Marriage advice is that. Advice. There are some pretty good rules though. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t leave a wet towel on the bed. Stuff that will keep you out of divorce court.
I’ve been married for 26 years. And I wish I had known what bad advice I got early one.
You should know, I’m a Christian. I try to follow the teachings of the Bible, and be faithful to the authority of the scripture. So when the scripture says “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” its probably not a mere function of good advice. This is directive. But the reality of living in relationship with someone who isn’t me meant that many nights were spent in frustration and eventually what I would call sin. Because one or both of us would go to bed angry. The sun would go down, but our disagreement would continue. Well into the night.
And beyond the obvious, “well, if its already down when you are angry, doesn’t that mean we get till tomorrow night to solve this?” and the physical fact that “many a bad fight has been solved by a good night’s sleep”, how do reconcile the teaching of scripture?
Anger is a physiological response to stimuli. Chemicals release in our system and our emotions connect with those chemicals and make a powerful connection. Oh, how I hate it when someone tells me “don’t be angry.”
Anger though is an individual emotion. What makes one person angry doesn’t make another. Get cut off in traffic but a stupid driver. Some get mad. Some blow it off. Because anger is a personal emotion. Going to bed angry isn’t about solving the problem with your spouse. It is about getting my own emotions under control?
What is the true source of my anger? Usually there is some perceived value that has been violated, some perceived injury to self. Notice that I say perceived. Consider the following experiment where women were told they were participating in a study on discrimination based on physical appearance. The participants were given fake scars with makeup, and sent into a room to do a job interview. Except right ebfore going into the room, a makeup artist would ask to “touch up” their makeup scars. Instead, the artist quickly removed them. The women came back with multiple observed instances of discrimination based on the scars. Except the scars weren’t real. Their perception made them look for interactions that did not have the meaning they associated with it.
Anger is a response to a perception of the world. Sometimes true, sometimes not. But sadness can be the same response to an event that can cause anger in others. Or joy.
So “don’t let the sun go down on your anger” has to do with me, not my spouse. It does not mean that I avoid confrontation, but it also does not mean that I am responsible for the emotional regulation of my spouse. My anger is what I must let go.
Easier said that done. But it would have saved at least one of us a ton of sleep.