If you’ve googled “relationship tips” in the past 10 years you will almost certainly come across the advice to “never go to bed mad.”
Well, I call bull shit.
This old-school advice is problematic for a few reasons, mainly that it completely discounts the value of unpleasant emotions (yup, they have value!). And typically, people end up feeling like they have done something wrong if they fall asleep without ridding themselves of those emotions. Not that realistic, is it?
Here are 5 reasons that “don’t go to bed mad” doesn’t actually work for couples, and what you should do instead.
5 Reasons “Don’t Go To Bed Mad” Isn’t The Best Relationship Advice
1. It implies that anger is bad
My biggest issue with this relationship tip is that it assumes anger is something to avoid. That it’s actually not okay to feel anger for any length of time, or that anger itself is going to somehow damage a relationship. The thing is, if you or your partner are feeling angry, the offense has already happened, so to speak. Anger is the response, not the stimulus.
And more importantly, anger is a incredibly valuable emotion that we must give ourselves (and our partners) permission to experience. It is chalk full of information that guides you and your partner to solve problems. It lets you know where your boundaries lie, what you value, what you need and expect.
Instead of prematurely shoving it away or expecting your partner to move along, give yourself some space to listen, fully understand, and completely feel the emotion.
And by the way, the only way anger goes away is when you actually feel it. All of it. So “getting over it” before you are actually ready doesn’t solve anything and that same anger will just resurface later. Darn, hey?
2. It assumes that the problem can be resolved within a short time frame
Why are we told that “bedtime” somehow signifies when we need to be finished arguing, dissolve our anger, and feel in love again? Bedtime has absolutely nothing to do with resolving conflict (unless of course having sex is part of your conflict resolution plan…which is sometimes a great idea).
But really. The last thing a couple needs is to feel rushed to resolve a conflict, forgive, reach an agreement, get over it, just because it’s almost bedtime. What’s even more common is for couples to stay up until ridiculous hours of the morning to avoid going to bed mad…because 3am discussions are usually really helpful. Not.
So let’s stop assuming that most problems can be resolved in an evening. Sure, sometimes this might be the case but we must also respect these issues that arise and not rush through them.
Again, conflict is loaded with value…give yourself the benefit of fully realizing that value (the learning, growth, and subsequent understanding and connection).
3. It doesn’t account for different processing speeds
What does this mean? Let me give you an example:
You are laying in bed with your husband and you want to talk it out. That’s your style, to talk until it’s done. You want to get to the bottom of the argument, to hear an apology, to know that he understands your perspective, to hear how things will be different next time… and so it goes.
But your husband doesn’t have much to say. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, and in fact, he doesn’t really say much at all. Then he starts falling asleep, which only infuriates you! How could he be sleeping when you are abolsutely wired and and really upset!?
Been in this situation? I sure have.
We need to accept that people process their thoughts and emotions very differently. Some are quick to articulate themselves, others need time to figure out how to communicate what matters most.
Giving one another ample space to thoughtfully process the conflict, and consider how to best communicate is critical. In fact, rushing through this can cause a lot of damage. If you push communication (or resolving conflict) too fast, people tend to say things they don’t mean, be harsh with their words, aggressive or emotional.
Time allows some of the energy to diffuse. It allows more thoughtfulness and less defensiveness. It encourages both partners to be open to what the other has to say rather than rigidly defending themselves.
4. It encourages a person to “get over it” faster than they might want to, or are ready for
Do you ever just want to be mad? You don’t really want to get over it, you want to sit in your anger a little longer? (It’s kind of powerful, isn’t it?)
Even as I say that, I feel a little childish. Like my toddler who tries to be “an-gy” at me and quickly forgets why.
But in all honesty, sometimes we want to be mad and sometimes that’s okay (provided you aren’t being manipulative and mean). No, I don’t suggest that you should unnecessarily get in a foul mood and refuse to budge. But instead, I encourage you to actually allow yourself to be mad as long as you need to…your partner doesn’t get to rush you through. Sometimes it just takes a little more time to come around, to process, to truly feel finished with whatever emotions you’re stuck on.
You’ve got to feel them to get through them.
And this goes both ways, don’t forget! For most of us humans, it’s pretty uncomfortable when someone isn’t happy with us. You know this right? You want to be forgiven. It’s brutal when someone is upset with you. And at the same time, you can’t rush someone to move on just to bring yourself relief from the discomfort of being in the dog house.
Just be in the dog house for a while.
Allow your partner the space to feel their emotions without expecting them to move along too quickly. And notice how they’ll give you the same space in return.
And. This doesn’t usually happen by bedtime.
5. It discounts the benefit of a fresh, rested mind
You know the meme: “don’t blame me for what I said when I was hungry”? Well, I think being tired and stressed is equally mind-altering as being hangry.
Seriously. Now, I have had my share of late night conflict and I tell you, staying up until the wee hours of the morning doesn’t usually help.
Typically, one person gets frustrated that the other is falling asleep, and then stews angrily for hours while listening to the other person snore…or even worse…sleep peacefully.
And further, a tired mind usually isn’t the best at problem solving, at being empathic or sensitive, at listening or asking thoughtful questions. It is actually incredibly challenging to have a respectful and productive problem-solving conversation at the best of times, so consider saving it for the next day when you are more rested. Just be sure to actually create time to have the conversation so that you trust one another the next time a late night conflict emerges.
Oh, and one more thing: sleep is magic. Have you ever woken up and solved a problem in your sleep? Sometimes a little rest is just the thing you needed.
So we’ve talked about why it’s okay to go to bed angry, and I hope you feel some relief that you aren’t damaging your relationship by doing so.
Now let’s also take a look at some ideas to support you and your partner through the conflict (knowing that you don’t have to resolve it tonight!).
How To Go To Bed Angry and Still Have a Great Relationship
1. Identify and communicate your feelings
Don’t rush yourself out of your emotions. Check in, notice what is there, and talk about these with your partner. And get serious about your partner’s feelings too. What are they experiencing? Is there anything they’d like to share?
And just a reminder: feelings are facts.
We are all entitled to “feel” the way we do (provided we are actually talking about feelings, not something like “I feel like you are cheating on me.” That’s not a feeling, that’s a thought…unless you are psychic… then it’s more like a “sense”).
But if your partner says they feel worried, sad, hurt, embarrassed, etc…you must listen and accept it. Emotions are not up for debate. Even if your emotions are different (which they almost always will be), you still cannot refute your partner’s feelings. The fastest way to damage a relationship is to invalidate feelings, so please take this point to heart!
2. Be respectful
You can experience strong emotions, have negative thoughts, and still maintain a solid connection with your partner.
Yup, it’s true.
By focusing on respectful communication (without intentionally hurting or dismissing the other), you are more likely to be heard, get what you want, resolve the conflict, and maintain your relationship.
Keep the long view in mind. Consider how, in general, you want to treat you partner (hopefully with love and kindness) and try to hold onto this especially during conflict.
3. Love and anger can coexist.
Many people are fearful of anger, and feel incredibly vulnerable when their partner is unhappy with them. What couples need to demonstrate to one another through their actions and words is that love and anger are separate.
In other words, feeling angry doesn’t erase the love that is shared between you. Good news, right?
Given that, I want you to try using what I call the “AND Approach.” This is a communication strategy where you pair ideas together rather than thinking they’re separate.
In this scenario, you are pairing LOVE with your other feelings (ANGER / SADNESS / DISSAPPOINTMENT). For example, when you’re arguing at night and not making progress, you might say “I’m really angry right now AND I love you”, or “I am so frustrated right now, AND I love you, let’s talk more tomorrow.”
You can have it all! Be angry, and be in love. It’s all good.
Adults are capable of holding multiple emotions at the same time. We can’t allow our sense of love and security in our relationships to be shaken by anger or other “negative” emotions. We are humans, and therefore we are most certainly going to feel all of these. Let them co-exist.
Alright my friends, I hope you leave with a sense of relief about those times you went to bed angry! Remember to make room for what’s there, allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, and trust that a fresh mind can sometimes do wonders!
All my best,