Well, it's complicated. For some couples, going to bed angry is actually beneficial, while for others, it’s not. Furthermore, “there is no hard and fast rule if it is [okay period] or when it is and is not okay to go to bed angry,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST, director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. Conflict-resolution styles vary person to person, relationship to relationship, and “how and when you choose to work out conflict can also change within a relationship, depending on the issue,” says Kerrigan Hummel, LCSW, psychotherapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center.
This means discerning whether it’s best for you and your partner to hit the hay or continue hashing it out is specific to your relationship and, often, the issue at hand. The are both pros and cons to both paths forward, but one big downside to going to bed angry is that doing so might compromise your sleep because, “unresolved tension can interfere with sleep quality,” says Hummel. And waking up the next morning unrested and still sullen is literally adding insult to injury (or perhaps in this case, injury to insult). That said, there are reasons to hit the pause button—and ways to do it effectively.
3 reasons going to bed angry (or at least before you resolve your issues) could be a smart move
1. You're exhausted
However, going to sleep even when you're angry might be a smart move for you and your partner if one or both of you is so exhausted that you're not able to properly communicate. If you can't engage in productive conversations, going to sleep actually won’t make the fight seem bigger, Hummel says. In this case, taking a pause sets you up for a successful discussion the following day, she says.
2. You're worried about missed sleep
Furthermore, sleep itself can become an issue. “If someone is stressed about going to sleep or needing to get a certain number of hours of sleep, that will impact how present they are in the conversation,” says Kahn.
3. You're overwhelmed by the issues
Going to sleep still angry can also be helpful if one or both people are too overwhelmed, stressed, or hurt to move forward in the conversation productively in the moment. “Sometimes taking a break from conversations can help de-escalate the situation, give you a moment to self-soothe, and allow you to take in someone’s perspective,” says Kahn. Here, respecting the benefits of time and space may ultimately help you come to a resolution that feels best for all people involved.
But, Kahn adds, if you do go to sleep without resolution, you can do so while still honoring your relationship with your partner. You might, for example, kiss your partner on the cheek, acknowledge that you love them, or acknowledge that you’re committed to working through your issues together. A quick “we’ll get through this” before turning off the lights could be the difference between your partner sleeping well and tossing and turning all night—even if you haven't resolved your issues.
How your conflict-resolution style plays into your choice
“Going to bed mad can impact different people in different ways,” says Kahn. If you’re a more generous partner after eight hours of sleep or a few days of space, going to bed angry may actually lend itself to a better outcome. If, however, going to bed upset interferes with your sleep quality, sets the tone for your next day, and triggers your anxiety, it’s best to hash it out, he says.
If you and your partner don't fall into the same conflict-resolution-style camp, deciding how to proceed requires an added layer of communication. Not about the issue itself but how, when, and where you'll aim to resolve it—and also the question of now or later.
Depending on your preference—going to bed angry and dealing with the issue later or resolving it in the moment—you might say:
- This conversation is activating my anxiety that you are going to leave me. I hear you when you say that you want to finish this conversation tomorrow. But before we close this conversation, can I ask you to reassure me that you’re going to leave me?
- I know that you really want to have this conversation right now but I don’t have the emotional capacity after the day I had. I love you, but can we please press pause on this until the morning? I want to be able to show up to this discussion fully.
Wright adds that If you are someone who prefers to go to bed only after resolving conflict, it can be helpful to reframe conflict as an opportunity for connection, says psychotherapist and sex and relationship expert Rachel Wright, LMFT, because conflict isn’t necessarily bad. “In fact, it can increase connection and help you understand your partners to a greater degree and in a new way,” she says. If you can have faith that you will ultimately resolve your issue, even if you don't do it before going to sleep, you may be better able to go to bed without feeling like doom in your relationship is imminent.
You definitely need to talk about it eventually
While hashing it out the next day is an option, pretending nothing is wrong is not. “The one hard and fast rule about conflict is that you need to talk about it eventually,” Hummel says. “Engaging in conflict management early and as needed is essential for the health of a relationship.”
If the issue at hand is serious, and one or more people involved needs time to process, Kahn suggests putting a date and time on the calendar to check in. “Having a plan for when you’re going to continue the conversation is helpful,” he says. This allows everyone to emotionally and mentally prepare for the conversation, while also assuring that resolution will take place—whether or not it happens before bed.
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