Go to bed angry: Unpopular but realistic marriage advice

Guest post by Jen Cywinski
By: smplstcCC BY 2.0

I didn't get any bad, syrupy marriage advice from people I know, but I saw plenty of it floating around in movies, in books, and online. It's sort of infectious. In the pre-wedding fog it can affect your sense of self and your confidence. I would shrug it off as nothing, but I sometimes felt panicked. What is this marriage thing I've gotten myself into? I must be mad, am I going mad? Am I depressed? I don't feel like I married the bestest, sweetest, most kindest man in the world, but I love him, is that enough? AGHHHHH!

We're working on year three and I'm fine now. I realize the cutesy advice, even though I dismissed it, had gotten in my brain because I never saw an article titled, “How To Deal With The Crappy Parts Of Marriage As Well As Unrealistic Expectations Of Society.” So, I came up with my own marriage advice that maybe doesn't make you say, “Awwww!”, but later on down the line, after the wedding high descends, might make you feel stronger.

Sometimes marriage sucks. It really does. You're individuals who have decided to always be together and at times it is really annoying that you are so different in some ways. Make sure you each have space to just be you and remember to hang out with other people. You are not an island.

“Never go to bed angry.” Bullshit. Two people who are tired and already upset are not going to make good decisions. They are going to be unreasonable, nonsensical, and cranky. Go to bed, wake up recharged, and figure it out like two well-rested grown ups.

You will change and your spouse will change. People change, it's sometimes scary, but you'll live and get used to it. Just because he/she decides to take up yoga/go vegan/become a cheese maker/become a power lifter doesn't mean they are some other person. They're evolving. Don't let it divide you — evolve together.

“Two becoming one.” No. You are not becoming one entity, you're not welded together, you're not one part of a ball and chain. You are two people who even on bad days choose to stay with that person, because even on the bad days you'd rather be there with them than with anyone else. You know that the bad will pass, you'll take it on as a team, and kick the bad's ass.

Be aware. In my previous point I say you'll get through the bad, but don't become so totally infatuated that you ignore your own well being. We all have bad days where we yell too much or get a little crazy, yes, but don't become victim to domestic abuse.

“Kiss your husband/wife everyday” except if they're sick with the flu or a nasty cold, my friend. There was a time when I thought, “but you HAVE to give me a kiss!” Nuh uh, keep those lips sealed unless it's to swallow zinc and vitamin C supplements. More fluids, chop chop.

Lastly, people are going to ask you, “How's being married?” or “How is married life?” for at least a year after the wedding. It's a nice question, but what does it even mean? I used to answer that it was like life before marriage, except now I live with this guy. My point is that my new answer, if I were asked, is that marriage is like making a better way to do something that's been done a million times before. We are Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, and Benny Franklin.

Comments on Go to bed angry: Unpopular but realistic marriage advice

  1. This is going to sound a lot like an infomercial, but I’m designing an album for clients and have some spare time on my hands, so here goes. Books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I swear by The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by Dr. Gottman. Actually, I’m a fan of pretty much anything he’s done.

    Part of that might be due to my background in psychology, part of it might be due to my being a wedding photographer, and part of it might be due to the fact that I really wanted an awesome marriage and approached it in the same way I approached anything I’m interested in–by learning as much about it as possible from folks who studied it.

    I don’t know. But I’d recommend his stuff in a heartbeat. And if I could summarize a lot of his research (and what I’ve taken from it) in a nutshell, it would probably come down to focusing on maintaining and strengthening the friendship between you and your spouse. Everything else flows out from that.

    • I’ve read a few marriage books, and that was definitely my favorite. I also really liked “Grown Up Marriage” and “Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness,” which sounds like a total downer, but is really pretty great. I also read “Starter Marriage”, which was really interesting.

    • Thanks for the book suggestions! We’re two months away from our Hallowedding and I’m feeling very much like Jen describes in this post. (“I know we’ve been together 8+ years and I love him, but what if it’s not enough?!?!?!?”) This post makes me feel better and I’m definitely reading the books you guys highlighted. Just bought them on Kindle. <3

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly about Gottman’s work. He’s trained psychologist having research couples for decades. I wish more people knew about him and his work 🙂

    • The other pieces of advise seem to make great, good sense (I’m admittedly not married, nor have I ever been in a romantic relationship.), but the “Never go to bed angry” advice, imho also makes great, good sense, because one never knows what kind of affect that it may have on the person that you’re presently angry with, healthwise or otherwise. Many years ago, I read a rather scary story, in which a married couple did go to bed angry, after an argument, no good-nights, or anything. The next morning, the wife fixed her husband a good breakfast, but still didn’t speak to him. The husband, unfortunately, ended up dying of a massive heart attack, which was his first. The wife, I presume, learned her lesson.

    • We’ve gone to bed angry tons of times, and it always feels better in the morning. It gives both sides a chance to ‘come down’ and see things from the other’s perspective/see how unreasonable they’ve been.

    • “Less fraught” is such a good way to describe it. Sometimes, I’m just uber-tired and my emotions revert to being 15 and it goes nowhere good. And sometimes, the things I’m being 15 about are things that are genuinely peeving me off, and being able to articulate that actually makes a difference. The perspective of 12 hours distance/some sleep is really helpful, though.

      What I’ve also found helpful (speaking as the daughter of a psychologist…) is honesty. Aka: I don’t answer “nothing is bothering me”, I’ll say “I don’t really want to talk about it right now, but I’ll come see you when I’m ready” (and he accepts that and doesn’t push), and then figure out exactly what it is that’s annoying me, and THEN we hash that out. For example, while I can be annoyed about X thing that has happened (he didn’t do the dishes! or something), the problem is really that X repeats as a pattern (I’m doing ALL the housework while working more!!), and the pattern reads as Y (I go to work and come home and do housework, and you play video games, and you appear to value your free time over mine and I need to feel respected) and Y really upsets me, so fighting about X is really arguing about a symptom (or, in this example, work/housework/time is an issue, the dishes are the everlasting breaking point). Time to figure that out is good, and it works for us, and we fight less when we deal with the big issues. 🙂

      • “I don’t answer “nothing is bothering me”, I’ll say “I don’t really want to talk about it right now, but I’ll come see you when I’m ready””

        It took me years and two failed engagements to learn to do this, and I thought it was me because I was the pattern. I’m sure part of it WAS me, but I discovered that part of it was just the coincidence of the choices in communication made by my partners. Getting into a relationship with a partner whose communication patterns are compatible with my own has really made it possible for me to live up to this ideal that I’d kept trying to implement. I never said “nothing’s bothering me,” but I kept getting it from people; and I would pick at it if either of us said we didn’t want to talk about it right now, because none of my other partners would ever get around to talking about these issues.

        But now! Now I have a partner that I know if Now is not the right time to talk about This, This WILL be discussed at a More Appropriate Time. Sometimes it’s just because someone needs to put words to what they want to say, sometimes they need to sort out how they feel, sometimes it’s just not appropriate for discussing in front of others. But I am secure in knowing that whatever It is, It will be discussed as soon as we can, and that makes all the difference in being able to let it go until that time comes.

      • This is so true. Thich Nhat Hahn call this ‘cooking our potatoes’. When we we feel tat raw emotion it’s hard not to articulate it and feel overwhelmed by it and speak in the heat of the moment. But we need to ‘cook’ that raw emotion and figure out what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s deep – like you say, and sometimes it situational like tired and cranky.

    • It took us a while to learn this. (Hey we’re both stubborn and romantic idealists so we needed a little extra time.)
      I’ll now go to bed thinking “I am NOT angry, just pissed off.” For some reason resetting my emotions to ‘pissed off’ seems to trivialize things and calm me down a lot.

  2. I don’t think that giving relationship advice is a good idea unless you really know the couple and are keeping them in mind. I’m sure these rules work for your relationship, and that’s great, but they’re not right for mine. I don’t think that any particular advice is right for everyone; you just have to figure out what works for you and your partner.

    • Yes. This is true of all advice given publicly. If it feels like a fit for you, awesome. If not, move on.

    • You worded it perfectly! Every couple is different, so not all advice fits one size. I wrote these down after another newlywed said they’d gone through the same confusion and stress, but never spoke about it because they didn’t feel their fears were valid.

      To each their own, cheers!

    • @Clare: I can totally understand why it is scary–I’m a Christian, so I’m pretty comfortable with this notion, but I can see how it can be terrifying!

      If I may try to explain?

      (First off, I think the concept has been abused and taken out of context, and consequently, *is* often scary-as-fuck.)

      Two becoming one is actually based on the notion that a marriage creates an entity–you are *still* individuals, but your lives are bound together–think of it as protection and safety (for men AND women!), not restriction and stifling.

      You are committing to hold, honor, and keep each other–and much of any loving relationship is bound up in selflessness–a marriage even more so.

      The Biblical passage that phrase comes from was discussing divorce (specifically divorce in the early Roman era, in Jewish society), where Christ was admonishing certain Jewish leaders for allowing divorce to happen too easily and readily (Guess who suffered most from that? Yup. Women and children.), and was reminding them that a marriage is supposed to be a place of safety and commitment, hence “the two become one flesh”. It’s a reminder that one’s wife is supposed to be as important as one’s self–a pretty sharp rebuke, culturally speaking, in those days!

      Personally, I’m grateful for the encouragement to hold my partner dearly, to treasure him, and love him–and I am grateful that he is called to do the same by me. 🙂

      I hope that helps–if that wording isn’t your bag, it’s okay! I’m just hoping to explain why it’s meaningful to many folks.

    • I think it’s a lot less scary if you think of marriage as becoming a “team” rather than your identities disappearing into some two-headed fleshy blob monster.

      • The “two-headed fleshy blob monster” is always the image my mind conjures up when I hear the phrase. I know it’s not how it’s meant, but that’s just where my weird little mind takes me.

        I like the “team” language, and I use that a lot for us.

      • Yes, I guess my point is that “two become one” is often being interpreted in a way that can be scary, but if we remember we’re a team, that we are together as “one” it is more encouraging. Same phrase, different translation 🙂

        • I wholeheartedly agree with Rebecca and Jen. As a Christian bride-to-be (and a moderate-to-liberal one at that), I am very comfortable with the concept of “the two becoming one flesh.” To me, it’s another way of saying that two people are required to make a marriage work. However, I would never vow to “submit to my husband’s leadership” or “obey” him. In fact, the word for head in that context (“kephale” in the original Greek letter to the Ephesians) was seldom used to refer to a chief/leader/boss and is actually a reference to when Eve was made from Adam’s rib. All in all, this means that the husband and wife are to be equal partners in a marriage.

  3. Oh, God. This?
    “What is this marriage thing I’ve gotten myself into? I must be mad, am I going mad? Am I depressed? I don’t feel like I married the bestest, sweetest, most kindest man in the world, but I love him, is that enough? AGHHHHH!”

    I needed to hear that today. Thank you.

  4. Thank you so much for this! My husband and I had been together for 8+ years when we got married and I got pretty freaked out when I let myself think about some of the “advice.” “Don’t go to bed angry?” But that’s what we DO! Eventually, you do have to figure out what’s right for you and yes, we can usually work it out much more effectively after a night’s sleep. And I’ve never been on board with the “becoming one” business. We both have lives outside of each other and that’s how we like it!

    I also really hated the “how’s married life?” question.

    • Yea, that question made no sense to me. One month post wedding people were all, “how’s married life? *wink*” and I always responded with a shrug and “same great relationship it’s been really”. It’s just a weird question.

      • I’m glad someone else finds this question so strange. My husband and I met a whole crowd of new people last week, and I had no idea what to say when they asked! Nothing has magically changed. I feel closer in some ways, but our lives as a couple are just what they were. It’s hard not to feel like I’m disappointing people with my answer or lack of enthusiasm.

    • People would ask me and I would always respond with a super enthusiastic “Great!” People would get kind of taken aback and then sort of prod for a follow up. Since we’d already been cohabiting before hand I didn’t really have an explanation for why being married was so awesome, and being forced to analyze it could kinda take the shine off.

  5. I’m glad someone else can say “Marriage sucks sometimes.” I spent so much time becoming an independent adult, and now I have to take someone else’s preferences, goals and dreams into account? Bah! But it’s totally worth it…even on days when I want to throw him out the window and run away to Europe.

    • I have been telling friends who are getting engaged and are newlyweds that “marriage sucks sometimes” and I really think they saw another head pop out of my neck, but I think it’s best to be honest about life. Thanks 😀

  6. I love this. Your points resonated so much with my experience in our relationship (cohabiting for over two years now) and what I expect our marriage will be like (i.e., no different from cohabiting, just with an extra piece of paper).

    The “two become one” thing for me, like an earlier commenter, is a little scary. I want to still be recognized as a separate person, and my fiance feels the same way. I think it’s healthy to remember that we are still two different people.

    Also, I had not even thought about the “How’s married life?” question – but I am totally stealing your answer. Genius.

  7. “How’s married life?”… Right?!?!?
    What the hell kind of question is that? Maybe, once upon a time, when people were betrothed by their families and never met before… maybe then it would have been relevant to ask how it’s going. But when my husband and I had already cohabited for 4 years and (gasp!) engaged in sexual intercourse prior to signing any sort of government paperwork, not so much.

    • Yes! That would be the perfect situation to ask that question in! Or maybe “How is combining your lifestyles going?”, some more specific question.

    • Agreed! I figure, if they’re strongly Catholic (like a lot of my family and friends) and they’re asking this, then the only thing it can mean is “how is it finally having sex?”. I am never sure whether I want to scandalize them by saying our sex life hasn’t changed (implying OMG we’ve done it before!) or by giving them what they want and saying we’re having tons of sex now, and it’s awesome. I mean, really, think about what you’re asking here.

    • I agree with what you’re saying, but, I think sometimes people are just looking for conversation topics or not sure what to say. It’s the logical next thing to ask after “So how’s wedding planning going?” Or after your birthday, “So…how does it feel to be X years?”

      Same as “so how’s your grandkids?” “How’s the ole golf game going?” “Some weather we’re having isn’t it!” Etc. It could be not that they’re trying to pry, but just making conversation.

  8. The first time I heard that it may be a good idea to go to bed angry, my world was truly rocked forever. How could it be that the sage, experienced advice my mother gave me from childhood on may not be the best thing for my relationship? And I thought back to the late night arguments that turned into horrific embarrassing melts which included, but was not limited to, illogical statements and endless rambling. Why did I endure these long miserable nights? Simply because my mother’s advice echoed in my head, making me believe I was a bad partner if I failed to resolve the situation at the proper moment.

    The last time we got into a late night fight, I stunned the pants off of him by strongly stating my opinion, saying goodnight, and going to bed. I felt a million times better about myself being that person than the crying, irrational one I had previously been.

    Although there are some key elements to a successful, happy relationship that we can all agree on, I believe you have to take all advice with a grain of salt and sensibility as to how it applies to your relationship. I’m so glad I realized that going to bed angry may sometimes be the best option for us– but perhaps it’s not for everyone.

    • Glad the switch worked for you! I also go jogging/clean when I’m faced with a problem because I want to cool down and be in a good place mentally before I tackle it.

      • Yes! We now call it Rage Cleaning. It gives me something to focus on, a reason to wander around the house and potentially NOT be in the company of the other side of the argument, and makes me feel like I’m at least getting something done instead of wasting time letting anger get in the way of coherent arguing.

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