SOMETIMES WE make things harder for ourselves than they need to be by filling in the blanks where the Bible leaves some space. Take the admonition from Ephesians 4:26 about not going to bed angry, which in older translations talks about not letting the sun go down on your wrath. To me, that sounds very fire-eating dragony.
It’s straight talk to everyone, but it’s frequently referenced in marriage teaching. Often in tandem with some kind of joke about the guy (or gal) who slept in the lounger or on the sofa all night so he (or she) could comply with the letter of the apostle Paul’s instruction.
Usually, this verse is coupled with earnest encouragement to talk through whatever the hurt or disagreement may be and to go to sleep as besties once again. Never mind the fact that trying to resolve something when tempers are rising and eyelids are drooping isn’t the best environment for success.
But maybe we’re biting off more than we can chew here. Paul doesn’t actually say you have to resolve everything before you go to sleep. He just says you should stop being mad before you do. Indeed, you’re probably going to find it a whole lot easier to nod off if you’re not grumbling under your breath and rehashing the dispute. Or continuing it via pillow talk.
“Make love not war” is a great slogan, but sometimes it’s poor marital advice. How about just agreeing to stop making war for now and leaving the love bit for another day? Kind of like that meme going around: “When we get married there is no such thing as divorce. Tired of me? Go to bed. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
This may not sound very noble, but it’s a whole lot more doable, for sure. After all, continuous perfect peace and harmony just isn’t possible this side of eternity. Maybe that’s why Paul also wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
Taking baby steps to reconciliation also takes into account the different ways couples can approach, handle, and process conflict. There’s not only personality to be borne in mind here—whether you’re a fighter or a flighter, for instance—but also your orientation to time.
Some therapists believe there are three main stances in this regard: that we’re either 1) past-focused, 2) present-centered, or 3) future-turned. If someone is past-oriented, it’s likely going to take them more time to work through a bump with their spouse, and not just because they’re “sulking.” Meanwhile, someone who is future-oriented is likely to have swiftly moved on from whatever was the issue, and not just because they’re “uncaring.”
Either way, being freed up from the self-imposed sense of obligation to “fix” everything immediately—which can often involve faux repairs rather than real reconciliation—can give both parties some well-needed breathing (and sleeping) room.