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Advice About Marriage . . . and Other Lies

April 14, 2022

Let’s talk about all the advice we hear around marriage. And there is a lot of it. I hear it all the time. And sure, I dispense my fair share of it, too. But I am going to be honest – a lot of the advice we hear and dispense is pretty lousy advice. So, just for fun, I am going to debunk some of that advice. Yup. That’s right. And we’re gonna start with a doozy we’ve all heard as a hallmark of happy marriages. But frankly, it is dangerous and manipulative. 

“Never go to sleep angry.”

Raise your virtual hand if you’ve heard this one dished out. Now, keep it raised if you think – even for just a second – that this might not be a great idea. (Me: hand held high, not wavering).

Here is the real truth: there is so much wrong with never-going-to-sleep-angry advice. 

First of all, I am not even sure what the sentiment is behind such a piece of advice. Perhaps it is that you’ll sleep better if you aren’t angry? Or (I am being morbid here) maybe it’s that if one of you dies in your sleep, you don’t depart this life while mad at each other? But to me it suggests that it is “bad” to be mad at one another. Or it is wrong to disagree. This sort of advice applies pressure to “fix” things, and fix them fast. But maybe there is nothing to fix. I mean, sometimes you are just going to disagree with your partner, right? Right.

Secondly, let’s talk about timing and logistics. Most of us work or are juggling the logistics of children during the day. We typically connect with our spouses during the evening hours. Look, it’s already not fun when you end up arguing during these precious few hours of togetherness. We are already tired in the evening. Many of our disagreements are petty, born out of fatigue and frustration. So, to insist on working them out and solving them while we are fatigued and frustrated? It just seems silly. 

Third, this little bit of advice does not take into consideration our very selves, our personalities and dispositions. Many moons ago, my husband vented to our therapist (yes, we have a therapist, and we’ve probably paid his mortgage many times over) that I would walk away from him when we disagreed. It made my already-upset husband more angry. My counter argument was that walking away was the healthy and safe response – for him and for me. When I am stressed, mad, and feeling pressured, I will say things I do not mean. I need space. Time. Some moments (even hours) to breathe and think. Once this was all out of the table for discussion, we agreed that I could walk away, but only if I promised that I would always come back. I got the space I needed, and my spouse was assured that I would return to the situation. Over time, this has meant that we have both gone to bed angry. It also has meant that manipulation was minimized and hurtful words were avoided. Our personalities, how we grew up, and even the very dynamics of the marriage or the disagreement means we just might need to go to bed angry. And that can be ok.

Finally, let’s talk about the baggage around disagreeing with one another. It’s not a bad thing to disagree. I am not even convinced that all disagreements need to be resolved. Sometimes two people see things differently, experience life differently, and want different things. A good marriage is not about aligning ourselves with one another; it can and should be about respecting each other in our differences, and making a safe place for those differences. Let me just say that if my husband is going to expect me to agree with him that broccoli is the best vegetable ever, he and I will never sleep. Ever. Broccoli is gross.

Sometimes you are going to go to bed angry with each other. Sometimes it is the right and healthy choice. My advice? Agree that you are both angry with each other, agree to work through it after some sleep, agree that you love each other and want the best for one another (even through gritted teeth), and then kiss each other good night. And see what the morning brings.

Next week: “Love conquers all.”

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