Never Go To Bed Angry: Revamping Age Old Advice

Things that will cause absolute strangers to give you advice:

  1. Being famous
  2. Wearing a cast because you broke a bone doing something dumb (I’ve been here.)
  3. Getting engaged/letting on that you’re newly wed.

From the moment she said “Yes” to my ring and many times after the “I Do”, my wife and I have had the pleasure (in most cases) of getting advice from every imaginable source: Friends, family, neighbors, coworkers you rarely talk to, that one guy at the gym, the guy in front of you at the buffet line — I could go on.


What I found interesting from this barrage of free ‘marital counseling’ is that people’s favorite opener was always either a sighing, “Marriage can be tough” or an overly wise “Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight!” That second bit was the one that caught my attention for two reasons:

  1. My father told me the opposite.
  2. So did my Bishop.

Now if there are any two men I’m inclined to listen to for life advice; it’s going to be my hero, and my religious leader. Even when it seems like the both of them are going directly against the bulk of society’s “knowledge”. Both these men gave me this advice fairly soon after our engagement, so it was with their thoughts in mind that I began (and still continue) to get advice from the rest of the world that flies in the face of what I was told.

Connected Research:

In the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, they discuss the difficulty of change. (To paraphrase briefly:) The metaphor they use is that your brain is like an elephant with a rider on top. The rider is your analytical and logical mind – the part that makes good decisions, and the elephant is the emotional mind that provides you the energy and willpower to act on your decisions.

So — Imagine that elephant and rider have had a long, hard day of working in whatever sort of labor that elephants and riders work. Imagine that it was hot, and dusty. Imagine that the dry wind was blowing in their faces as they struggled to accomplish tasks that were filled with setbacks, and now they – elephant and rider both – head home exhausted after such a day.

Picture in your minds that the path they walk to get home crosses close to a crystal clear pond, and as they walk the elephant can smell the fresh grass and hear the croaking of toads. This elephant has put a good many hours in today, following instructions from the rider with exactness. But now? He’s thirsty: And unless the rider wants to try and hop off and drag him by the tail (also ineffective) that elephant is going to go and get some water. The rider can scream and yell and stomp his feet, but that giant is tired and thirsty, and done caring about obedience.

The Problem with the “Stay up and fight!” Mentality:

Our minds work very much like this oddly-matched duo: As the day goes on and we’re faced with the normal stresses and trials of the day-to-day doldrums – we become less and less able to make good decisions and our proverbial ‘elephant’ brain begins to take over. The unfortunate truth in my life is that the clients I work with from about 9am-11am get the best me I can be! I’m awake, well rested and I’ve shaken off the morning grogginess by then. My wife, however – well, she gets the “just worked 8 hours with no lunch break, then school for 4-5 hours only to come home for another 1-3 hours of homework before bed” me. (And that’s not a very fun “me” to encounter!)

When confronted with an issue at the end of the day — made worse because it’s happening at home —  the ‘rider’ of your elephant may not keep control; and if you’re not careful you’re liable to turn into a PO’d pachyderm. This problem only gets worse as the night wears on, and your fatigue increases.

The Merit in Their Message:

There is a reason that this advice of late-night confrontation has stuck around, and that’s because there IS a sound principle behind it: If your choices are going to be a) stay up and argue it out until the issue is resolved, or b) go to bed and wake up the next day pretending like it never happened then –YES– By all means stay up until 3 am screeching at each other until you come to a resolution. Because if the alternative is closing the lines of communication and burying your problems: “stay up and fight” is the correct choice.

A Third Option:

The solution to this problem takes a little bit of planning and openness from both spouses. But the answer is really simple: Instead of going to bed angry/engaging in a late-night World War III that’s sure to make your neighbors love you, just stop. Stop and acknowledge that:

  • You love each other
  • You WANT to be there (you chose this, remember?)
  • You think MUCH more clearly after some much needed rest

Accept these three things and then go to bed, promising –now this is the important part- that the conversation isn’t finished and plan a time to resume the discussion when both of you are rested and thinking clearly. Everything need not be handled in one night, and honestly most things seem a lot simpler once you’ve had a chance to sleep on it. But, again, the key to this solution is that you go back to the conversation later; it can’t just be buried that night or it will fester under the surface until it becomes a much more serious matter.

So the next time you see that dumbstruck look on a strapping lad’s face followed by a ring on the slender hand intertwined with his; and you start to feel the urge to advise – think a second on elephants, and then maybe revamp some age old advice.

wedding 2


About Jared

I am a 24 year old Public Relations student at UVU.
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