Most of us, at some point in time, have been on the receiving end of the same classic bit of relationship advice: Don't go to bed angry. Problems fester and grow in darkness, we're told, so don't let resentments build up. Clear the air straight away.
This chestnut has stood the test of time and certainly makes intuitive sense, but according to a fascinating new Atlantic article from Rhaina Cohen, many psychologists and therapists insist it's also dead wrong. If you want to turn down the drama and turn up the constructiveness on your disagreements (whether they're with your spouse or your co-founder), it's actually best to schedule them for when your emotions subside.
Maybe grandma's relationship advice was wrong?
Cohen's long article is framed around a deep dive into the experience of one particular couple who went from having operatic blow-ups to scheduling quarterly appointments to hash out their differences. It's a great read if you're in the market of a nuanced portrait of a unique, real-life love story.
But for those who are less romantic and more action-oriented, the article also offers concrete to take the heat out of arguments by being more cognizant of when you have them. Or, in other words, sleep on that anger to discuss it with a cooler head later.
"Delaying hard conversations has the potential to fortify, not corrode, relationships," Cohen writes. "Preplanned meetings in which both parties are prepared for difficult discussions drain some of the most painful emotions from conflict. Partners are then able to focus on solving problems and to do so cooperatively and creatively--sometimes even finding delight in the process."
The experts Cohen speaks to explain that when we try to argue things out in the moment, our anger and pain often gets in the way of our rationality. We lash out at our partners, who defend themselves instinctively, making the situation worse. Not only do these escalating cycles of accusations and counter-accusations rarely lead to constructive solutions, they don't even make us feel better.
"At best, venting may provide a temporary mood boost--but in many cases it doesn't accomplish even that. In a seminal psychology study, participants who sat quietly right after their anger was provoked became less angry than those who were instructed to vent," Cohen reports. (Here's more on this research if you're interested.)
Rather than vent your anger, the better bet is to give yourself time to simmer down before trying to talk through the issue. When Cohen speaks to Clark University psychologist James Córdova he even suggests we treat our relationships like we treat out teeth -- unless an issue is incredibly urgent, regularly scheduled maintenance to deal with unpleasant build-up is the way to go.
The same goes for business relationships.
The story at the heart of Cohen's article is a marriage, but she is also crystal clear that this advice, like a great deal of relationship wisdom, goes for basically any kind of partnership, including professional ones.
Or as renowned couples therapist Esther Perel put it when explaining her pivot to working with co-founders, "We covet authenticity, belonging, trust, empathy, and transparency, at the office and at home. We want a partner who will help us become the best version of ourselves, whether we're building a business or forging a life together." Relationships are relationships, whatever their context.
Which means when conflicts arise, the same truths hold. And in this case the truth is not what your grandmother told you about never going to bed angry. Instead, in most cases, you're better off tossing and turning in your feelings for a little bit until they quiet enough that you can have a sane, scheduled talk about whatever issues are troubling your relationship.