Sitting at the table of smiling, chatting women, it was hard not to cry. It was our first year of marriage, and my husband and I were stuck in one of those painful, hurt arguments where I was silent on the outside, but screaming on the inside. And then, 7pm arrived most inconveniently and it was time for me to go to the Women’s Christmas Dinner at our church. I went, swallowing tears.
An hour into the dinner, a woman who had been married some twenty years leaned over and asked if I was okay. “My husband and I just had an argument,” I confessed, “and I’m so upset but I don’t know how to fix it.” The petite lady patted my hand. “You know what I find?” she asked. I sat, poised for some fantastic marital wisdom. She coughed a little and continued, “sometimes, when Steve and I fight, it’s better if I just go to bed and get some sleep.”
I glared at her. Surely she wasn’t suggesting that in the midst of a marital crisis, the best thing to do was to sleep? After all, whatever happened to not letting the sun go down on your anger? I brushed off her advice and went home, sulking.
Ten years have passed since that pitiful Christmas dinner, and in the years since then I’ve come to appreciate just how wise that advice was, for the truth is that we live in a chronically sleep deprived society and our relationships suffer for it. We stay up too late and work too long, stimulating our eyes and brains with flickering screens until the wee hours. Our bodies cry out for rest, but we are a generation who consistently override the messages our bodies are sending us to slow down by overpowering them with caffeine and power shakes to speed them up.
The effects of this sleep-less lifestyle are well documented by researchers. Sleep loss takes a tremendous toll on our physical and emotional health, being directly linked to depression, insomnia, confused circadian rhythms, as well as increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimers.
People who get less sleep are more stressed, and have more difficulties paying attention and communicating, both key components for healthy marriages.Tweet this!
Becoming parents forced us into a reckoning with our bodily limits and the need for sleep. We saw, and experienced in real time, how much less able we were to cope with emotions and decisions the less sleep we got. We learned by experience that we were far more prone to pick fights with each other when the baby had been up every half hour. We became skilled at identifying the underlying issues in our current spat: was this really about whose turn it was to pay the bill? or was this about one of us being so tired that we needed extra help and extra grace?
Learning to respect both our own and our partner’s need for rest has made a significant difference in our marriage. The Ephesians 4:26 instruction to “not let the sun go down on your anger” is prefaced immediately by “in your anger, do not sin.” I take it, then, that that verse has more to do with dealing with conflict quickly and graciously than it does with the time of the day. Sometimes, my husband and I are just too tired to come to any conclusions. Sometimes, hard conversations have to be had over a couple of days, rather than in one marathon all-nighter. In truth, I find it easier to “not sin in my anger” when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.
A friend once quipped “don’t let the sun go down on your anger: stay up and fight!” His joke revealed the soft underbelly which often faces couples as they face conflict in the midst of exhaustion. What should we do when it’s late and the Issue on the table is still there, and painful? My advice is now the same as that wise woman who sat next to me at the Christmas dinner: get some sleep. My own exit line is this: “I’m too tired to discuss this in a healthy and constructive way. I love you, and I know we can figure this out. But right now, I need to get some sleep. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”
And you know what? It’s amazing how much easier it is to show kindness and love to each other when we’re well rested. So many of our midnight mountains somehow show themselves to be molehills by morning.
One of the celebrated perks of marriage is that you finally get to sleep together. Ten years in, what we’re learning is this: marriage is a lot more perky when you actually get to sleep together, too.
Make sure that in between all the xxx’s and ooo’s of your marriage, you get enough zzz’s too.