When my husband and I got engaged, we were showered with advice from friends and relatives. One of the counsels we heard most frequently was, “Never go to bed angry.”
After a few years of marriage, however, it became apparent that, in some cases, this popular injunction made things worse for the two of us. Like many people, when I get tired I become more emotional and less able to remove myself from my frustration and look at a situation from an objective point of view. Quite often, if my husband and I were having a late-evening disagreement, things got betterif we simply agreed to disagree and slept on it.
By morning, we were both in a happier, healthier frame of mind, and better able to approach our disagreement in a calm, rational, and loving manner. After a good night’s sleep, the issue that had seemed insurmountable the night before usually felt much more manageable.
Although marital advice such as “Never go to bed angry” or “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” has probably been around almost as long as marriage itself, there are times when even this venerable counsel should probably be disregarded.
So, how do you know when to hash out a conflict before bedtime, or when to allow a good night’s sleep to restore your proper perspective? Here are three tips to help handle conflict in your marriage:
1. Be aware of your own weaknesses
When I’m tired, I’m prone to become very emotional and irrational. Even small and insignificant things seem to loom large in my point of view, and the most unimportant marital conflicts can take on epic proportions in my mind.
Being aware of your own weaknesses and strengths when it comes to marital conflict can help you figure out the best way to handle tension in your marriage. Do you get worked up when you’re sleepy? Do you lash out when your blood sugar is running low? Do you tend to need a few minutes to cool down before you can discuss a hot-button issue without flying off the handle?
Knowing how you react to situations of stress and conflict can be invaluable in getting marital issues resolved quickly and lovingly. When you’re in a conflict situation with your spouse, take a moment to step back and observe the situation. Are your emotions getting in the way of your reason? Are you feeling tempted to lash out at your spouse in a hurtful way? Consider getting a good night’s sleep, eating a quick snack, or taking a few minutes to cool off before getting back to the issue at hand.
You never know — taking a little time to calm down and make sure your physical needs are met might be just the thing you need to regain proper perspective.
2. Examine your motivations
You and your spouse have just had a major argument, but now it’s time for bed and your conflict is unresolved. Should you follow the age-old adage “Never go to bed angry” and try to hash things out before your head hits the pillow, or should you call a truce and seek resolution in the morning?
If you’re not sure which is the best approach, try examining your motivations. Are you tempted to stay up and keep the argument alive in hopes that your spouse will give in? Are you inclined to go to sleep now in order to give him more time to stew over what he’s done?
Whatever your final decision, make sure you and your spouse are in agreement. Don’t try to use either approach as a way to punish your spouse. If you’re tired and feel like a good night’s sleep could help you regain your marital equilibrium, suggest the idea to your spouse — but be sure to listen to what she has to say, too. If your spouse isn’t comfortable going to sleep with things unresolved, it’s important to honor her wishes, as well as your own.
3. Consider how things have worked out in the past
Often, past conflicts in your marriage can give you just the tools you need for dealing with present tensions. Think back to how similar situations in your marriage were resolved. Do you have a history of letting your resentment grow as you sleep? If so, then letting the sun go down on your anger is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, if morning tends to bring out your most calm and loving self, then letting an argument lapse overnight might be just what you need.
Look to the past to help you figure out the best way to approach new conflicts in your marriage. Take note of the strategies that did or didn’t work for you and your spouse, and try to apply what you’ve learned when a new point of tension arises.
Above all, remember that you’re in this together. Marriage is a partnership, and it’s important that you and your spouse are both committed to finding which strategies are most effective in yourmarriage. Good communication and a willingness to hear your spouse’s perspective — whether it’s before bed or after a good night’s sleep — is always crucial.