04/05/2016 05:35 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2017

Anger and the Couple's Bed

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There will be nights for almost any couple who share a bed when it is bedtime and they are angry with each other. What can they do when the issue doesn't seem resolvable at the moment, especially since they are tired and need their sleep? Will they be able to sleep together when they are angry with each other? Can they get a good night's sleep when they are feeling so angry?

You're Both Angry. Now What?

Try to Resolve Things before Going to Sleep
Some couples I interviewed for my "Two in a Bed" book agreed to try to talk things through before going to sleep. It meant they might be up hours more than was usual for them. Sometimes in those late night sessions they struggled not to fall asleep as they talked. But often these couples were able to talk their way through to a compromise, a shared understanding, a plan, or something else that felt like a resolution or a good start at a resolution.

Sleep On It
Some couples had developed a pattern of sleeping on whatever was upsetting. The reasons for sleeping on it were diverse. Sometimes when people are upset they say the same thing over and over again, and that doesn't resolve things. But after they have slept on the problem they are able to understand things differently, have new perspectives, and are able to speak about the issues in new ways. Also, some people are much too tired to problem-solve at bed time, and some can't stay awake to try to resolve things no matter how hard they try. Some people found that after a good night's sleep some issues that seemed to be very big and important no longer were. Some people were too angry to talk at bedtime and needed time and sleep to cool off. Some couples counted on a night of sleeping to sober up one or both partners, and once they were sober the issue was often much easier to deal with.

Don't Resolve It Now, but Connect before Going to Sleep
Some couples had agreed that no matter how upset they were they would try to say or do something positive before trying to go to sleep. They might hug, or they might say something like "I love you." Even if that didn't resolve anything it was a way of saying we are still a couple and still are going to be decent to each other.

Try Not to Go to Sleep Angry
Some couples had agreed never to go to sleep angry. They would always try to make an emotional peace before going to sleep. They might pray together, say mutually respecting and caring things to each other, and promise to do their part to clear things up. They might still have their differences and a heavy, unresolved problem, but they will have worked at getting past the angry feelings.

Where and How People Sleep When Angry

If there is anger between them, many people are not comfortable sharing a bed with their partner like they normally do. It doesn't feel right to them to be physically as close and comfortable as usual when they are feeling emotionally distant. Some stay in the couple bed but lie farther away than normal from their partner. Even if they are just a few inches farther away, or even if they've turned their back to their partner whereas usually they face their partner, the greater distance fits how they feel. Some people go somewhere else to sleep, a couch in the living room, for example, and that feels right to them given their anger.

Making Up

With some issues, a couple eventually works things out, and that might be all they need to do. For them on that issue that might be "making up." Some issues never get resolved or never get resolved to the satisfaction of both partners, but somehow the couple gets back into their more or less normal life together without actually making up. But sometimes apologizing is the key to making up. Sometimes it's obvious who should apologize ("I forgot to pick you up at the airport, and I'm sorry"). But sometimes people apologize who have no reason to apologize other than that they will be more comfortable if the air can be cleared, and they are willing to apologize even if there isn't anything they should apologize for.

Sometimes making up doesn't involve an apology but an affirmation of love or caring or maybe doing a special favor for the partner. Often making up (the next night or even days after the initial angry bedtime) takes place in bed--beginning with a touch, snuggling, a sexual invitation, a sexual advance. And for many couples that works and peace soon is restored.