There is an old saying that if you never have a quarrel in a marriage then the first time can end in divorce. So the good news is it's ok to have little spats every now and then. We have been married for over 30 years, and Inevitably there are times when one or even both of us loses it. We are, after all, very human. We've been there, done that, and collected a whole range of tee shirts! But, in all that time, what we have never done is go to bed angry with each other.
What we soon realized is that any disagreement is less about the issue and more about the need to be right. So we try to focus on what is really going on. Anger is a powerful and complex emotion--when it grabs hold it is difficult to control ourselves. But there are often layers of conflicting feelings hidden beneath the anger, such as insecurity, grief, or fear, trying to make themselves heard. The power of rage is such that it can act as a defense mechanism that overshadows these other emotions, causing us to lose touch with ourselves and struggle to articulate what we are really feeling.
Getting angry may really be a cry for contact; having lost our connectedness with both our own feelings and each other it may be expressing feelings of rejection, loneliness, or a longing to love and be loved. Often anger is saying "I love you" or "I need you" yet we are hurling abuse at each other instead.
As psychotherapist Maura Sills says, " I come from a family that was angry; it was the way we related to one another. I believed that if people had trouble with my anger, it was their problem, and I had a right to act the way I wanted. But when we express anger, we are creating more pain and suffering in ourselves than in others."
Taking anger to bed is one of the most damaging things we can do. During the day we have a chance to process anger and let it go, to see what it's really saying. But at night it can become intensified and build from a simple story to a major drama. So here are five reasons why not to go to bed feeling angry:
1- Anger is toxic. It floods our body and brain with chemicals, so it will disrupt our sleep and could create nightmares
2- We dwell on it, making it grow into something bigger than it really is
3- It can create irreparable damage with our loved one, when what we really want is to reach out and be friends
4- We can wake up feeling even worse, causing us to repeat it and drag it out through the day
5- Forgiveness is a far more energy-efficient option. It releases us from the drain of holding a grudge, setting us free to love and laugh again
Only by recognizing what the real emotion is behind the anger can there be more honest communication and heart opening. Forgiveness meditation can be very helpful here, as it not only invites us to witness anger but also to make friends with it. Meditation may not be a cure-all; it may not make all our challenges go away or suddenly transform our weaknesses into strengths, but it does enable us to rest in an inclusive acceptance of who we are. This does not make us perfect, simply more fully human.