myself looking at what seemed to be its essence: That you needed to resolve your conflicts eventually, or at least to address them (as some conflicts aren’t resolvable per se but must learn instead to be tolerated). You couldn’t just expect them to expire because time had passed. The advice seemed to be that you should not hold on to your anger and build up grudges and resentment.
And you should not run away from your disappointments and expect them not to chase you into the future.
When I thought through this, it occurred to me that bedtime was a clear deadline, making it convenient, but also a somewhat arbitrary deadline, depending on what was actually going on.
Although to be honest, I’ve never been at risk for personally going to bed angry. I’m not good at actually going to bed when I’m physically angry. This applies to all situations, including ones where it’s something I can’t really do anything about making me angry (death, money problems, etc.). If I’m angry at bedtime, I’ve always had to deescalate myself and figure out a place in my head where I can work through whatever issue it is and find a way to be something else: Disappointed, hurt, worried, concerned.
And then and only then could I sleep. I don’t think I’ve actually ever gone to bed physically angry. Because I always have the option of working through anger on my own, to getting it to a place where it’s another emotion, one I can actually sleep while feeling. But one which will remind me, upon waking the next morning that I have work to do. Something to address in the coming day, before it festers and becomes resentment.
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