I’m about to pull my very tired hair out. My wife and I know we shouldn’t go to bed angry, but our arguments only get worse the later they go. I love my wife, but I truly can’t think straight after 11pm. Last night, I got so angry I said some hurtful things I shouldn’t have said. I told my wife I needed some time to process but my wife kept insisting we couldn’t go to bed mad. But of course by the time we did go to bed, it was even worse. I could hear her crying, and felt like a heel. How can I explain to my wife that not every little thing has to be fixed by midnight without starting (another) argument?
Dear Sleep Deprived,
First , please tell me that when you heard her crying, you set your anger aside, scooted over to your wife’s side of the bed, gave her a reassuring hug, and said “I am sorry and I love you and we’ll work this out in the morning.”
No? Well, I can dream.
Since you love your wife, the first thing you need to know is that eight in ten women deeply need that sort of “we’re okay” reassurance in a situation like that… and will be miserable without it.
Since she loves you, she needs to know that seven in ten men need processing time to figure out what they are thinking, and communicate well about it.
Since you love each other, you both need to know something vital I found in my research with the most happily married couples : it turns out that one of their secrets is recognizing when to get a good night’s sleep instead of battling it out into the wee hours. Turns out, when your eyes are about to fall out of your head from exhaustion, you might say something wrong or hurtful…or just say whatever you have to, to get done and get some rest! And sometimes that makes one or both people upset or resentful in the morning.
Many of us have advised others to not go to bed mad — and we think that advice is drawn from the Bible. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in the ancient city of Ephesus says we shouldn’t sin in our anger and he concludes with this line: “don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” We interpret that to mean “don’t go to bed mad”…. even though that’s not actually what it says. And believe it or not – that probably isn’t the main thing we should be taking from that directive.
The Apostle Paul was actually quoting the Hebrew scriptures – the book of Psalms. The passage he is quoting (Psalm 4:4) says “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”
It seems that the Bible agrees with the happiest couples that sleeping on it may be okay. But notice the common thread in those two scriptures: Don’t sin in your anger.
In other words, sleeping on it doesn’t mean plotting how you’re really going to sock it to your wife and declare victory over your Cheerios in the morning. It doesn’t mean hanging onto nasty emotions and starting out the next day’s conversation with, “and another thing!” It doesn’t even mean that sleeping on it is always the right thing to do. If you or your wife need to work things out late into the night to not sin in your anger, do that. But if you need to wait and talk about it in the morning to not sin in your anger, do that.
But if you wait, you are going to need to reassure your wife that the issue is important to you, that you want to resolve it, and that you love her no matter what. No matter how furious and angry you are right then, she needs to hear that. Even more, she needs to feel it by you scooting over and giving her a hug.
Otherwise, you will now have those concerns off your plate for a few hours and get some sleep – and she’ll be up all night with her brain spinning.
Sure, it may be hard to give that reassurance, but that is where God’s help comes in. And thankfully, millions of couples have found that relying on His strength to do what the other most needs, ultimately leads to the best resolution of all.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only and her newest, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times.