New Research: Get Some Sleep.
As a couple, Eric and I have always heard it said: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger!” This is one of those quotes from the bible that most people (Christians or not) truly believe will help assure that they have a happy marriage. Going to bed angry could let it fester, or get swept under the rug and never dealt with. It makes sense to deal with it all immediately, doesn’t it?
Well, as you know from our last newsletter, I recently had the chance to hear Shaunti Feldhahn, a sociological researcher, speak on what makes marriage happy–according to an extensive study she’d been a part of. She discovered what those of us who are in happy marriages already might have discovered ourselves…that you don’t have to white knuckle it out and take a no-doze in order to resolve your differences!
When Eric and I were newlyweds, we dutifully acquiesced to the warning we so often received, and we didn’t let the sun go down on our anger. I can vividly remember fighting through the night to the wee hours of the morning–our grumpiness increasing with the deepening dark. At one point Eric had the audacity to drift off to sleep and I actually resorted to violence by hitting him to awaken him. I’m still ashamed to admit I did that, but I was driven by this dogged fear that if we let the sun go down (although the sun had been down for hours at this point) on our anger, our marriage would crumble into an unrepairable abyss. Fearful and afraid (this being our first real fight after marital bliss). I stepped WAY out of the rational mind and actually physically struck my beloved.
I don’t think this is the way God intended us to resolve our issues. And as a matter of fact, when we research these highly quoted words from the New Testament, we quickly realize that the Apostle Paul was quoting King David…and actually not using the full quote. The actual reference comes from Psalm 4:4, and it is actually saying the opposite–the New Living Translation says “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” Complain if you must, but don’t lash out. Keep your mouth shut, let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for his verdict. As John Gottman states in his teaching about how to fight, complaining is fine, but stay focused on asking for what you need. Don’t make it about the other person. And really there is no need to figure it all out in the heat of the moment.
What Shaunti found out about really happy couples is that they were committed to working out their differences, but they did it in due time…perhaps the next day when they have had time to think it over and rationally share their heart. They didn’t sweep it under the carpet or just try to forget their grievances, they didn’t let it fester, but they also waited until they had time to process their emotions. This is such a relief to me, because so often when I try to stick to the “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” mentality, I just end up saying things I wish I hadn’t and the results are usually not very good. Giving myself permission to wait till I have a chance to sort it all out in my heart, take time to meditate and pray it through, then present what my case is (if it ends up that I truly do have a case), the results are so much more favorable. I have shared my needs in a non-threatening way, I maintain my self-respect by not lashing out in anger, and I seem to be able to be understood so much better. WOW!
I’m so thankful for this research. It really makes so much sense. Don’t rush into a heated discussion just because we want to resolve it right now! Give yourself and your lover the ability to be their best person and invest in the relationship rather than deplete it when conflict arises!
We will all get a better night’s sleep if you do.