Picture this: you’ve just brushed your teeth and changed into your pajamas after a long day. Just as you are pulling the covers up, your partner walks in with that look on their face and tells you “We need to talk about something.” If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Bedtime is one of the most common times for the arguments that are a normal and integral part of any romantic relationship to arise. Very few of us are at our best at the very end of a tiring day. Unfortunately, fighting at night can lead to going to bed upset or angry, which can disrupt your sleep and have negative consequences for not only your relationship, but your general health. Here are 9 tips for you to face disagreements without losing the essence of what brought you together.

  • Bedtime conflict doesn’t need to feel like an ambush. There are many reasons why conflict can rear its head just before sleep. For many people, this is the part of the day when they take stock of their feelings (and recognize their discontentment). It also doesn’t help that you and your partner are probably tired, both physically and emotionally. When your partner starts an argument around bedtime, it can feel like being ambushed at your weakest. When this happens, let your partner know that you care about talking it through, but also let them know that you can’t bring your best self to the conversation right now. Suggesting another concrete time to talk can help your partner feel heard without stretching yourself beyond your limits.On the other side of things, it can feel unfair to have to keep all your feelings inside waiting for a “better moment” while your partner drifts happily off to sleep. After letting your partner know how you are feeling, try asking them if they’d like to talk with you about it now or later. This will show them that, while the conversation is important to you, so is their feeling of readiness and wellbeing in approaching it.
  • Resist the urge to avoid. When you are not feeling up to having an argument, it often seems easiest to just brush off or ignore the issue your partner has raised. The problem with this approach is that the core problem never gets talked about. In fact, research suggests that the moods of couples who avoid having an argument take just as much of a hit the next day when compared to couples that argued. However, this doesn’t mean your only option is to duke it out then and there. Making a plan to talk it through in the morning can show your commitment to working through the issue together when you’re in better shape to do so.
  • Take your own temperature. When an argument arises, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the heat of the moment and ignore important signals from your body. Take a moment to check in with yourself about how you’re really feeling. If you’re tired, sore, hungry, or thirsty after a long day of work, you may not have the emotional resources to reach a productive resolution to a complex conflict. If you discover this is the case for you, make sure to let your partner know what you are feeling—this can help them understand that you are not avoiding the issue, but just need to take care of yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a “time out.” Conflict with someone you love can be exhausting and disheartening, and sometimes there is no quick and easy resolution to be found. Be patient with yourself and your partner and remember that you don’t have to figure everything out this instant. Try brainstorming some things you can do with your partner in the midst of an argument to replenish your emotional reserves. These practices can look different for every couples, but here are a few examples to get started:
  • Spend 20 minutes reading next to each other in bed
  • Do your own thing in different rooms
  • Share an indulgent treat
  • Write in a journal about what you’re feeling (or about something else!)
  • Watch an episode of your favorite TV show together
  • Have sex or masturbate (together or alone)
  • Go to another room and call a friend
  • Scream into a pillow
  • Stand up and “shake it out”
  • Play a boardgame
    Bear in mind that you and your partner may need different things to regulate yourselves when “overheated;” some people go to the spa to unwind, and others go to a nightclub! It is especially helpful to discuss a handful of strategies ready ahead of time, and it is absolutely critical that you communicate and receive consent before taking a time out—imagine how it might feel if your partner suddenly walked out of the room in the middle of a conversation or started screaming into a pillow without warning, and you’ll understand why.
  • Speak to your own experience. Things can get ugly quickly when you try to tell another person who they are, what they feel, or why they’re doing something when they don’t feel the same way. Instead of this, stick to using “I” statements (“I feel hurt when…,” “I am angry because…,” “I don’t understand why…”) to make your point. This will help your partner understand your inner experience better, while avoiding mischaracterizing their feelings.
  • Find (and express!) your curiosity. Healthy relationships are built on mutual love and respect. When you are having a disagreement, try to remember the ways your partner has helped you learn and grow by providing a perspective you never could have seen on your own. Arguments can be an opportunity to learn more about your partner, your relationship, or even yourself. Ask your partner earnest questions when you are confused or disturbed by what they are saying and try repeating back your understanding to double check that you’ve got it. This won’t just help you avoid misunderstandings; it will also let your partner know that you are listening carefully and want to really understand what they are saying.
  • Focus on resolving, not on winning. An argument with your partner is not the same thing as a court case or a wrestling match. Remember that your goal isn’t to win the argument, but to repair and strengthen your bond with your partner. Try reframing conflicts with your partner as a project you are working on together, rather than a competition between you. More often than not, the resolution to a lover’s quarrel will be found somewhere in the space between where each of you started, or in another direction entirely. If your partner walks away from the conversation feeling defeated, stepped on, or dismissed, it’s a sign that the conflict is still unresolved, not a sign that you won. A successfully resolved conflict should make both of you feel like you are members of the same team.
  • Remind your partner that you love them. Having a fight with someone you depend on for emotional, social, physical, or financial support can leave you feeling bereft and vulnerable. Nevertheless, if your partnership is healthy, it can weather the challenge of the normal conflicts that inevitably arise. After an argument (or during an ongoing one), make a point of letting your partner know that you love and respect them, even during conflict. This will allow you both to zoom out and see that the issue at hand is just one tiny part of what may be a deeply satisfying and wonderful relationship.
  • Remember that abuse is never acceptable. No matter how serious the conflict, it is never acceptable for partners to abuse each other. If at any point you feel your partner is physically threatening you or your loved ones, leave immediately and get in touch with a trusted person or the authorities. While their dimensions are more nuanced, verbal and emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. If you are not sure if you are experiencing abuse, get to a safe place and speak with a licensed therapist or mental health professional.

It’s not the absence of disagreements that defines a strong relationship, but the ability to navigate them together. Using these 9 tools, you can turn bedtime quarrels with your partner into opportunities to grow closer and strengthen your bond. If you are struggling with an intractable conflict or want to work on making the conflict in your relationship loving and productive, a licensed professional therapist can help you reach your goals. You can learn more about me and my practice here.

Until the next Opening the Doors post.

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