“No enemy is worse than bad advice,” Sophocles said—and there’s plenty of bad relationship advice out there. For instance, “love conquers all” doesn’t solve the problem of what happens when one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t. Then there’s my favorite piece of bad advice:
“Never go to bed mad.”
Fighting with people we care about sucks and we often want solutions, agreements and apologies immediately, so that we can stop feeling so awful.
We aren’t good at sitting with our own discomfort, or the discomfort of others. But that’s exactly what we need to practice.
Why? Because cooperation takes energy. If you’re exhausted from fighting, guess what: You can’t cooperate.
So kill any idealism that you’re going to find quick, easy, brilliant answers if you keep processing just a little bit longer—and consider going to bed mad.
Easier said than done, I know. We humans tend to struggle in the face of the unknown. We’ll push for rushed, less satisfying solutions because we’d rather have a definitive conclusion to a conflict than breathe through the agony of giving it time and space. But that time and space is often the best recipe to create new possibilities and avenues forward.
Look, if you’ve tried endless processing, you know that path. Are you ready to try going a new way?
Here are some ways you can set yourself up to take a pause from fighting and get some decent shut-eye, so that you have the energy for the cooperation that any healthy relationship requires.
Try an Anxiety Intervention
To get a good night’s sleep we need to desensitize our stress. Ways to desensitize include:
You can bring intention into any situation by consciously choosing to do something different—such as slowing down, taking space and self-regulating (with a meditation, a book, a journal, a podcast—whatever this looks like for you) to recover your energy. Awareness that you desire a change is the first step to bringing intention into any given moment.
The part of your brain that alerts you to danger is the part that responds to intensity. When your body thinks the other person in the altercation is a tiger in the grass waiting to eat you, one way to calm down is by doing something physically intense, yet soothing. That could range from drinking hot tea, to tapping pressure points, to holding plank pose.
Repeat your intention and/or intensity practices more than once. Somatics teaches us we need 300 repetitions before our body recognizes a new habit, and 3,000 reps before it’s fully embodied as a habit. So practice, practice, practice.
Take care of your physical health: drink water, eat healthy food, move your body, and yes, get sleep.
Engage in pleasurable activities such as talking to friends, taking a bath, or going for a walk.
Track what helps you recover and do more of it. Notice what depletes you and do less of it. Cancel anything not mandatory that wears you out.
My trick to fall asleep is to listen to a book I love. My favorite is Resilient by Rick Hanson. He has a soothing voice and helpful concepts.
As you practice these steps, know you’re not sweeping problems under the rug. In fact, set a time for when would be a good time to continue the conversation. Set a limit for how long the conversation will last, and don’t be afraid to take pauses if you feel worn out.
This process requires trust. Trust that you’re both committed to cooperation. Trust the relationship has longevity.
Trust you can fall asleep knowing your person will be there the next day.
Sara Russell is a relationship coach, podcast host and Taoist practitioner who helps her clients analyze behaviors, relationships and systems to see where old habits are no longer serving them. Co-conspire with Sara on Instagram.