Go Ahead, Sleep On It
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” “Don’t go to bed mad.” Most of us have heard this advice all our lives and have tried hard to apply it to our relationships. It may be late at night, and we may be tired, anxious, and emotionally drained from a marital – um – “discussion” getting more and more contentious… but we don’t want to break a cardinal pre-marital counseling rule! Not to mention one we think of as a biblical command.
“No, we can’t just go to bed!” We tell our spouse, with a slightly hysterical edge to our voice, “We have to resolve this!”
Finally, one person snaps, caves, or says something they don’t mean just to stop the argument and get some sleep. And instead of feeling relieved, the other person falls into bed with hurt feelings, an anxious heart, or the sneaking suspicion that things aren’t really resolved as they seem.
Does any of this sound familiar?? Welcome to the club! Jeff and I have certainly experienced this dynamic ourselves, and from my research, it is clear that most other couples have too.
Except, it turns out, for the most happily married couples. And it’s not because they don’t have conflict – no sir! Instead, these couples have discovered the beauty of “going to bed mad”… and finding that it is much better and/or easier to resolve in the morning.
I learned some amazing things as I interviewed couples for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. And one of the most surprising was that although the happiest couples usually advise young couples to “not go to bed mad”, they don’t keep their own advice! Instead, if it is late, and things are getting nowhere, they sleep on it… and their relationships were strengthened because of it!
Before you think I’m ignoring the Bible, let me share something else I found.
The famous Ephesians 4:26 verse says: “Be angry, yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It turns out, the Apostle Paul is actually quoting Psalm 4:4. Which says: “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Think about it and remain silent overnight.”
You might want to read that again.
It turns out, the Bible never says “don’t get mad” or even, “don’t go to bed mad.” The key is not to sin in our anger—to never let anger get the best of us and cause us to hurt someone else.
What the happiest couples have found is that if you are so tired or upset that it makes a peaceful resolution unlikely, putting an unresolved issue on hold overnight is not a sin. That action is a very, very different thing from trying to not address an issue and stomping off to bed, holding on to fury at your spouse.
The counselors I have consulted with all agree: Sometimes the stress of work, family, and finances simply leave spouses too drained to work things out fairly. In fact, the pressure to resolve it right now may actually be even less fair on a husband who, like most men, may need a bit of time to process what he’s thinking and feeling so he can truly feel heard…. and so both of you can get to a better resolution (and better communication) the next day.
And that, it turns out, is the key difference between the happiest marriages and those that are struggling: Highly happy couples sometimes go to bed with the issue unresolved, but if that issue is still a concern the next day, they deal with it. By contrast, many of the troubled couples slept on an issue…and were much more likely to just ignore it the next day and hope it went away.
So the next time you’re up late, bleary-eyed and weary from trying to bring closure to an issue with your spouse, don’t feel guilty about getting a little shut-eye. Chances are, you’ll see more clearly in the morning. There’s even a good chance that that major issue won’t seem so major to you anymore.
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