It’s 11pm, a weeknight, my 5am wake-up alarm dutifully set, but I can’t sleep.
My husband and I had a fight shortly before bed, and while relationship gurus, counsellors, and old marrieds have all said, “Don’t go to bed mad!” we have gone to bed mad.
And now I can’t sleep. I keep replaying our fight and all of the things I should have said and all of the dumb things the man I married did say. I play the “what if?” game. “What if I say it to him this way or this way? I bet he’d understand then…”
I huff, cover my head with a pillow, and try to focus on my breath.
Telling couples “not to go bed angry” isn’t the best advice because it ignores several important things.
Anger is a response, not a stimulus. Anger can be a sign to us that there’s something that needs to be addressed in our relationship. We may need to assess our boundaries, values, needs, and expectations after we’ve become angry.
Getting “over” anger isn’t healthy if there’s something we legitimately need to confront. We will just keep getting mad, lugging it over and over again into our future if we don’t deal with it.
Sometimes we can’t even really articulate why we’re mad at first. We may need time to figure that out.
Placing “bedtime” as the deadline ignores how time-consuming it may be to figure out the reason behind our anger. It could be because we need to set or maintain a boundary. Or maybe we were actually feeling sad, vulnerable, uncomfortable, or scared, and because we didn’t want to feel those things, we went to anger. As long as we aren’t wallowing, there should never be a “deadline” on feeling a feeling.
When my husband is upset, he completely powers down. He’s like a computer that goes on “sleep” mode. He needs hours to assess and process. I, on the other hand, am usually ready to talk within fifteen minutes. I cool off quickly.
If I try to push him to resolve something before he’s ready, he short-circuits and reboots incessantly. There’s no chance of working things out with him before he’s ready.
Since we process at different speeds, he needs his time to be left alone, and it’s in both of our interests that I respect that.
I can’t empathise, listen, or ask thoughtful questions if I’m tired. My fuse is shorter. My sleep-addled brain can’t problem-solve or couch the things I say with loving affirmations.
Often what feels overwhelmingly awful in the dark isn’t that big of a deal to me in the soft morning light. I can resolve things more easily, be more forgiving. Given the choice between staying up and fighting, or leaving it and resting, I’ll choose the latter every time.
Eventually, I do fall asleep, and when I wake up the next morning, my spouse has curled around me. In the middle of the night, my body forgave him by letting his trespass far before my mind would have.
I’m not sure, though, whether he still needs time to process. He’s a guy that needs his time, but I also know it won’t be long. We’ll have things resolved by the end of today because that’s how we work.
I leave before he wakes up, and within an hour, we are texting.
“I’m talking to you,” he tells me. This means he’s taken all the time he needs to process. The door is open to chat, but since we’re apart, of course we shouldn’t text about it. It’ll have to wait until I get home.
We chit-chat throughout the day about our jobs, goings-on, what we plan to do that night, and before I head home, I text him, “I love you.”
We may not follow the advice of the “gurus,” but for us, it works. We allow anger to hold its own space, and we try to give each other what they need to work out whatever.
This  article  originally appeared on  Medium  and was republished here with full permission.
Tara Blair Ball is a freelance writer and author of  The Beginning of the End . Check out her website  here  or find her on Twitter:  @taraincognito .
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