Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When To Go To Bed Angry

Popular advice for struggling couples is to never go to bed angry. The thought is, to work on problems when they're fresh, rather than letting them simmer until they explode. While this is great advice for some couples (enough so that some make it a policy or rule within their relationship!) it can add to the tension for others. Why? It may lead to staying up trying to talk through issues when both people would rather be asleep. While it is important to talk about things that come up rather than putting them on the back burner, trying to talk things through when one or both people don't have the energy to do so can make the problem worse, not better.

This isn't just about arguments before bed, either. On the way to dinner with the in laws, while driving up a particularly difficult road, and before work are all times when an argument might feel particularly inopportune. Being able to save something like this for later is an important skill, both for an individual and especially for a couple.

If the thought of doing this makes you anxious or upset, notice that! There may be valid concerns underlying there, and maybe just waiting for a more opportune moment to talk things over isn't the best way of handling this. Does having to wait to bring something up make you feel like you're going to explode? Do you worry that the problem is going to be forgotten about and never discussed? Are you likely to forget all the emotions around the problem in the morning, and undersell yourself? These thoughts and feelings are important to take note of, so don't just push them aside. This is all information that you can use.

Something that might help quell these fears of putting off a discussion is to record your feelings while they're fresh. Any time you put off a discussion for a time when emotions aren't as high, it can feel like you're likely to forget something or sell yourself short. Depending on how you best process information, you can try writing something down in a journal, typing something up in Word, or recording yourself talking into your phone. You can format this like a list of talking points, pretend it's a letter or voicemail to the other person, or just ramble until you have nothing left to say. Later, when it's time to discuss the problem, you can choose to show the other person your recording or writing directly, or read/listen to it yourself and tell them whatever you feel still sticks. It's entirely possible that you'll realize that you completely disagree with your past self, and that's perfectly okay! This is part of the reason why it can be good to put off discussions like this in the first place -- anger and fear can cloud discussing what's really going on.

Getting some distance from an argument can also help in making sure you don't play your normal role. If you're likely to get angry and your partner tends to withdraw in fear, keeping a calm head can help your partner stay engaged during what might otherwise be a rough conversation. Looking back over your thoughts, you may notice somethings that come up when emotions are high, such as blaming, hiding, or defensiveness. Notice what tactics you're prone to using. And next time you and your partner start to argue, see if you can change the normal course of it -- even if that just means talking about it later.