“So, what do you have to say?” A frustrated and tired Eric asked me as I returned to our bedroom. Prior to me stepping out to the bathroom, Eric and I experienced an unpleasant verbal exchange. Without saying a word, I slipped out of bed and found two minutes of solace elsewhere.
When he asked me to respond, I sat there silently, trying to find the words. Finally, the only phrase I could think to utter was, “I don’t know what to say.” At the time, my lack of response was annoying to Eric, but it was 11:30 pm, and the next day he and I were both glad we did not perpetuate the conversation. Why? Because in almost thirteen years of marriage we cannot think of one time talking about our negative feelings late at night resulted in anything but hurt feelings and unnecessary conflict.
Not. One. Time.
Time after time after time life has “taught” me this lesson, yet somehow it has taken me more than a decade to learn. Whenever I ignore the voice inside which says, “Heather, it is late. Let it go. Nothing good will come of discussing this now!” I instantly regret it. Nighttime is for sleeping. We are human. We get tired. Our brains do not function as well and our ability to reason declines when we are pooped!
The rule we live by and the rule we recommend to all of our clients is this: Do not discuss anything important after 10:30pm. Depending on your working and sleeping schedule, the cutoff time could be earlier. When Eric requested a response from me so late at night, I thought, “Talking now is not going to benefit us.” Eric’s momentary annoyance gave way to appreciation when we went about our night without getting into an argument. We slept better than we would have had we gotten angry with each other and we started off the following morning on a good note.
Following this one rule will save you and your significant other or spouse hundreds of fights throughout the years.
Do Not Let the Sun Go Down…
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV)
When Eric and I were newlyweds, this verse (or, rather, our then-understanding of this verse) kept us up many nights arguing. “We have to get this worked out before we go to sleep!” Unfortunately, the later it got, the more tired we got. The more tired we got, the less rational we got. The less rational we got, the angrier words we hurled at each other. Finally, after going around the barn fourteen times, we would surrender and go to bed in a huff. The sun most definitely went down on our wrath!
Regardless of what we said we were doing (e.g., trying to compromise, trying to find a solution, trying to make up, etc.), the truth was simple: each of us was trying to win. Those 2am, 3am, and 4am arguments were not about finding common ground and reconciliation. They were about proving our points and being declared the winner.
We took another look at this verse and needed to reevaluate our conflict resolution model. Staying up late and going to work exhausted (with no positive outcome to show for it) was not working for us. Something had to give.
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
What does anger look like? Well, for starters, it looks like two people fighting until they are too exhausted to continue. What does anger not look like? It doesn’t look like people amicably pausing their discussion to get a good night’s sleep. Consider the following two scenarios:
You know what?! Forget this! You are crazy. I am so done talking about this. You will never change and I am just done. Good night!!!
You are done? Seriously? After what you put me through, you are going to act like the victim? Mature, dude. Yeah, you sleep well. Don’t even worry about me.
– or –
Listen, it is late. We are tired. We are getting nowhere right now. Let us pause this conversation and get some sleep. Tomorrow morning at 10 am, meet me on the couch and we will see if we can work through this problem. I love you. Good night.
Okay. I will be there. I love you, too. Good night.
In which case did the couple go to bed angry? In the first scenario, the couple was feeling wrathful.
In which case did the problem get resolved? In neither scenario was the problem resolved.
However, in the second example, the couple did not go to bed angry. Sure, the issue was unresolved, but there was no wrath involved.
In marriage, hundreds or thousands of issues will arise which do not resolve themselves overnight. That is life and to be expected. The problem comes when couples allow anger to divide them. If you are seething before bed, go to the Lord in prayer before you lay your head to rest. Move past that anger before sleeping; if you have sinned in your anger, repent of that as well.
Having a time and a place established to return to the conversation is essential. It offers both people the peace of knowing the issue will eventually be resolved which helps everyone involved rest. And, sometimes (read: often)… rest is all a couple needs to get back on the same page!
It Can Wait
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, ESV)
If life has taught me anything, it is this: it can wait. Text messages can wait until we park the car. The next level of our video games can wait until we have connected with our loved ones. Breakfast can wait until after we spend time with the Lord each morning; and, arguments do not have to run their course. They can wait. In fact, they often should wait.
Years ago, we spoke with a couple who shared a tool they used when their conflicts got out of control. When emotions were rising and one or both of them felt like they might snap, they used a “safe word” to indicate I need a break! The tool was excellent, but incomplete. One spouse overused the tool to escape overwhelming discussions, but never returned to finish the talk… thus leaving the partner with a maddening lack of closure.
While the safe word did keep arguments from spiraling out of control, causing violence, or becoming verbally abusive, it was deficient. When a couple breaks from a discussion – no matter how calm or crazy – they need to have a return plan in place – for example:
- Tonight – 6:30pm – at the dinner table with a written resolution proposal.
- At the local coffee shop at 10 am tomorrow. Bring a box of tissues.
- Saturday at 3 pm. We will talk while we walk around the track.
Otherwise, the safe word leads straight to the proverbial rug where every unresolved conflict gets swept under. When couples implement a safe word, and boundaries surrounding its use, they can keep their emotions from getting the better of them and causing damage to the relationship.
A safe word + a plan to reconvene (i.e., time and place) to resolve the problem = more peace and fewer regrets.
Joy Comes in the Morning
For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5, ESV)
We cannot count the number of mornings we woke up only to think, “Why were we so angry with each other last night?” Rest does wonders for the mind, the soul, and our mouths! A rested person is less likely to throw caution to the wind and blurt out all manner of unkind and unwise words. When you find yourself at odds with your loved one – and you will – remember that problems pass. This fight will eventually be in the past and your life will once again feel normal.
Even now, sometimes my arguments with Eric can feel like the end of the world. Many afternoons, I have spent in my car crying out to the Lord and wondering, “Are we going to make it through this time?” But, as I sit there and exclaim my emotions to our Heavenly Father, I am reminded of the hundred previous disagreements – none of which did us in and many of which made us stronger.
So, take a deep breath and force a smile. Say goodnight and I love you. Promise to return at the designated time and place to continue the conversation. Refrain from giving in to anger at a tired moment. Protect your relationship’s rest and emotional closeness.
Joy does indeed come in the morning.
What would change in your relationship if you and your sweetie adopted the 10:30 rule?