Why You Should Go To Bed Angry
Sleep deprivation doesn’t help your relationship
“Never go to bed angry” they tell you. This is terrible advice. You shouldn’t operate heavy machinery while drowsy, and that includes your relationship.
For the love of God, if you’re sleepy just go to bed. The human brain is useless when tired, you need to turn it off and on again. Tell your partner you love them and go to bed. If you’re the hangry type, eat something.
Early in our marriage (when we fought more) we tried to talk everything out before bed and I’d just end up nodding off in the middle of some serious disclosure. We’d just end up fighting and sleep deprived.
The lesson from children
What I learned after having children is that every outburst is not what it seems. Every complaint is not the problem. Sometimes we’re talking about wants but our real problem is needs.
Sometimes my son will be screaming for some toy and I’ll try to seriously talk to him about his attitude. I’ll sternly count to ten and say “you can’t always have what you want.” Trying to mold character. Then my wife comes in. “He’s just tired. Put him to bed.” And she’s right. His want for that particular dinosaur was not his need. He needed rest. I was missing the forest for the screams.
Sometimes my daughter will tell me (repeating back what we’ve told her), “babies can’t tell us what they want so they cry.” Are adults so different? We know lots of words, but do we know what we need? Are our needs really so different from a child’s? Don’t we all just need food, love, and care?
Even among adults, a fight is rarely what it seems. A fight is a feeling, a feeling of not being heard, not being seen, not being tended to. And a feeling comes from a body, a body that may have a lot of other stuff going on. So, like a Doctor checking blood pressure before anything, you should check your inner child first. Are you hungry? Are you sleepy? Need to poo-poo? Then you can move on to the adult.
Harder, of course, is the need for love. This cannot be resolved with words. It often just takes time. I’ve found the love bank is a good metaphor for this. Yes, your card got declined over chewing loudly (WTF, normal loud), but it’s really because you’ve been taking each other for granted for weeks. That’s not going to get solved overnight. You can commit to spending time together, and then sleep on it.
With the kids, what we’ve found is that we almost never resolve behavioral issues directly, but that things just get better when we spend time with them. So my wife will cuddle and talk to each of them, on their own. If the boy yells at his mother he knows that I’ll “take him to his room and be nice to him.” My previous strategy was to yell at him to “STOP YELLING!” This is much better.
This is not a direct solution to any specific problem, we don’t talk to them or ‘correct’ their behavior. We just try to meet their need for love. We put love in the bank. I think adults are much the same.
The lesson for adults
In our marriage, especially in lockdown, sometimes we’re just not paying attention to each other. There’s nothing in the bank. So we (me, almost always) snap. We can talk about this all night and I can recognize that I’m being an asshole, but I can’t stop. It’s just not going to get resolved overnight.
Instead, we commit to spending a bit of time in the morning or evening just talking to each other. And then when I chew the guava like a human just eating guava it’s OK. My card isn’t declined. We have love in the bank. Our needs are met so we let the little stuff go.
Let me qualify. All of this assumes that your needs are being met by your society. That you’re not working two jobs, or unable to find work. That someone isn’t incarcerated, or suffering from health issues. That your family or friends aren’t also giving you stress. That all gets into our relationships and it’s just hard. That’s a bigger problem and it’s not your fault. We need to take better care of each other. I’m sorry.
I’m not in those situation by luck and nothing else. I abhor the idea of self-help for broken societies. I’m aware that telling someone to sleep is facile when they have to wake up at 4 AM to take the bus. Telling someone to eat when they’re in lockdown and broke is just an insult.
Hence my advice to newlyweds or oldlyweds is not advice. It’s just my experience. As I get older I realize more and more that I’m still a child. I’m just some feelings in a body and that body needs food, it needs love, and it needs to sleep. So go to bed angry. Bring your beloved food in the morning. Try again in the light of day.
*My wife would also like me to include, somewhere, that I also went to sleep while she was in labor (I was sleepy!) and this may be a narrative about why sleep is important to me.