Going to sleep is a good circuit breaker. Real relationships are an endlessly repeated rhythm of harmony, disharmony, and repair. But our culture idealizes only the harmony phase. Just once I would like somebody to say, “Oh, there’s Harvey and Shirley. They’ve been married 47 years. Of course they separated at one point for nearly a year because they were so pissed off at each other, and periodically they fight like cats and dogs, but they always find their way through it. Aren’t they a cute couple?” But you’re not going to hear that. Saying that you should never go to bed mad suggests that there should never be a serious disharmony in the relationship—which is nonsense. Sleeping stops the automatic reaction and gives you a chance to regain perspective. My wife and I go to bed mad at each other, wake up the next morning, and make up immediately. The resolution? Going to bed is the resolution sometimes. Because the relational answer to the question “Who’s right, and who’s wrong?” is “Who cares?” The question should be “How are we going to get through this together?”
—Terry Real, founder of the Relational Life Institute and the author of The New Rules of Marriage. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.