Last week one of my beautiful cousins got married, and next week another beautiful cousin is getting married. They seem so young to me, just because they’re my “little cousins,” but in reality they are strong, smart, gorgeous adult women now. It’s hard not to flash back to when I was in their shoes, thinking about that whole process of getting married and how long/not so long ago it felt.
This summer we’ll be married 6 years, and together for 7, which suddenly seems like a pretty long time. It’s like the first few years of our marriage were pretty long, and then once I got pregnant with Reese it sped up. Especially since becoming pregnant with Malone I feel that we hit a state of “flow” in our marriage. Leveled up. Settled in. Figured ish out.
So when I look at the photos of my two cute cousins getting married I think about what I might tell them, and all the unsolicited marriage advice they’re getting right now. It’s not quite as bad as all the stuff you get when you’re expecting or have a new baby, but it’s still kinda weird. I mean, if you’re one of those people who tell newlyweds to “fight naked” please… PLEASE. Stop.
There was one particular piece of advice that I feel got shot at us at every turn. I still hear it and see it in marriage articles and from people all over. Of course it comes from a good place and the principle behind it is sound. But in reality it turned out to be pretty terrible advice for us, and turning it around to the opposite was a hundred times for helpful.
“Don’t go to bed angry.”
$10 says you’ve received this advice yourself if you’re married or engaged. The idea is that you don’t let resentment fester and build. Don’t hold onto arguments. Don’t draw things out. I think it’s particularly for women, who often feel like their husbands should KNOW why they’re upset or what they did wrong (SPOILER: THEY DON’T), so they lay awake or cold shoulder or just wait like a ticking time bomb for their spouse to figure it out. (LOL me AF during the first part of our marriage. Sorry it took me a while to figure it out babe.)
And yes, there are plenty of cases that you absolutely should address things before bed. If it’s gonna keep you up all night – talk. If it’s about something serious and time-sensitive – talk. (I recently sent Ryan a long email during a 4 am Malone feeding while he slept right next to me because we hadn’t talked about something important before bed and I’d be back asleep before he went to work LOL.) I am not saying following this advice will destroy your marriage or anything. I’m just saying that a lot of the time – it’s not that great.
Because a lot of the time the fights, anger, disappointment, sadness, or other issues? They’re a lot more contingent upon your mental state and exhaustion than you’d like to admit. No, it’s not your fault that you work so hard all day and then get so bugged that your partner doesn’t acknowledge it. But a night of sleep will actually make the problem shrink a little smaller.
There were several times that I fell asleep angry, stewing, brooding at something Ryan said or did, wishing I could just have it out with him right there before he fell asleep thinking everything was fine. And then I woke up in the morning and thought – “you know. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.” or I woke up and thought “Ok. I’m still upset about that. But now I have a clearer head to talk about it and I’ll pick a better time than right as he’s falling asleep.”
Late at night is arguably the worst time to argue (ZING). You’re tired. You have a full day’s worth of stuff in your head. You’re thinking about tomorrow. Your partner is ALSO tired, busy, and ready to sleep. Of course it’s nice to talk and connect and clear up what you can clear up. But most of the time, at least for us – well, maybe you’re less argumentative than we are. Scratch that. You’re DEFINITELY less argumentative than we are, have you met us? – we know that the “discussion” will turn to “argument” and then “fighting” and then circular conversation that may or may not get us anywhere. At least not before 2 am. We found that arguing before bed either kept us up late, made us more upset because we were tired and irritable, or lead to Ryan just apologizing or agreeing with me so it could end and we could go to sleep without actual resolution or understanding. Even when we reached a resolution, it felt like such a stale victory when it was late and we were so tired – it often carried into the next day.
So about two years into our marriage (LOL yeah it took us 2 years, we like to argue) we made a rule – no talking about issues, airing of grievances, or complaining after 10 pm. If we had something to talk/fight/address we had to do it while we were both awake and ready to talk. A lot of things started to change. The first thing, and main intention, was that our arguments and fights got more productive. It’s easier to “fight right” when you refuse to do it at 11 pm. I might go to sleep a little irritated, but wake up more collected or not angry anymore. Sometimes Ryan would be bugged and instead of turning it into a fight he’d say “Hey this bothered me. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” It gave me time to reflect and come prepared for a better discussion, compromise, or apology the next day.
The biggest shift that going to bed angry created was one that I honestly think changed our marriage. The urgency of resolving a fight right away was gone, and with it was the sense of foreboding that something could go seriously wrong. I think maybe in the back of my mind I thought “If we go to bed angry then we’ll only get worse and we’ll never fix it and we’ll end up divorced!!!!!!! It’s bad that we fight! It’s bad to be angry at each other! It needs to go away as quickly as possible!!!!!!!” Then on days when we eventually ~did go to bed angry, I honestly felt unsafe. Is he going to divorce me? Is this something that will always happen? Are we incapable of resolving issues?!!!
Looking back I just want to take newlywed Danica by the shoulders and say “Calm down. Trust him. Trust yourself. Trust your love. One fight isn’t going to ruin your marriage. One hundred fights are not going to ruin your marriage. As long as you still love each other and want to stay married, you’ll stay married. Stop jumping on the future catastrophe train.”
By saying “Hey we’re gonna fight about this tomorrow, goodnight, I love you.” I was telling Ryan and myself that our love was stronger than one fight. I was telling Ryan and myself that we can be angry AND still love each other, which was weirdly paradigm shifting for me? For some reason I feel like you either love someone or you’re angry at them, which L O L O L. Basically all marriage and parenting is simultaneous love and frustration am I right?!!
It sounds bizarre to say but falling asleep angry helped us feel more comfortable, safe, and committed to our marriage. It made our fighting better, and less frequent. It gave us perspective, and even better – sleep.
So to my newlywed cousins – that is my advice for you. Resolve any fights or anger that you can. But don’t be afraid to go to bed angry. Tell them you love them, get some sleep, and come prepared to duke it out in a calm and concentrated way tomorrow.
But what do I know. We still fight about the radio literally every time we get in the car so ?????