Whoever said couples should solve every argument before bed? Sleep on it and you may forget the fight altogether.
It’s late on a Saturday night and all the lights are off and I’m lying in the dark listening to the sound of rain. I’m on the couch and my husband is in the bedroom. Maybe he’s awake, too. I don’t know and I’m not going to ask.
We’re in a fight right now and as I adjust the throw pillows beneath my head I try to time my breathing to the sound of drops on the windowpane.
I’m still angry. Very, very angry. My husband—if he’s awake—probably is, too. And, if either of had listened to the old trope, then we’ve just made a big mistake by going to bed with our blood still boiling.
Or maybe not.
For years, well-meaning friends and grandmothers have advised couples to find peace before sleep. Don’t let the argument keep its hold and don’t let the bad feelings fester.
That’s a nice idea in theory, perhaps, but the reality is that finding resolution is an exhausting exercise in finding common ground and, sometimes, just making sense.
I remember one fight in particular. My husband and I had squared off over some thorny issue and neither of us was willing to back down even as the clock ticked closer to midnight. It had already been a long day and I had to be up early but I refused to let it go.
“You’re not even making sense anymore,” my husband finally said, shaking his head in either frustration or pity. Maybe both.
He was right. Even as I talked I could hear how I sounded—my sense of logic and reasoning had faded with my energy, leaving me with just tired gibberish.
But even if I hadn’t been on the verge of falling asleep mid-argument, I would have been wiser to just step away at that point and allow myself to shut down—physically, emotionally and mentally.
There have been plenty of disagreements that we’ve resolved without issue before bed but I’ve found that when we’re angry, upset or hurt, it’s just all the more difficult to act like adults instead of stubborn toddlers.
Those times that we allowed ourselves to walk away from the unresolved conflict, whether we slept together in the same bed or chose to take some physical space as well, often made for a better conversation the next day.
It’s not foolproof; there have been mornings I’ve woken up still upset and convinced that I’m right. But more often than not I fall asleep weary only to wake up with a sort of amnesia.
That’s what happened this last time. It took me a long time to fall asleep—tossing and turning and pushing those damn throw pillows around—but at some point I finally fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, tentatively, through a dark cluster of clouds. Very metaphorical, I know.
I felt calm, well-rested and free of any memory of the details of the argument. The knot of anger that had choked me the night before had relaxed. It was a Saturday and my mind started making plans before I realized I was on the couch and then remembered how I’d ended up there. For a moment I couldn’t remember what we’d fought about but as the issue drifted back into my conscious it suddenly seemed inconsequential, silly even.
I pulled myself off the couch and made my way to the bedroom. As I sat on the edge of the bed, my husband opened his eyes, without any anger or fight in his voice.
“Can we talk?” I asked quietly.
“Yes,” he said.
Rachel Leibrock is a writer and editor living in Northern California.