“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” – Ephesians 4:26
What a crock.
Like many couples, Husband and I studied the Biblical rules for marriage that Paul outlines in his letter to the Ephesians. Our pastor emphasized Ephesians 4:26-27 and the importance of not letting anger toward each other fester, but communicating constantly, fairly, and with the goal of resolving any conflicts quickly.
This idea is usually summed up by older married men and women as, “Don’t go to bed angry!” Delivered with a knowing smile, in cheerful, well-meaning tones.
Either those gentle patriarchs and matriarchs have marriages way better than mine, or they have so well and so long ago accepted the lumps in their marriage that they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be really upset and fired up about your position.
It’s okay to go to bed angry.
Last night, Hubs and I were arguing about politics. We’ve restricted our political discussions to major issues only because we’ve realized that we are not going to agree about most political issues and talking about them will only end in a shouting match and the desire to slam doors and/or leave the house.
But we can’t do either with a toddler afoot. We’ve vowed not to model that behavior for her.
We kept our discussion as fact-based and non-emotional as possible, but the nature of the issue was very emotional issue and still riled us up. Husband huffed his way downstairs to sleep on the couch.
The sun was already down. I was tired. The toddler wakes at 7 a.m. every day without fail; I needed to go to bed, too. So what did I do? Did I follow my beloved downstairs and ask to keep communicating? Did I throw myself at his feet, begging to not let this day end in anger?
Nah. I left him alone and enjoyed having the bed to myself for a night.
This literal interpretation of Ephesians 4:26 has to go. If you’re upset and it’s the end of the day, you’re not just angry because of the issue at hand, you’re angry because you’ve been up for 12 or more hours and you need rest. You’re probably a few hours removed from your last meal, and whether you realize it or not, your body is already low on fuel. You’re emotionally worn down from your daily activities and interactions with others. Whether those interactions were positive or negative, it’s the end of the day and you’ve spent most of your energy dealing with them. You might have an indomitable spirit but you have a human body, and it’s tired.
You’ve had a full day, and now you’re arguing with your spouse about the number of times they leave the refrigerator door open, and you’re supposed to stay up until you both can sweetly agree to a resolution?
I. Call. BS.
Go to bed, sister. Get some sleep. Wake up with a clear head and a rested heart. Then decide how you’re going to resolve your fight.
At my bridal shower and several others I’ve attended, there have been guest books of some sort (actual books, picture frame mattes, paper hearts later made into framed collages, recipe cards on which we wrote ingredients for a healthy marriage . . . the Pinterest-inspired list goes on) where we’re asked to leave advice for the bride and groom. Invariably, someone writes, “Don’t go to bed angry!” This trope usually comes from one of two types of married women: she who has been married for 35+ years, and she who has been married less than two.
In other words, this triteness comes from women who have weathered the toughest parts of marriage and have likely forgotten how difficult it can be to live the daily grind of work, raising kids, making time for your spouse, and then be expected to talk it out when really, you want to curl up in bed with Netflix or a celebrity magazine and not think too hard.
Or from women who haven’t been married long enough to know that piece of advice is actually garbage.
I can’t count how many times Husband and I fought after the sun went down our first couple of years married, and went to bed angry instead of arguing until
one of us caved we worked it out. Why did we choose that time of day to hash things out? Simple: It’s when we we both home from work and weren’t occupied with entertaining friends, exercising or cooking dinner.
Going to bed angry gave us time and space to think through our position on our own and decide: Am I wrong? Am I right? If I am right, is making my point worth this acrimony? Does s/he have a point? What responsibility do I have to make this situation better, and what am I going to have to give vs. ask of them so we can move on?
But, you may be thinking, how can I go against this advice? It’s the Bible, for crying out loud! Wouldn’t it a sin to willfully ignore this verse?
I’m not advocating that you cherry-pick of which parts of the Bible to follow and which ones to throw out. Not at all.
I’m saying that marriage is two flawed souls trying to love and accept each other while existing in bodies that don’t function optimally for hours on end. It’s hard to love and accept each other when you’re running low on food, water and rest. If your disagreement is going nowhere because fatigue is setting in and clouding your ability to resolve things, give yourselves a time out to take care of physical needs like sleep.
You know who doesn’t write “Don’t go to bed angry!” on bridal shower advice cards? Women who fight for their marriage to be one of equal, mutual submission.
Women who work a full-time job and also work hard to maintain an efficient, comfortable household.
Women with young kids who need their husbands to be equally active in their children’s upbringing instead of saying they had a hard day at work and really just want to relax with their iPad.
Women who only have time to fight before bed.
Women who fiercely love their husbands and jealously guard their marriage against any foothold the devil tries to gain, including the very real limitations we as humans face when we’re tired, hungry, and just want to stop talking for a little bit.
Even Biblical scholars acknowledge that allowing some time to pass before attempting a resolution can help by “allowing our emotions to recede, releasing relational pressure, giving us perspective.”
Let the sun go down. Let yourself care for you. Eat some breakfast, or at least a midnight snack. Then resolve your argument.
Here’s another reason to table a marital spat to the next day: in Biblical times, days started at sunset. When the sun went down on a Thursday, the calendar changed over to Friday. The first “day” in Genesis started with evening and ended with light. Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon, and on the third occurence of light after that – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – he rose from the grave. We think of days in terms of daylight, but a full day includes nighttime as well.
So if a Biblical day starts at sunset, and you’re arguing before bed (and you keep a typical schedule of going to bed after dark), you’re arguing at the beginning of the day. Not the end. You can go to sleep for the night and try again with your spouse in the morning of the same “day.”
It’s important to understand your spouse. It’s essential to forgive or ask forgiveness. It’s imperative to understand how you two reached the point of disagreement and what you can do or say better to prevent the same argument from happening again and again. We’re called to love deeply and offer grace the same way that God loves and forgives us.
Letting the sun go down on our anger is healthy for our marriage. Sometimes going to bed angry forces us to take time to think through our position and re-evaluate why we’re fighting in the first place. Much more often than not, we wake up feeling humbled and grateful we’re still in the house together, and want to make up.
As a small bonus, Husband has gotten to sleep on his favorite couch, which he romantically thinks of as camping, and I’ve gotten a quiet night’s sleep free of his snoring.
So go ahead and rebel. Let the sun go down on your anger. And tell the next bride-to-be that it’s okay to go to bed angry.