Go To Bed Angry. Seriously.

East Side and I are engaging in a little, erm, bad girl marriage tips. She went first. I see that, and raise you one, lady.

We believe in going to bed angry. Because you know what? 90% of the time when you wake up, you’re not mad… and you actually feel a little guilty for being a jerk. Also? When you wake up, you’re not tired. And it’s pretty great when you trust each other to go to bed angry. I also sleep on the couch sometimes, in case you were wondering.

Sometimes you don’t need to talk it out. I’ve had many a bad relationship in my life, and in bad relationships you need to talk everything out. You know why? It takes a lot of talking to figure out that no matter how much you love each other, sometimes you’re just not compatible. In good relationships, there is a lot less to talk out. Maybe one of you is just in a bad mood, or picked a fight. Don’t make it worse by trying to figure out ‘what it means.’ It might just mean they were tired.

Fighting is awesome. Our Rabbi pointed out in marital counseling that every relationship needs a healthy does of conflict… and isn’t it satisfying? Mmmmm hummm. (So is the making up.) But here is the real scoop – studies show that all couples fight about the same amount (grad student correction: that the amount couples fight is not a indicator of the happiness of the marriage).* But couples who are happy fight in a different way than the couples that are not. So yell your head of, just don’t hit below the belt.

Eff soul-mates. My sharp-as-a-razor husband likes to point out the the idea of soul-mates ruins lives and relationships (as do Romantic Comedies…) What you’re looking for is a partner.

And as my mom says, sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days. Sometimes you have good years and sometimes you have bad years. And you know you love them if sometimes you want to kill them.

And yeah, yeah, yeah… adventure together, dream together, build things together. But you knew that, right?

You saw mine. Who wants to raise me one?

*One of you psych grad students (and I know you are out there) send me a link to one of these studies, pretty please?

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  • Psych grad student, reporting as requested, capn'. I don't have any such studies on hand, but I'd love to point everyone in the Direction of John Gottman- The god of heavily researched marriage therapy theory. I belive his finding suggested not that all couples fight the same amount- but that the amount you fight is a piss-poor indicator of both divorce and marital satisfaction. Some couples fight like cats and dogs and are perfectly happy with it. Like you said, the indicators of unhappy marriage are in conflict style, not quantity.

    He also have a great theory that when you marry someone, you also marry into a few select arguments, that you will continue to engage in for your entire marriage- hopefully, your whole lives. And that this is natural, healthy, and very normal. Not all arguments you have will be of this variety, but some are, and after a few years together, you'll learn which ones are eternal. Those ones are probabaly some of the best contenders for "go to bed angry" because you wont solve it. And because you can talk about it later when your less tired and irritable. It's ok. They can wait.

  • I'm going to have to think of one. :)

  • Meg

    I totally married into him not picking up his g*d*mn SHOES off the LIVING ROOM FLOOR. That we should all have it so bad, right? Well, and a few other fights.

    Thank you. You're reporting is appreciated here.


    PS there is this cool thing at the Exploratorum in SF (upstairs) where you can listen to couples fighting, and then you have to figure out if they made it or not, and what the uncool or ok parts of the fight were. It's totally fascinating.

  • Sunshine

    Meg said:

    "I've had many a bad relationship in my life, and in bad relationships you need to talk everything out. You know why? It takes a lot of talking to figure out that no matter how much you love each other, sometimes you're just not compatible. In good relationships, there is a lot less to talk out. Maybe one of you is just in a bad mood, or picked a fight."

    Now right there is a subject you should talk about because it needs to be said ad nauseum until everyone is sick of it.

    Personally, it took me a couple of decades to figure out that my relationships were so hard because we were not remotely compatible human beings. Our differing world views, intelligence, expectations, values, desires, and reactions made everything an effort.

    It was so obvious, but it was the last thing I ever thought of.

    I am now a firm believer that any relationship that feels like constant work, or where you feel lonely no matter how much time you are together, is a mismatch.

    You can't "work on it" enough to fix it. I don't want to work that hard just to coexist. The great marriages I've seen never have to expend so much effort.

    My grandparents were a great example. My mother got remarried to a man who she can understand and who understands her. She always says their happiness is due to extreme compatibility – something she never had with my dad.

  • Just last week someone gave us the "don't go to bed angry" advice. I turned to H2B and wrote him a note (because we pass notes when we're in meetings together) and told him that's just bad advice. I'm not going to be calm and rational when I'm tired. Let me sleep on it. Let me wake up in the morning and think about it. And then I'll probably decide it just isn't worth it. But if you're going to keep me up to just keep going over and over it, it's not going to be pretty.

    He countered that if you're going to fight, you need to at least do it naked.

    Our first big fight as a married couple should be interesting to say the least.

    • Jennifer Lyn

      This sounds like something my own FH would say.

  • Lurrrrve this post, we totally go to sleep on an argument, especially as I'm often an irrational hormonal female who picked the fight in the first place and then can't be bothered to finish it. Also love Terry's comment, 7 years into this relationship I know exactly which arguments I will be marrying but why would I want to change that, it's part of our relationship.

  • Esz

    Really excellento post :-) I definitely agree with the go to bed angry in theory – but I've never had to use it. My boy and I have had our spats (we arent the yelling type) – yet the anger never runs so deep that by bedtime it is still there.

    And yes, you cant always talk it out! Sometimes you can talk and talk in circles and hit a wall and no one is actually listening to the other. What is the point in talking then? I guess that is when a relationship is beyond help – when the walls are so high that neither of you even realise they're there anymore.

    Anyway, I'm no relationship guru but I do consider myself pretty level headed…The biggest thing I've learnt in my short time on this planet is: *dont sweat the small stuff*

  • Thank god for this post. I hate all of the "we're soulmates, we're happy all the time" stuff I read online and see on TV. It's so depressing – and unattainable! Thanks for recognizing that we're human, make mistakes, and have to deal with things.

  • I would like to second Terry's recommendation of Gottman's books. My fiance and I aren't religious and we're too lazy to actually go out and try to obtain premarital counseling, so instead, I bought two copies of one of his books, and we're going through it together.

    There's also a concept I heard from Dan Savage: Every relationship has a price of admission. It could be him leaving his damn shoes on the living room floor. It could be his tendency to drop dirty clothing wherever it's taken off and leave it there forever. It could be her freakish need to buy new toiletries, such that she could now provide facials to an entire third world nation. Whatever it is, you have to figure out if that price of admission is worth it for you to pay. If it is, and it's mutual, you've found a partner. If not, keep looking. Nobody's perfect, but every once in a while, two people end up perfect for each other.

  • thank you thank you thank you. this past week I had one of the biggest meltdowns of my entire life (top 5, at least) and the real root of it all was that my Beloved and I had been working our entire engagement process thus far. Working on the wedding (we're both still in school so we got stuff done over the summer so we could "focus on classes". yeah. classes. right.) Working on "us". And I got burned out. it felt like I was trying to find things to fix! and, truth be told, there really just wasn't that much TO fix, which drove me to just being nitpicky and stupid. But naturally I read our conflicts (that I created) as a red flag and started doubting our whole relationship.
    And do you know what is to blame here? Romantic f*cking comedies. I HATE them. They have messed with the collective female brain of our generation and screwed our relationships to hell. If everything isn't just perfect, we flip out and doubt the whole shebang.
    Thank you a million times over for reminding me at just the right time that fights are going to happen, and that it's okay when they do. Just what I needed to hear/read.
    Peace (in the morning)

  • K

    meg, you are so wise. and so are your readers! love it. love the reality check. thank you :)

  • Thank you for this post. It was just a mere 48 hours ago that I slept in the guest bedroom (as far away from my fiance as I could get). We went to bed angry and all day yesterday I was convinced that our marriage was going to be doomed, we needed counseling, etc. But now I know that sometimes that little bit of "down" time to rest and think things through the next day when you have a fresh outlook isn't that bad. This is just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  • I completely agree. I have been giving this advice to anyone who will listen since I got married two years ago. It took a couple of all-nighters for me to realize that, for me, staying up and trying to talk it through is just plain stupid. The more tired I become, the more hysterical and irrational I am. Usually, I end up falling asleep after hours of fighting and wake up still unsettled. When I just go to sleep, I wake up feeling a little sheepish, say I'm sorry, get a hug, and go on with my day.
    I definitely think fighting has a part in every relationship, but I've noticed that my husband and I fight much less now that we are married. It seems kind of silly to fight when you know that at the end of the day, you're still going to be married to each other and you'll still love each other. I start thinking, "What will a fight really accomplish in this situation?" Usually, nothing, so I save it for the big stuff.

  • Oh, thank goodness. I thought it was just me.

    When I'm tired, I get prickly. And the more tired I get, the less inclined I feel to see reason, calm down, and realize that what I'm mad about isn't that bad. And by the same token, the later it gets, the more likely my sweetie is to dig his heels in and refuse to compromise. So we sleep on it and make up in the mornings. If we tried to argue it out at 1am, we'd be much, much less happy.

  • Meg

    Ohhhh. I love that you guys quote Dan Savage in my comments.

  • Um, yeah. Exactly.

  • EFFFFFFFFFFFfff soul-mates.

  • it's interesting that when making decisions people will 'sleep on it' but not put the same consideration forth for an argument. everything looks better and feels better in the morning. and these things usually take a little bit of time and distance in order to gain clarity, whether you are trying to come to a decision or resolve a conflict.

  • I love this, and I'm glad someone said it. My fiance and I are both ridiculously stubborn sometimes, and generally the best thing is to just go to bed angry instead of arguing it out all night. Usually I wake up to my fiance's arms around me, and we forget and move on. It just works for us.

  • i'm for going to bed mid-disagreement, not for going to bed angry; i sure as hell don't sleep well when i'm pissed off. that doesn't mean making concessions for fear of making waves, or betraying one's fiery nature, or having an unhealthy marriage (it's literally my job to read relationship studies, and all they really prove is that you can manipulate a study to support anything you like); it means knowing enough about yourself to be able to say "i don't feel like being reasonable tonight, and we'll talk about this again later."

    i was the queen of dramatic-as-hell arguments back in the day; as i got through my twenties (and good riddance to that drama), i flat-out lost the taste for yelling. joe makes me crazy sometimes, and we disagree about any number of things, but i don't go to bed angry. i save anger for, like, ann coulter.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks 100 times over. I am recently engaged and have fallen into the "we're-not-perfect and what-is-a-soulmate-anyway" trap. I'll blame my neurosis on my love of romantic comedies. Thanks for pulling me back to reality.

    PS – I'm a lurker, first comment, so you know it was a good post.

  • thanks for sharing some very wise words!

  • I 100% agree! My parents have a great saying that we use all the time: "I'll always LOVE you. I may not always LIKE you… but I'll always Love you."

  • I'll second Lauren and some other wise commenters: the most important trick I've learned about fighting is to be able to look at my partner, say 'OK. For the record, I am pissed as hell about this and we WILL be having words. Later. But right now, let's shelve it and have supper/finish editing this article/go out to the party/get some sleep/insert whatever here.' I think that does a few things: yeah, it lets us come back to the disagreement later, with our heads clearer and some of the emotional charge taken out of it, and yeah, it lets the angry person assess whether there is actually something to be angry about or whether they're just in a pissy mood. But it also reassures both of us that whatever we're fighting about is not the relationship–we're having a disagreement that we're going to air and get over, we're not questioning our fundamental commitment to one another. Poof, drama gone.

    Of course, I can only recall one time that I've ever been legitimately angry at my darling, instead of just grumpy or fed up with the stack of clothes that piles up beside the bed, neither ready for laundry nor to be put away. And that one time I did take a deep breath, count to ten in five different language, and then completely flipped in front of about half a dozen other people. (And while I wish I had handled it differently, trust me, if I explained what had happened, you would understand my reaction.) But, still, the meaningful discussion didn't happen until the next day.

  • "i save anger for, like, ann coulter."

    You guys make me giggle in self-recognition. Thanks!

    I also like Terry/John Gottman's theory that there are a few eternal arguments–which I think is basically the same idea as Heather/Dan Savage's "price of admission" theory–I had been wondering why my partner tolerates me leaving my clothing in piles! ;)

  • Meg you constantly amaze me. We have definitely realized that sometimes you just have to stop. the. argument. It could be going to bed, going for a walk, or driving to 7-11 for a Slurpee with the radio on really loud. The point is just to stop arguing about it and come back to it later when emotions aren't so high and tempers not as easily flared.

    And, as others have pointed out, the bridal blogs that only portray their relationships as "perfect," "fairy tale," etc are impossibly unrealistic and bad for everyone's mental and emotional health. Thanks for sharing reality!

  • Words of advice from father to daughter, just before she walks up the aisle "Don't go to bed angry. Stay up and fight."

    Made me laugh :D

    In an oblique sort of way, it supports your argument though, as it highlights the absurdity of the "never go to bed angry" cliche.

    If I get cross, I need at least an hour to process precisly why I'm cross, calm down, and express myself in a rational way… So we just don't do big fights, the crosser I am, the longer I need to form my objection to whatever and it calms it all.

  • Love this advice! And I totally agree. With everything in this post. Seriously. I couldn't be luckier to have a "partner" not a "soulmate".

  • Meg

    I am sort of assuming here, that anyone you marry you don't actually have AWFUL blow ups with on a regular basis. When I say 'angry' I don't mean soul shudderingly angry. Like KippahandCollar I think that's only happened to us once‌ and yeah, we talked it out over a matter of weeks, not over a late night.

    The thing about a good match (and no, I don't believe in soul mates, sorry, I believe in making good life choices) is that it tends to be not-as-hard. Less to talk about, less to be painfully angry about, at least in my experance. Yelling is just a nice way to release some steam, at least in our house. Did you know, everyone smiles after they scream? :)

  • Smile? In our house, screaming usually dissolves into a fit of giggles because most of the time it's just so damn ridiculous! But yeah, it is theraputic.

  • Stephanie

    I agree, I'm always less cranky when I'm not tired.

    One of the studies that is about what kind of fighting you do was featured on This American Life: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=261

  • Our cantor also referenced Gottman's idea that couples have a sort of eternal argument–the way she put it is for a lot of couples the arguments you're having after 60 years are the same arguments you had at the beginning. For instance, my husband chews ridiculously loudly. (I don't even even know how it's physically possible to chew that loudly.) And really, it was immensely reassuring to have our cantor say okay, he will probably always do that, it will probably always get on your nerves, and that's okay. You can stay together for 60 years anyhow.

    I also want to echo what other people have said about the difference between going to bed angry and going to bed with something unresolved. For me, the way I decide between the two is whether I need to say something, or whether I want him to hear it. If I just need to say something and get it out and off my chest, I'll say it no matter how late it is, or I just work myself into a tizzy and can't sleep. But if it's something I actually want to talk about and resolve, I'll wait for a moment when we're both awake, not hungry, not grumpy, and (like Giggles said!) ideally naked! Fighting naked is much better. It puts everything into perspective. ;)

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    Not helping not helping not helping.

    But also, yes.

  • I totaly agree!!!! If you fight tiered you might "hit below the belt" and not even mean to. Sleep on it and you might not even be mad in the morning.

  • April

    "i'm for going to bed mid-disagreement, not for going to bed angry; i sure as hell don't sleep well when i'm pissed off." Lauren

    HELL YES! We don't go to bed pissed off at each other either. And if one of us went to the sofa to "sleep it off" we'd end up even MORE pissed.

    That said, we have just thrown up our hands and said, "Enough talking. We're done for now" and went about our evening… and sure, by morning the dust has settled and & we're more level-headed to finish the conversation. Or not – sometimes all is just forgotten!

    There are some comments in the posts about "soul mates" being a figment of romantic comedies, but honestly, I think that a couple can have a measure of soul mate tendencies… For me and my boy: we think of the term "soul mates" in the same way we think of compatibility: someone that really REALLY gets you and puts up with your relatives and all your other dumb shit (i.e. dirty socks on floor) and still loves you anyway!

  • We've had a week of arguments this past week. We rarely argue, but this last week has been pretty average – some good times thrown in, but some real irritability. Every night, one of us has been tired, stressed, grumpy and taken it out on the other. Last night I was the grumpy one. Finally she said to me that she was tired and wanted to sleep, so we did.

    This morning we woke up, and I apologised, and she apologised and we kissed and she asked me to try to have a nice night tonight. And instantly I feel less grumpy. After our first argument a week ago I think I was looking for issues and things to get shitty about.

    I like the advice. I'm sick of hearing people say "don't go to bed angry" because then you think that if you do, you'll wake up divorced or something! haha.

    The other thing is – my ex husband and I fought constantly but it was name calling etc. My girl and I don't fight much, but when we do, it's generally moving us together in a particular direction. I like that, it's more constructive.

  • Yep, as much I may love to argue one of us just dissolves into giggles and it's over. Mainly because he thinks he's right and I know he isn't!

    If we do go to bed grumpy things are usually forgotten by morning.

  • Oh I so needed to read this post and comments right now. When we hit the 2 months from the wedding mark, there seems to have been this switch that flipped and we were arguing ALL. THE. TIME.

    I firmly believe in sleeping on it – we are both so very stubborn and he especially needs time to calm down and realize how stupid the argument was.

    I love, love the idea that you marry into certain arguments. If people would just realize that and decide if they can live with those for the rest of their lives, I think a lot of relationships wold be better off.

    And amen to partners/life choices instead of soul mates!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Oh yeah, as a wedding graduate and recent marriage inductee, I can confirm that HOW you fight is definitely more important (and has greater ramifications) than going to bed angry. For us, we decided early in our marriage counseling that pledging to not go to bed angry was an unrealistic goal that might actually put MORE stress on our relationship than whatever it was that we were fighting about in the first place. Sometimes, not every disagreement can be resolved in a day. Sometimes, we are just human and can't get over being angry just like that.

    What is more important to us is not that we curb our anger or put our anger aside before putting our heads to rest– what is important to us if how we fight in our anger. That we don't fight below the belt, that we are as honest as we can be, that we listen and appreciate the other's point of view. Anger is a very useful emotion and we appreciate the growth and character it has brought to our marriage. Of course, it doesn't always feel that way in the heat of the moment, but when we reflect, we see where that emotion helped us to mature and be better partners to each other.

    At the end of the day though, I say each couple should do what works for them. Some couples need to talk out everything immediately. Some do not. Marriage is not just a grand adventure, it's also a great experiment in a lot of ways :-)

  • I cannot even tell you how often Owen and I have gone to bed PISSED and woken up totally fine. We argue a lot, and people are always weirded out by it, but for years before we were a couple, our friendship was characterized by constant argument. We're both devil's advocates. ;) Good to hear another voice saying what I suspected: That it doesn't mean our relationship is doomed! LOL!

  • "Marriage, A History" by Stephanie Coontz really helped me put marriage into perspective. (And it's a fun read…) It talks about this idea of "perfect" love and "soul mates," and how this unattainable perfection really just causes us to be miserable in the end… instead of realizing what we have/need. Marriage began as a partnership, and though I would never say "traditional, historical" marriage is perfect, I would say it's a more realistic way of looking at "the rest of your life."

    I hate going to bed angry, but I am a huge proponent of the "apologize, just to clear the air" strategy. Even if I'm right, ESPECIALLY if I'm right, I apologize. It helps to establish that there is no person with any more to gain or lose – you've already done the hard part: apologizing.

  • i just had this very conversation with my husband of 3 months. when we go to bed angry i wake up feeling kinda guilty and willing to make up and i forget why we were mad.

    and then we have sunday talks
    where we get to air out any complaints. and where we start them calm and not mad. just in case that thing is still bothering one of us.

    anyway, glad to see others have the same idea. marrying your best friend is another dumb idea in my opinion.

  • I have a hard time going to bed angry–because going to bed makes me so happy. Last week we were fighting at bed time. I stomped out to the balcony to stew while he did his evening routine. Then I took my turn in the bathroom. I was SO MAD! And then I walked into our room and transformed into this bouncy, happy, "la lalala!" person and snuggled right into bed, happy as can be.

    And I definitely have soul mates. My brother, for one. A couple girlfriends. My dudefriends Chad and Andrew. None of whom would make an appropriate life partner for me.

    My husband is exactly that. I married him for the partnership and life I knew we'd have together. As you said, Meg, I too believe in good life decisions.

  • Cate Subrosa

    Yes. "Never go to bed angry" = "add sleep deprivation into the mix of whatever is stressing your relationship" i.e. dumb.

    Yeah, it only needs talking out if it's still bothering you the next day, or maybe even the next week.

    Another great post, Meg.

  • SamB

    The first time my fiance and I ever fought, we went to bed angry (I was crying, my eyes looked like Kermit’s oping pong ball eyes in the morning…), but woke up the next day completely apologetic to each other. In the course of apologizing, we both realized, we had no idea what we’d been arguing about it the first place. I think it was only so emotional because it was honestly our first fight.

    And, call me crazy, I FIRMLY believe in “settling”. My mother always used to tell me not to settle, but then point out that romantic comdies were a fiction and real relationships aren’t like that… Talk about mixed messages. When I told my mom I chose a path that made sense to me, and a partner with whom to walk it, she re-iterated “Don’t Settle.” I tols her I had settled. For someone with imperfect teeth, shorter than me, balding, with an almost feminine emotional streak, and an extremely annoying habit of stretching the truth to ridiculous proportions about completely pointless stuff. But how can I do better than EXACTLY WHAT I WANT?

  • CC

    Although I’m not a grad student, I have an article from nytimes that mentions such a study about how to argue. The main point of the article is that good marriages help your health. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/magazine/18marriage-t.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1&emc=eta1#

    I wish I had looked for the source of the article in undergrad so that I could actually get in to many more of the databases.

    Here’s one of Professor Timothy W. Smith’s articles, but from 1992, which I found through google scholar. My take away was that the method of arguing was especially important to women’s health.