We've all heard the phrase: Never go to bed angry. It's often dropped as a nugget of "wisdom" to couples before they tie the knot, but it'd be impossible to go to bed totally happy with your partner every night for the rest of your life. Relationships aren't all sunshine and roses, so is this cliché phrase outdated and unrealistic? Psychologists and relationship experts say yes. Plus, they agree that sometimes, it might actually benefit your relationship to hit the hay in the thick of an argument.
"Staying up all night to push to resolution often results in fatigue and the generation of more problems," clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow tells HelloGiggles. "The challenge is not to make sure you don't go to bed angry as much as it is to have a productive argument and move towards resolution."
So, should you stay up into the wee hours hashing out the disagreement? Sometimes, arguments don't have a simple solution that can be reached in one night; oftentimes, the argument can trigger emotions that take time and space to comprehend. "Respecting the process of resolving the conflict and acknowledging that it may take more than a day to resolve is more important than trying to come to resolution for fear of going to bed angry," Dr. Klapow says. "Pushing your partner too hard or pushing yourself before you are ready is far more dangerous to the well-being of the relationship."
Plus, everyone has arguments that go in circles, never reach common ground, and leave both people frustrated. If this is the case with you and your partner, experts say you should table the conversation until the morning, when you're well-rested and hopefully more level-headed.
"If you feel you can come to some understanding or resolution, go ahead and keep talking," Dr. Jess O'Reilly, host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast tells HelloGiggles. "However, if you're repeating yourselves and having trouble understanding your partner's perspective, you might want to take a break and see if cooler heads and clearer minds prevail after a good night's rest."
Dr. O'Reilly also points out that going to bed angry doesn't mean you have to be completely at odds with your partner. You can still show them respect and care while the argument hangs in the air. "If you're going to sleep without resolving an argument, you can still let your partner know that you're committed to working on the issue," she says. "You can still kiss goodnight, snuggle, or say 'I love you' after an unfinished argument; this is important, as positive expressions of love can help to offset the potentially negative effects of conflict."
However, it's important to note that everyone handles conflict differently: Some people can put their emotions aside for the night, while others might lie awake, feeling the weight of the argument. "When couples have different attitudes about resolving issues before sleep, it's important to find a compromise that feels acceptable to both people," clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Manly tells HelloGiggles. "An extra layer of distress can arise if one partner sleeps perfectly well after an argument and the other partner stays up stewing or has disrupted sleep; the sleep-deprived person often feels ignored and even more deeply hurt."
In order to avoid this imbalanced reaction to the situation, Dr. Manly says couples should focus on understanding their partner's perspective, while leaving any "cleanup" of the details of the argument for the morning when both people are refreshed. "The sense of being mutually understood is often sufficient to allow for a good night of sleep," she explains.
Working toward understanding, Dr. O'Reilly says, is the key to resolving any argument. In the heat of the moment, she recommends asking yourself these questions: Am I engaging in conflict in order to better understand my partner or am I engaging in order to convince my partner of something? Am I really listening to understand or am I just listening as I wait my turn to speak?
"If you're not really working together toward better understanding, fights can go on for days, weeks and years," she says. "You'll likely find that if you make mutual understanding your shared goal, you'll feel more relieved (and potentially closer) after an argument."
So, it's not the end of the world if you turn out the lights while an issue remains unresolved. Just make sure you're openly communicating your emotions with your partner before you hit the hay.