Probably the worst marital advice I ever got was never to go to bed angry at my spouse. And I’m sure I heard it from more than one person. If I had taken that advice, I would have spent the first 10 years of marriage in a sleep-deprived haze that would likely have meant the end of our relationship. To my own children, I gave this advice:
If you’re still fighting at bedtime, go to sleep. If the fight is worth fighting, it will still be there in the morning, but chances are it will dissipate in the night.
But what about the sun set?
I know, I know. Ephesians 4:26, yeah, yeah. Poor St. Paul wrote some controversial stuff, but the book of Ephesians may have the best of it, including this:
“Be angry, yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).
Marriage counselors (professionals and amateurs) have used this verse for years to keep married couples fighting into the wee hours of the morning.
However, only the most modern, loosest Bible translations say, “Don’t go to bed angry.” I’m not a biblical scholar, but I feel that by using the words, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” St. Paul may be saying not to make anger the end of it all. Go to bed, for crying out loud. But do so with the understanding that it will all be better in the morning, and whatever has come between you and your spouse is not the end.
Let’s go to bed angry
Now I’m not talking about marriages where one spouse is abusive, controlling, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or has mental health issues that make it difficult to control emotions. I’m talking about the disagreements and conflicts that arise frequently in a marriage, maybe more frequently in a young marriage.
Asking those couples to keep up the fight until they resolve the issue or to just drop the matter and kiss and make up before going to sleep seems insane to me. In my own experience, the later it got, the more irrational the arguments became. The weapons become more lethal, too. The longer Rob and I fought, the more likely we were going to say something hurtful, dredge up old wounds or even threaten to leave.
Many, many arguments ended with, “I can’t do this anymore. Let’s go to bed,” before we could get to that point.
A better verse to fight for
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent” (Psalm 4:4).
So you are still mad, but you decide to take a break and go to bed. If you are lying there trying to get to sleep and your spouse is snoring away, this is prime time to allow sin into your heart. You can let the accuser whisper into your ear about all the times your spouse has failed, all the times he or she has disappointed you, all the promises your spouse could not keep. Or you can think about it as God would have you think about it. Don’t focus on the failures and disappointments, but meditate on the good things about your spouse.
He is faithful.
He comes home every night happy to see me.
He loves to make me laugh.
He tries, really really tries to do the right thing.
The next verse in Psalm 4 is so important: “Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord” (4:5).
You may fall asleep, but God keeps working. He who never slumbers nor sleeps will work in your heart and the heart of your spouse. This I can attest to from my own experiences. Many nights my husband and I have gone to sleep angry, too exhausted to keep up the fight. Then sometime in the darkness of the night, our hands reach out and touch, and one of us will whisper, “I’m sorry.”