Don't Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight!
Anyone who has been married for more than five minutes has probably heard the same sage marital wisdom. It could come from a parent, a close friend, or even your crazy Aunt Matilda but the message is clear: When you are fighting with your spouse, no matter what you do, don’t go to bed angry at each other.
It seems easy enough. But then you find yourself in a moment where you don’t understand her, he blows things way out of proportion, or you both have an opinion that is from such opposite ends of the spectrum that you want to be anywhere (another galaxy perhaps) but in the contentious situation you find yourself in.
Husband and wife authors Deb and Ron DeArmond want to give you permission to fight it out. In their new book Don’t Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight, the DeArmonds contend that conflict isn’t the problem. The real issue is how we deal with it.
I recently sat down with Deb and Ron to discuss how conflict can be a positive element in your marriage, the best way to fight fair, and many practical ideas on how to resolve those moments when you would rather be anywhere in the universe than quibbling over finances, family, or whose turn it is to do the chores.
I find it interesting that you write a book with a title like Don’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay up and Fight. Do you speak from experience when you say you stay up and fight until things get resolved?
Deb: Well, the title is interesting but it’s not as clear as it might be. There are two components to it: don’t go to bed angry. How many times did we decide, hey, we had to follow God’s Word, and at three o’clock in the morning we’re still trying to find a solution, but now we’re exhausted? Totally exhausted emotionally and physically. That’s not what that Scripture means. It says, “Don’t go to bed angry.” How long does it take to say, time out, this isn’t good. He’s not proud of our behavior. We’re not going to get to that place of agreement tonight. Can we just pray together, release the anger and come back at this tomorrow when we’re refreshed?
Ron: And we realized we’re not the enemy of this thing. There’s something trying to divide us, or there’s something that divided us, but we’re still one.
Deb: My husband is not my enemy, but marriage has an enemy. Christian marriage has an enemy and that’s the destroyer. Christian marriage is a mirror; it’s a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church, and we can bring God honor if we live in an honorable way. The second half of that is critical. It’s stay up and fight. Stay up, stand up, and fight together for your marriage, because it’s the only way you will get to an outcome where there’s genuine agreement.
Everyone goes into a marriage thinking it’s going to be nothing but cute puppy dogs, roses, and happy endings. But as most of us experience, that’s not usually the case. You write that conflict can be a positive element in your marriage. How so?
Ron: In God’s Word it gives us this example of Jesus confronting Peter in John 21 after the resurrection. Jesus confronts Peter to the point of frustrating the life out of him. But what was Jesus’ goal in that confrontation? It was, “Peter, I want to be connected to you. You kind of disconnected yourself during the three crows of the rooster. I want to be connected to you.” And He confronted that. The Bible says that Peter was grieved. Can we find an English word to go with [aargh]? Why are you asking me again?” But it was in that confrontation that Jesus said, “Peter, I wanted to be connected to you, and I want to be reconnected.” So confrontation should lead to connection, not to frustration and division.
Deb: And it happens when love is the language of confrontation and when the behavior is self-management. We have to be accountable for our own behavior in those moments. So it doesn’t have to get confrontational. There are so many examples in Scripture. Jesus confronted the woman at the well with such love, with compassion. But it was a desire to pull her in to recognize who He was, and who He could be to her.
We’ve all heard many stories over the years of some pretty brutal situations going on when couples are fighting. What’s the best way a couple can fight fair?
Ron: It’s important to sit down as a couple and make a few rules for fighting. There can’t be 49 rules; otherwise we’ll violate them. But we have three or four that just carry us through. For example, each couple needs to sit down and say, okay, look, I want to be married to you forever, so divorce is off the table. We can never use that as a threat. That’s out. We take that off the table. Another one is to never walk out of the house, slam the door, get in the car and leave. You don’t want your children to see that. Otherwise, they hear the argument and when the door slams, they come out of their rooms, like, “Is it okay?” And then, “Where’s dad?” The thought is that dad ran away, he abandoned us, he rejected us. So they see that confrontation is handled by running away from the moment. Every couple needs to sit down and develop some basic rules and become accountable to them.
Deb: And whether you call them “commitments” or “agreements,” or whatever you want to call them, when you co-own them you do have a different level of commitment to them, and that makes a huge difference. So there’s some help for couples in sort of having some discussion to define what those parameters will look like for them in their life.
What if a couple just can’t seem to come to an agreement? A dispute’s been going on for days and there’s no breakthrough. You’re at an impasse. Do you go on no sleep until you find some resolve?
Deb: No, you can’t do that.
Ron: There is a compromise and hopefully we have people in our life that we can bring into the conversation. Especially now with smart phones, you conference call, and we’re going to call our friends. We’re going to bring them in on the conversation just to see if they have insight on it. And then what has to happen, is that you have to boil down your thoughts to what you think, not how you’re feeling. Remember, your marriage started with witnesses, people who had a responsibility who pledged their help to you as a couple.
What I like about your book is that it is filled with practical ideas on how to resolve conflict. Was this intentional in how you structured your book?
Deb: We don’t have a lot of alphabet soup after our names, “MA,” “PHD,” we don’t. The person who wants that book wouldn’t appreciate ours, but the person who wants the practical approach is not going to want, necessarily, the “high minded”, as my mother would say. I’ve been in leadership development, executive coaching, he’s been in men’s ministry. We are practical in who we are and that’s how God wired us. We wanted not just to help people know what the Bible says and that you should do better at this. We wanted to give them the tools. We wanted to be transparent with them and tell them as much about our experiences. We’ve fought through some ugly, painful, angry moments when we weren’t proud of ourselves and He wasn’t proud of us either. If we can help couples shorten that cycle and get to a good process that will sustain their marriage and glorify God, that was the goal, and that had to be more than theory, it had to be some real practical stuff.
As authors what would you like your readers to take away from this book after they read it?
Ron: That having a confrontation is okay. What I don’t confront becomes who I am. I’m in a constant mode of self assessment, and it goes right back to Genesis chapter 2 where our Father said to Adam, “Where are you?” And Adam didn’t know where he was, and that’s the important part of being Christians and being sons of God is to know where we are, and to know what I have to deal with.
To purchase Don't Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight.