If you’ve been given any advice from older people about how to have a happy marriage, one of the things you’ve probably been told is that you should never go to bed angry. At Cornell University, they’ve conducted a fascinating study called The Legacy Project, which sought to get the advice of over 1500 seniors on everything from work to love. On the Huffington Post website this week, one of the leaders of that study, Dr. Karl A. Pillemer, writes about why that advice is so important.
As Dr. Pillemer explains,
Again and again, that’s what people married 40, 50, 60 and more years told us in the Legacy Project: resolve your differences before you wind up in bed at the end of the day. By the two-hundredth or so time I heard this statement — often worded in identical terms — I found myself nearly obsessed with what this seemingly all-important advice actually means.”
What he came up with was not only the answer to why this common piece of advice is so important, but the keys to how to follow it.
One of the things Pillemer found was that the concept of resolving differences before going to bed is based on the premise that most disagreements aren’t worth more than a day of argument or tension. This means things like being late for a dinner date, forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning and other small issues. Think about why you’re angry with your spouse. Is it something that is worth feeling alone and resentful in the sanctuary of your own bed? If not, get over it or get it out of your system.
Another thing the seniors felt made this advice important was that carrying a resentment or argument over to the next day can lead to holding grudges.
One of the older ladies who participated in The Legacy Project said it this way:
One thing I always said, don’t carry it overnight. Don’t carry any argument, any difference overnight. Talk it over before you go to bed. And if something that you carry over and over for several days, I think that is a big red flag for your marriage.”
The third point Pellemer makes is that older people are very aware that life is much shorter than we think and is certainly too short to hang onto many of the small differences we may have with our spouses.
In part, it is because the end of the day could, of course, be the end. But much more important, in the eyes of long-married elders, is that life is simply too short for you to waste a possibly joyous morning on the hostilities of the night before.”
And really, that last quote really says it all, doesn’t it?