By Nathan Gehlert
We’ve all heard the suggestion that a couple should never go to bed angry. It’s actually terrible advice. One of the most important relationship skills is learning to contain our reactivity in disagreements and recognize that “right now” may not be the best time to try to resolve conflict. Why is this, especially since going to bed angry seems so counterintuitive?
Different people react to conflict differently. Some people withdraw, others fight back. Whatever the reaction, this response is governed by our brain’s amygdala, which is the most primitive part of the brain that’s responsible for this fight-or-flight reflex. In conflict, it also engages the production of the stress hormone adrenaline. It becomes very difficult for a couple to easily resolve a disagreement when these psychological and biological responses have been triggered. In these situations it’s as if we’ve been reduced to our most primordial state. That’s why these late night debates are so ineffective and can literally last hours.
It’s important for a couple to be able to say, “you know, now’s not the best time to talk about this” and to then schedule another time to talk. This allows for conversation at a time when the couple can be less reactive to each other – and actually use the higher, more evolved part of the brain. It takes practice, and setting an appointment to finish the conversation is important, but this skill ultimately leads to more productive and connected dialogue.
From the Imago Center of Washington DC