Wait, what? Isn’t that supposed to be “Never go to bed mad?” What am I saying—that you should make sure to be mad before you go to bed?
Of course not! Who wants to go to bed mad, or in any other kind of distress, if you can avoid it?
What I am saying is that the usual advice, like so many such nostrums, is, let’s say, limited in its usefulness. It’s a lovely idea if you can pull it off. If you’re in the midst of a fight and you can both calm down, work it out, and fall into each other’s arms before bedtime, that’s great! Make-up sex can be delightful.
But if you can’t, the usual advice is not only unrealistic; it’s actually toxic.
Well, maybe you know this pattern: The two of you get into an argument, and it gets heated, and one of you just needs it to stop, and the other of you just needs it to be resolved. And the one who just needs it to stop tries to stop it, or leave, or otherwise shuts down. Which further freaks out the one who just needs it to be resolved, who then tries harder to get through to the one who’s shutting down, which further freaks out the one who’s shutting down…you get the picture.
Insisting that you have to resolve the fight before you go to bed is great if you’re the one who needs resolution. But it doesn’t work for the one who just needs it to stop.
Sometimes you can’t solve a fight in one conversation. Sometimes you might have to go to bed mad—or at least, go to bed with that awful feeling of disconnection from your partner.
Ironically, when you give up on the idea that you should never go to bed mad, you get better at tolerating the anxiety of an unresolved issue, and so you’re more capable of taking a break when you need to. And that can let you calm down enough so that the rest of your brain comes back online, and you can think again. And that often means that you’ll actually be able to resolve the issue more quickly—maybe even before bed!
Or, as my wife suggested, you might even find a solution to the problem in your dreams.
So yes—go to bed mad, if you have to. It sucks, but it’ll help you get better at working through arguments. And it might even help you sleep better in the long run!
Dr. Bruce Chalmer, Stone House Associates couples therapist, is the author of It’s Not About Communication! Why Everything You Know About Couples Therapy is Wrong (2022) and Reigniting the Spark: Why Stable Couples Lose Intimacy, and How to Get It Back (2020). You can sign up for his newsletter at his website, BruceChalmer.com