It was around 7:30 p.m. I know this because “King of Queens” had just gone off the air. As newlyweds, we didn’t have much else to do in the evenings besides come home from work, slip on our comfy clothes, make dinner and watch television. It had become a sort of expected routine, one that we’d look forward to for the sheer sweetness and comfort of it all.
That particular night, however, we weren’t feeling sweet nor cozy. We were in the middle of the first spat of our marriage, only about one month into it. At first, the honeymoon period was glorious. We honeymooned in Jamaica and spent every day noshing on jerk chicken, going on off-site excursions to climb waterfalls or take a rafting tour, and spending all night at the local pub, laughing and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Yet, after the honeymoon ends is when real life begins and for us, though we’d been together five years at that point, real life together took a little getting used to.
We hadn’t lived together before getting married, so that first night in our first little starter home as a married couple was jarring. I stayed up for hours and cried over missing my childhood home. I was only 21 and not entirely ready to let go, even though my parents’ home was only about five miles away. That night, I honestly forget what we were fighting over in the beginning. In hindsight, it was probably something small like he didn’t load the dishwasher correctly or I didn’t ask him about his day at work. Then, however, like many arguments tend to do, it started to snowball.
Suddenly, I’m bringing up past insecurities and he’s putting up a defense. I’m calling out every transgression of his and he’s dishing it right back to me. We slammed doors and yelled insults and, for the first time since we exchanged vows, I took a blanket to the couch and he spent the night upstairs. I laid there for a few minutes in the dark, mad that we let a little spat grow into such a mountainous argument. Then, I remembered what my mother had written to me in our marriage journal: Never go to bed angry.
I trotted upstairs and found him half asleep. I turned on the lights, rolled him over and nudged him to talk to me. At this point, the argument was moot. Still, I was nagging and persistent and he finally relented. We stayed up and talked and worked it out but in the end, we were both exhausted, overwhelmed at the idea of work in a few hours, and just totally spent. We agreed in hindsight that we could have had that exact same conversation the next day and been so much more alert, aware and present during the exchange.
It was then that I realized that sometimes, you don’t have to stay up all night hashing it out. Sometimes, you can agree to disagree, go to sleep and wake up in the morning with a clearer mind and softer heart. In the thick of an argument, it’s difficult to see the other person’s point of view. We’re so caught up in the thick of our anxieties and our hurts that all we can see is the pain inflicted upon us, forgetting that we’re likely causing the same hurt in our loved one.
We’ve now been married 10 years. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve stayed up and talked it out, but the times we’ve agreed to give ourselves some space and time to digest the issue and then meet back up again in a few hours or the next morning? Those situations happen regularly and I’m grateful for the grace they allow both of us.
While we’ve never reached the point in our disagreements that we’ve considered marriage counseling, I know handfuls of couple friends who have gone through the process. All of them have come out stronger on the other side. One of the top reasons I believe they’ve been so successful is that in counseling, we learn to be empathetic. We learn to dissect our actions and consider them from someone else’s perspective. We learn that hurt is a two-way street and so is forgiveness.
By going to bed and not struggling to come to a resolution at 3:00 in the morning, my husband and I aren’t just giving in to exhaustion and defeat. Rather, we’re saying, “I know our marriage is solid. I know we’re good. I just need a little space and a little time to work this out.” When we do have that conversation, we’re both more willing to compromise and put our family first before anything. So, maybe the sage, well-intended advice should be tweaked a little. Perhaps instead of “Never go to bed angry” we should start suggesting that couples “Never stay up and fight.” Take a breather, get some rest, and come back ready to work through it when the sun rises.