"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
May 15, 2014
Go to Bed Angry
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I went to a bridal shower recently, and we were asked to give the bride some advice. A number of people said, “Never go to bed angry.” But someone else said, “Go ahead and go to bed angry sometimes.”

Which do you agree with?


I think both pieces of advice are incomplete. All married couples disagree and argue, at least from time to time. There are times when a married couple should kiss and make up before bed. And there are times when they should stop arguing and go to sleep, even if they are mad.

Of course, each spouse will have to agree that both categories of argument exist. If one spouse is adamant that you cannot go to bed angry, because everybody knows you don’t do that, or because my parents never do that, the first order of business is to persuade him or her to try going to bed angry. Or, put another way, to go to bed mid-argument. Or mid-discussion, if this person likes euphemisms.

Starting a new argument about the proper way to argue, however, is not the best approach. If you are in this situation, a better approach is to sincerely confess your own inability to continue the discussion or make a decision that night. The key is to express your own feelings, not to condescendingly describe your spouse’s feelings.

For example, you should not say to your spouse, “You are too upset to make a rational decision right now, so let’s pick up this discussion tomorrow.” Especially where “rational decision” means “agree with me.”

Instead, you might say something like, “Dear, you’ve said many things that I’d like to think about. Can I think about them for a few days before we continue this discussion?” Or, “Honey, I know this is important to you, but I just don’t agree. I need some time to think about a way we can work this out.”

Or, if the argument is heated, “I am too upset to talk about this right now. I am going to sleep to clear my head, and I will think about it again in the morning.”

The utmost effort should be made to speak respectfully, if not calmly. Trembling with anger may be unavoidable. But sarcasm, contempt, hatefulness, name-calling, physical intimidation and threats are unacceptable. Bullying a spouse by withholding sleep until he or she agrees with you is also unacceptable.

So, when should you make up before bed? Here are three ideas.

One: When you are wrong and you know it.

If you and your spouse are rowing about something you did, no matter how much things have escalated since then or what kind of excuse you had, you should stop talking, take a deep breath, and apologize completely.

“Sweetness, we are fighting because I was late picking you up today and you missed your appointment. It is totally my fault, and I apologize.”

If your spouse has any brains, he or she will say, “Thank you for saying that. I am really mad.” Deep breath. “But these things happen, and I should not hold it over your head. I forgive you.”

Two: When doing something kind for your spouse will resolve the problem.

For example, if you are arguing because your spouse foolishly insists on unplugging the toaster before bed, you can end the argument — forever — by cheerfully volunteering to unplug the toaster each night. Or by pledging not to complain or make fun while your spouse does. Either act is a kindness that shows love and consideration for your spouse’s personal quirk.

Three: Whenever else you can.

If you have become upset, angry or frustrated with your spouse, there is no reason to stay that way out of spite if you are able to calm down. If you can restore harmony through kindness and self control, do so.

At the same time, remember that you don’t have to give in on important family decisions just for the sake of achieving immediate harmony. It is anticipated that couples will experience disharmony as they debate issues and negotiate decisions. If you are always giving in to preserve harmony, something is off in your marriage.

Some arguments do not lend themselves to resolution before bed. If you are having one of these discussions, it is probably more helpful to suspend the argument and go to sleep, even if you are both upset. The next day, tempers cooled, you can approach the problem anew. Or, if it turns out you were fighting about nothing important, you can apologize and drop it.

Here are six examples of such arguments.

One: Arguments that arise after you or your spouse has had a long, unpleasant day.

Things usually look worse after a hard day, and a shortened temper can escalate routine disagreements into full-blown arguments. If you are fighting with your spouse at the end of a bad day, call it quits and go to bed mad.

Two: Arguments that arise late at night, after you are usually in bed.

When much-needed sleep is dangling out of reach because of a marital conflict, the conflict’s actual unpleasantness is amplified ten-fold. In such cases, give up and go to sleep, even if you’re mad.

Three: Arguments that don’t need to be resolved that night.

If you are trying to choose tile for the bathroom or decide whether to send your child to preschool next fall, it is probably not imperative that you make a final decision before bed. Hopefully, you can discuss such things with your spouse without having an actual argument. But if your discussion has become an argument, you should pause the debate and go to bed.

Four: Arguments that have turned into a parade of horribles.

This kind of argument starts about something small, like a request to iron a shirt, or an expression your spouse uses that you find offensive. It then crescendos into a deep discussion of everything that has ever gone wrong between you, everything that you have ever disagreed about, and what all this horribleness portends.

If a discrete disagreement has morphed into a broad and bleak commentary on your love and commitment, it’s time to go to bed, no matter how you’re feeling.

Five: Long-running arguments.

Every couple has serious, long-standing disagreements that create conflict in their marriage. I don’t mean arguments about ideas, like the merits of labor unions or whether auto racing is worth watching. I mean life-affecting disagreements about how to deal with in-laws, nagging and the family budget. You and your spouse have to find a way to manage these disagreements without anger — especially at night. But if you do become angry, going to bed is better than re-hashing the topic.

Six: Arguments about ideas.

You and your spouse may have different ideas about wind farms, Church art or the Easter Bunny. You might even be tempted to believe that your spouse’s opinion says something dire about the kind of person he or she is.

But weathering these disagreements over ideas with kindness and respect is exactly the kind of tolerance a person must have to get along in society generally, and in marriage specifically. You have no right to demand that your spouse agree with you on all topics — even topics that are important to you. And you cannot let such disagreements run or ruin your marriage.

If you find yourself angry as you debate them, go to bed anyway. And as you lie there fuming, consider whether the idea is worth all this trouble. Then, think of something else to talk about tomorrow.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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