Growing up, my parents had one rule about how to handle marital disputes: Never go to bed angry. If they had an epic argument that had them both fuming, somehow they managed to put their differences aside and make up before they went to sleep.
And they made sure that motto applied to my brothers and me too. We had to make up before going to bed, no matter how annoyed we were with each other.
Admittedly, there were many times that I crossed my fingers behind my back when apologizing to my brothers in the spirit of going to bed “anger-free.”
And now that I’m married, try as I might, I have failed my parents and their sage advice. After 18 years of marriage, two kids, and a mortgage, I can say with authority that my husband and I have had some pretty epic discussions over the years. There have been plenty of times when one of us crossed the line verbally or committed an act so egregious that the other threw their hands up in frustration and stormed out of the room. And yes, though it’s not admirable, sometimes we’ve resorted to the dreaded silent treatment when our anger has gotten the best of us.
Sometimes, my husband and I have even gone to bed still angry at each other, with nary a kiss or a glance to the other side of the bed. On the whole, though, we are still happily married.
Kissing and making up before you go to bed sounds like a good idea in theory, but let’s face facts: It’s just not feasible to work out all major differences when there are kids who need help with homework and dinner that needs to be thrown in the oven and uniforms that need to be washed for the next day.
When a couple has a major disagreement, there are lots of reasons why staying silent until you “sleep on it” is actually the best choice. And doing so doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed.
1. Staying silent will prevent you from saying something you don’t mean in the heat of the moment.
When we get angry at our partner or spouse, it’s natural to want to lash out or “win” the argument. And when tempers flare and are combined with sleep deprivation, some pretty mean shit can come out of your mouth. Those words can’t be unsaid or taken back and often take days or months to move past. So even though the silent treatment gets a bad wrap, being the mean-mouthed partner isn’t your best choice either.
2. Taking time to process your feelings is never a bad thing.
In the midst of marital turmoil, it can be difficult to know exactly how you are feeling in the moment because a long-term relationship comes with complex feelings. True introspection takes time and patience, and often, parents of young children just don’t have that luxury. So we have to shelve our hurt feelings in a box until we can unpack our feelings when our lives aren’t so chaotic. For me, that means finding time to go for a run or taking a drive to clear my head before I’m ready to do the heavy lifting of helping my husband put our argument behind us.
3. Kids make it impossible to deal with arguments in the moment. And then we are too tired to talk after the kids go to bed.
A toddler does not give a shit if his parents are glaring at each other over the kitchen island because someone forgot to pay the electric bill. Kids are demanding, needy, and annoying when an argument erupts, and it can be worth it to just zip your lips through the chaos of the evening. Sure, it’s important for kids to see their parents resolve conflict and arguing in front of your kids can be healthy, but if your husband has made you so angry that you want to scream obscenities at him, kids aren’t the best audience for that kind of behavior. And it’s okay to wait until you’ve had a few hours of sleep before you face the music.
4. Sometimes, you just don’t have the words. And that’s okay.
There are times in every marriage when the hurt or anger runs so deep that you are rendered speechless. Times when, even though your partner looks like the person you married, you can’t recognize who they are because they’ve hurt you. When that hurt is raw and real and you need to protect your heart, sometimes there are just no words to convey what’s on your mind. And yes, it leads to awkward silences in the dark as you go to bed, but in those moments, silence is just necessary. Often, you’ll have your thoughts somewhat sorted after a decent night’s sleep and can approach the discussion on your terms. Other times, a third party, like a therapist, can be helpful for both sides to come together and open up.
My husband and I have disagreed countless times over the years, and I don’t consider us failing at marriage because sometimes we turn the lights out on our anger. What’s important is that we make an effort to find our way back after a big argument and that we both prioritize our marriage (and healthy communication).
And as for that one time that I lost my shit at the bus stop in front of the whole neighborhood while wearing a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers when the kids missed the bus again on his watch? Well, let’s just say, I felt completely justified in not giving him a kiss that night. And I’m pretty sure he felt the same. And we’re still here.