Ephesians 4:26 reads, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It is a foundational verse on handling anger. And I am convinced that for years I misapplied this verse to the detriment of my marriage.
What exactly does this verse mean? And how should it be applied in marriage?
For many years, early in our marriage, Sharon and I tried to apply that verse literally. We had the normal adjustments of newly married couples. In addition, both of us have intense personalities. As a result we had numerous times of “intense fellowship.” In fact, we probably had those times more than most couples.
Often a disagreement would carry on as the evening grew late. The more we tried to “resolve” our disagreement the less close we were to resolution. We were trying not to go to bed on our anger. And it wasn’t working.
The Unsettling Effects of Anger
Our basic impulse was in the right direction based on human nature. If a couple has a disagreement and the relationship is tense, it is easy to just go to bed. One party sleeps on the couch or they coldly sleep with their backs to each other. The next morning the issue is not resolved. In our minds we are still arguing with the other person. We are rehashing the hurt and the argument over and over. With no attempt at resolution, conflicts can simmer for days. A cold (or hot!) anger has settled over the house.
Given this natural working of human nature, God’s gracious command makes sense. He is saying: Keep short accounts and don’t let issues go unresolved.
Resolve the Issue Before Bed?
As a result of this understanding, Sharon and I tried to resolve each issue before we went to bed. We were thinking of the verse as, “Do not let the sun go down on the anger that is in your relationship. Resolve it.” But for anyone who has ever tried to think straight after 10pm, the results were were not helpful.
I am now convinced that our practice, while sincere, was based on a faulty understanding of this verse.
A more wise application would be to understand this verse in a different manner. Now I would argue that I do not need to resolve the issue before bed but I do need to resolve my anger.
Resolving the issue takes two people and may or may not happen. Resolving the anger involves one person – me.
Resolve the Anger Before Bed
When applied this way, it is a command for me to control the only piece of real estate I can control – my heart. It is a command to acknowledge the disagreement and the anger and ask the Lord to resolve it.
Now I have a command to move from sinful anger to unconditional love. It is a chance for me to pray for good for a person I am at odds with at the moment. It is a chance for me to acknowledge to the Lord how much I feel hurt by this person and then pray, “Father forgive them.” It is a chance for me to ask the Lord to show me the log in my own eye (Matt 7:3-5). It is a chance to pray that I would glorify God through this conflict (1 Cor 10:31). It is a chance to grow in unconditional love. I can pray “Help me forgive as you have forgiven me. Help me pursue this one I disagree with the unconditional love you have shown me.“
What this means is that, no, you do not have to resolve the issue you are arguing about that night. But it does mean you will resolve the upset before going to bed. You will sleep with a peaceful heart having entrusted the issue to the one who never sleeps. You can say something like, “This really upsets us right now but I know we will figure it out. I love you. Let’s set up a time when we have plenty of space for me to hear you out and you to hear me out.”
Not going to sleep on your anger is a wise command from a loving Father. It may mean you resolve the issue before you go to bed. Or it may mean you wait until another time to talk about it when both are fresh. But what it does mean is that you don’t go to bed with a heart full of anger. Your sleep is immersed in your own repentance, confession, unconditional love, and forgiveness. And that is a good way to fall asleep.