GAP and I are coming up on our sixth wedding anniversary this spring. And anniversaries remind me of our wedding. And our wedding reminds me of the showers that preceded it. And those showers remind me of the unending guidance for a successful marriage that was happily dropped in our laps by our well-wishing elders. Of course their intentions were innocent enough, but much as we may try, marital strategy cannot (and should not!) be boiled down into anything that can be embroidered on a pillow. As you may suspect from my not-the-least-bit-subtle title, I have a favorite offender.
Of all the trite advice that is hurled at engaged couples I think the most worthless adage is: Never go to bed angry.
Right off the top: Never. Any piece of advice beginning in never or always could probably stand to have a bit of reality injected into it. We are complex people. We have moods and temperaments. We have schedules and logistics. We find pleasant surprises and harsh realizations scattered throughout our days. Our lives are not filled with absolutes; with blacks or whites. We make our way through this world subsisting on greys and nuance. I question any piece of advice that has the audacity to come at me with never.
And then there’s the rest of it; the part about going to bed angry. That’s the part of the saying that I believe makes a critical miscalculation about anger. The miscalculation is that anger only grows and festers with time. This little saying presupposes that if we go to bed angry 1) we are not communicating in the first place, 2) this “not communicating” will result in bottled-up feelings, and 3) those bottled-up feelings will swell with neglect and eat away at our insides until nothing but pure resentment is left in their place. But in my experience only sometimes is this potent cocktail of interpersonal missteps the case.
I’ve found that more frequently anger, like anything else, benefits from rest, from down time, and from the cooling of emotions that a break provides. And it is for these reasons that when GAP and I have a disagreement that springs up in the evening, any issues that remain unresolved at bedtime stay that way until morning. We are both self-aware, verbal, and articulate. We are also both stubborn. When arguments linger it is not because things are left unsaid. It is because they have already been said multiple times in multiple ways and with nearly countless variations in tone, slant, and interpretation. Continuing to hash it out, as energy fades and emotions wear thin, accomplishes nothing. Sometimes sleep, and the silence that comes with it, is the only productive course of action.
I will concede that I don’t particularly like going to bed with anger or frustration hanging in the air. It feels lonely and isolating. I much prefer for issues to be sorted out into tidy conclusions before we tuck in for the night. But that isn’t always realistic. I have learned over time to accept that going to bed angry can be the lesser, and more prudent, of two evils.
In the morning we are rested and fresh. We are more inclined to forgive or to compromise. We think more clearly and speak more rationally. And if the aborted argument is resumed when the sun comes up, all of those things bode well for the outcome. However, we also have a baby to wake up, feed, and get dressed. We have jobs to go to. We have a day in front of us. So the previous night’s conflict usually goes unaddressed, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for the day, and sometimes forever.
Usually there is an apology – at least for the disagreement in general, if not for the positions we took within it – and usually that is enough. We’ve each said our piece (isn’t being heard half the battle anyway?) and there’s frequently no need to resurrect what could just as easily be buried. We love each other deeply for many reasons. Two of those reasons are sharpness of intellect and strength of spirit. Juxtaposing those traits with a difference of opinion could spell frequent and unmitigated disaster if we didn’t know when to walk away.
This isn’t easy to do. It takes trust in your partner and faith in your relationship. It takes the knowledge that this partnership can weather an overnight storm. No, going to bed angry isn’t for the faint of heart. It is, however, for the tired, the bull headed, and the road-tested survivors of confident marriages.