Most of us have heard the adage “never go to bed angry”. It makes good sense at first glance.
Of course, couples want to sail off into slumber each night without a trace of discord. Plus, it’s common sense not to let resentments to pile up. However, say you’re having trouble seeing eye to eye with your sweetheart. Say tempers are starting to flare. There is a good chance one or both people will get carried away and say some things they regret.
A timeout is in order—even if it means going to bed before things are resolved.
Research about marriages that succeed or fail
According to longitudinal research by Dr. John Gottman, Defensiveness, Criticism, Contempt and Stonewalling are communication styles that are bad for marriages.
Borrowing the metaphor describing the end of times from the Old Testament, Gottman coined the term, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” because these four behaviors are leading indicators of marriages that end in divorce.
Criticism and defensiveness are particularly likely to rear up in escalating a fight and guarding against them is of paramount importance to couples. That’s why discontinuing an argument if things are getting nasty is a must, even if it means going to bed angry.
On the other hand, there is no research that an occasional poor night’s sleep predicts doom to couples. As long as you don’t avoid addressing the issue the next day, you’re doing your relationship a big favor.
One of my couple therapy clients reported that in her 30-year marriage she had learned to not even bring up a sensitive issue if it’s past eight PM or so. “My husband’s emotional reserves are shot by this time of the evening.” She said that it took years for her to figure this out, but she began to see how a topic that might seem arduous for her spouse in the evening, would be easy peasy over morning coffee.
She went on to describe how it worked well for both of them. “Not only is he more relaxed and comfortable with a morning discussion, he is better at seeing my point of view so it works well for me too!”
It is also true that some people are not morning people (guilty); and for such people, it may be wise to hold off bringing up a touchy topic until the second cup of coffee.
A brighter look
Have you ever been irate with your spouse only to find you really weren’t that mad after you took a breather?
Yeah well, you’re not the only one.
This is another reason to go to bed and wait until morning if you are getting furious with your partner. It’s not that arguing is bad for your marriage, but when the emotional brain takes over, the logical brain seems to take a vacation.
“You didn’t put your cereal bowl in the dishwasher!” can feel like grounds for divorce when you are caught up in escalating emotions.
The next morning when you have access to your calm, rational brain you might think, “Yes, it is annoying and I would like my partner to stop doing that but it’s not exactly a deal breaker.
A new perspective
Getting some space can bring a new perspective.
Like the next day realizing that you were mostly upset because you had a deadline at work or you were feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the children. It doesn’t mean that you won’t want to address your concern, but you might have a different understanding of all that was involved.
So forget the old adage, “never go to bed angry” and learn to take a Time-Out when your temper heats up.
No matter what time of day or night the troubles occur, discontinue the discussion until you are calm enough to protect your relationship from “The Four Horsemen”. As long as you return to the discussion when you have calmed down, you will be on your way to a happier, healthier relationship.