At a sheva b’rachot last week, one of the relatives scattered on the tables small cards which read: One Piece of Advice for the Newlywed Couple _______. It was left to the attendees to fill in their best marriage advice! As someone passed a filled-out card my way, I couldn’t help but notice the advice written: Never go to bed angry; kiss and makeup. While the advice is truly well-intentioned and incredibly sweet, I chuckled as I remembered my husband and I receiving the opposite advice as newlyweds. We were taught: It’s o.k. to go to bed angry periodically; in fact sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your relationship. And it is this latter perspective that has guided us through some of our toughest moments.
We received our advice from John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, which was given to us in pre-marriage counseling (which I believe should standard for all couples! As a minimum, I give every bride with whom I learn the halakhot of taharat hamishpacha, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work).
For the past four decades Gottman has been studying marriages in his love lab, and he has narrowed down endless pieces of data into seven core principles. In addition to guiding couples in what they need to do right, Gottman normalizes many areas of marriage that leave us feeling erroneously, that we are doing things wrong. One such area is going to bed angry.
For some couples, the fear of ending the day upset with their spouse is grounded in morbid superstition, while for others conflict lends itself to having a harder time getting a good night of sleep. But for many if not most of us, working through an argument before bed often exacerbates the conflict, as two tired individuals become more and more entrenched in their own position and sometimes even lose sight of what they were arguing about to begin with. Sleep, like taking a walk, is a means of self-soothing, which often leads to feeling refreshed, calm, and more able to lean into another’s perspective.
Another area that Gottman normalizes is arguing. Gottman writes “Even happily married couples can have screaming matches; loud arguments don’t necessarily harm a marriage.” (Gottman is referring here to a couple arguing alone – arguing in front of the children is a conversation for another time). What successful couples have as a secret weapon is “a repair attempt – any statement or action-silly or otherwise-that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. Repair attempts are the secret weapons of emotionally intelligent couples-even though many of these couples aren’t aware that they are doing something so powerful. When a couple have a strong friendship, they naturally become experts at sending each other repair attempts and at correctly reading those sent their way. But when couples are in negative override, even a repair statement as blunt as “Hey, I’m sorry” will have a low success rate. The success or failure of a couple’s repair attempts is one of the primary factors in whether their marriage flourishes or flounders. And again, what determines the success of their repair attempts is the strength of their marital friendship.”
Every month of the Hebrew calendar has its own unique source of inspiration. The Rabbi’s describe the month of אלול with the פםוק in שיר השירים – אני לדודי ודודי לי – I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. While most explain this metaphorically referring to the relationship between an individual and God, there is no escaping the very human context – in which we learn how to live this symbiosis. Only through working on our human relationships will we prepare ourselves adequately to enter a relationship with the Divine – for Whom human relationships are of the utmost importance.