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We Don’t Go to Bed Angry

Judith Peck, Ed.D.

We don’t go to bed angry, that was a rule with the kids. It was to temper eruptions between a child and me or a feud between siblings. Rules work well, a kind of structural exterior to steady the quivering emotions inside. We don’t go to bed angry, we wait until morning; that’s the other half of it. I wonder why we never employed this with the grownups of the house. Well, because the rule would be difficult. Experienced sparring partners have learned where the soft spots are, how to get in there for a jab, maybe enjoy the conflict, the energy of it. Still, the rule is not a bad idea to try.

Here’s how the rule went down once with my 12-year old daughter and me although I can’t remember the argument: possibly her unacceptable behavior and my refusal to acknowledge her advanced maturity, evident in that it was she who invoked the rule to me. I sat on the edge of the bed where she lay squashed by a menagerie of stuffed beasts. I had no choice but to agree to hold off our argument until morning (reluctantly, feeling I was the more aggrieved party). Our dispute ended for the night and we gave a little hug goodnight. In truth, one of us probably hugged more than the other, but lumpy or limp the hug reinforced the rule.

A curious thing about hugs. The contact of bodies, the embrace of arms, touch of a cool cheek accomplishes something just by the doing. Physical touch quiets the inner tension and tends to mitigate the conflicts, those out in the open and the deeper ones festering within. A touch can make a woman feel beautiful, a man feel virile and both feel loved. The rule not going to bed angry—angry as you are—can be the adult in the room taking charge.

The transition of bedtime between the dramatic enactments of the day and the curtain closing on night, for all its seeming insignificance with so little happening, is time well spent if spent well. Reading books in all those forever years from childhood through dotage is time well spent. Agreeing not to go to bed angry is a purpose profitably committed to. The rule applies not only to the miss-speak or miss-deeds of others, but to anger addressed to yourself. For anger at yourself is the least forgiving.

The new day brings its own expected and unexpected doings, its angst, twists and turns, action and reactions to be met head on. The night’s sleep brings the rest in which dreams can work in peace to expel in their own wildly creative ways the trash that clutters the mind, clearing it enough to welcome the next day’s surprises. With a physical hug or simply a touch, the rule puts off until morning all that effortful anger, allowing dreams to roll in and do their work to exhume the stuff not needed and soften the biting hurts. To clear the way for embracing the day.