Why the “never go to bed angry” rule should be put to sleep
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Written By Miranda Filamini - Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapy Associate
When you work with me in counseling, you learn fairly quickly that I have a couple “soapboxes” on which I regularly jump and shout. Typically, these platforms involve mental health matters about which a lot of misinformation has been shared, resulting in widespread adoption of ideas that are, at best, untrue and, at worst, very harmful. I wrote in a recent blog post that the relationship advice “never go to bed angry” makes my blood boil. It’s a goal that many couples tell me they have prioritized to protect their relationships. And to these folks I almost always say the same thing—you must be so tired.
When we lock ourselves into a timeframe like this, we are assuming we have a lot more control over our emotional experience than we really do. Don’t get me wrong—I am all about learning to better regulate and manage emotions. It’s a skill I help clients develop all day long. However, this skill shouldn’t come with a deadline, and it definitely shouldn’t come with tonight’s bedtime as that deadline. I’m going to walk you through three of the most common myths I have heard to back up this age-old rule as well as some alternate approaches to consider.
The myth: If we let this sit overnight, our anger will grow, and it will ruin tomorrow, next week, next month, and before we know it, our whole lives.
The fear: Building tension and resentment
The truth: When you’re fighting, one or both of your brains can become “flooded” by the emotion. This is an actual physiological state wherein the brain is incapable of problem solving. This phenomenon is probably one of the reasons you are at a standstill in your argument! It’s important to note here that one partner will usually have a lower threshold for flooding than the other, so don’t be surprised if it feels like the same person “shuts down” first most every time.
My tip: Acknowledge when you are flooding. Use your self-awareness to recognize that you are past the point of problem solving and gently let your partner know. “I love you, and I am really worked up right now. I don’t think it’s realistic that we will find common ground tonight, so what do you say we talk over coffee tomorrow morning?” With communication like this, it will feel safer for both partners to get some rest and return to the issue the next day.
The myth: If we really loved each other, we would be able to come to a resolution tonight.
The fear: Realizing and facing incompatibility
The truth: To quote Tina Turner, “what’s love got to do, got to do with it?” People in love argue. In reality, your intense love for each other is probably part of the reason your emotions are so escalated right now. Remember, emotional “flooding” is something that happens to everyone, meaning even the most loving partners can lose their abilities to take a new perspective or to empathize. This is not personal; this is science.
My tip: Allow yourselves to go to bed angry, but try to find a way to reassure your partner of your commitment to them before your head hits the pillow. It might be difficult, but an “I love you,” or an “It’s going to be okay,” or a quick kiss on the cheek can go a long way to calm both parties prior to sleeping on the issue.
The myth: My partner will decide he hates me (or I will decide I hate my partner) if this doesn’t get settled before bed
The fear: Loss
The truth: We get pretty desperate on the merry-go-round of conflict. The truth is we want to get off the ride, let our heads stop spinning, and grab a funnel cake. The longer you try to solve a problem with one or both partners in a flooded state, the more likely it is that one of you will say something very hurtful in a frantic attempt to make the argument stop. Many couples have presented in my office as a direct result of an incident like this, ranging from name-calling to threats of divorce. Unfortunately, it is not in the conflict itself but rather in this stage of desperation to end it that I see partners really mess up and cause lasting damage to their relationships.
My tip: Take a second to reflect on other arguments you have been able to survive with your partner. Actually close your eyes and see those disagreements working themselves out to a point of resolution. Maybe it was an apology, or perhaps a kiss. I’m sure there have been a few doozies to make your relationship even closer and stronger. Actively reminding yourself of all the proof you have that she will not be packing a bag in the middle of the night can give you the reassurance you need to allow your situation to cool off overnight. Give yourself and your partner permission to rest tonight: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Now go get some sleep!
Quote from the author: “I believe that the best path to happiness and fulfillment is through human connection. We are relational beings. We smile more and laugh harder when our relationships are full of trust, affection, and play. I am passionate about helping couples find and restore these elements in their day-to-day lives.” Learn more about her mental health services here.
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