Never go to bed angry & other terrible advice

We look at some of "Dear Abby"s terrible advice about relationships and conflict resolution. PLUS: the podcast is going on hiatus so Leah can take a well-deserved rest.
Good Girls Talk About Sex
Never go to bed angry & other terrible advice
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Some people swear by Dear Abby, others swear at Dear Abby. Today we look at some of Dear Abby’s terrible advice.

PLUS: Stay until the end to hear an important announcement about the podcast going on hiatus so Leah can take a well-deserved rest.

 

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In this episode we talk about

  • Dear Abby
  • Communication in relationships
  • Conflict resolution
  • How to navigate a separation in your relationship
  • Never go to bed angry
  • Emotional regulation
  • Large age gaps in relationships
  • Power dynamics in relationships

Full episode text

LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach, Leah Carey. And this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!

 

[MUSIC]

 

LEAH: Hey, friends. Today, I’m going to do something a little different, hopefully fun, and then I’m going to share some news at the end of the episode. So, please make sure to listen all the way to the end to hear the announcement. So, recently Dear Abby has been showing up a lot when I’ve gone online to check news headlines. It’s been a long time since I read Dear Abby, and I’m here to tell you she has not gotten better with age.

 

[LAUGHTER]

 

LEAH: I remember thinking when I was younger that Abby, then being written by the original author, Pauline Phillips, was a bit too stodgy and formal for my tastes. There were times when I found her advice helpful, but there was always something that felt a little off to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but it was uncomfortable enough that I haven’t read her for several decades.

 

But when it started showing up in my feed, now written by Pauline Stoddard Jeanne Phillips, I thought I’d give it another try. Perhaps a new writer had brought new ideas and sensibilities to the column. Not only has that not happened, what used to feel stiff and formal for me now feels wildly unhelpful. Abby is still being written as if we live in a world of black and white, where there are absolute rights and absolute wrongs. She rarely dives into the nuance of different perceptions, and there is virtually no understanding of how conditioning and trauma play into people’s behaviors.

 

So, now that I’ve started reading again, I have to admit to a certain amount of morbid curiosity, how bad will the advice be today? How much will I want to scream while I’m reading it? I was talking about this all with a friend and telling her that I wanted to respond to some of the more egregious columns. “Something like, Dear, Dear Abby,” I told her. My friend’s face lit up, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more fun it seems. So, today, I offer you the first official Dear, Dear Abby.

 

[MUSIC]

 

LEAH: In a recent column, Lonely in the East wrote, “Dear Abby, after 28 years, my wife left me, quote, to find herself. She says she doesn’t want a divorce, she just needs time and space to work on herself, but she also wants to work on our marriage. She doesn’t want to talk, text, or contact me. My question is, how are we supposed to work on our marriage with no contact? What am I supposed to do? I love her, but she’s avoiding me and everyone else, including her friends and family. All she wants to do is work and be alone in her apartment.”

 

Abby responds, “Dear Lonely, when you asked how your wife plans to work on your marriage if you aren’t seeing each other or communicating or utilizing marriage counseling, you asked a pertinent question. She cannot have it both ways, nor does she seem open to repairing what drove her to leave your marriage. Ask if she’s interested in counseling. If she isn’t, please get a referral to a therapist for emotional support for yourself right now. If you do, you will more quickly be able to figure out what your next steps should be.”

 

So, as someone who works with couples, this answer irks me. As someone who has experienced abuse, this answer fucking infuriates me. I can’t remember if I’ve talked on this podcast before about the advice, don’t go to bed angry. In a word, it’s horse shit. And I’m sure there are some people listening for whom this works, and I’m not dismissing your experience if it does. But as a general dictum, it absolutely sucks.

 

The reason is that when we get upset, our nervous system gets activated. That activation dumps a ton of the stress hormone cortisol into our system, and this pushes us into fight or flight, and all of this is automatic and unconscious. We don’t control how or when cortisol is dumped, and most of us have not mastered emotional regulation to the point that we can just breathe our way out of a fight-or-flight response.

 

In fact, many of us have experienced so much stress and or trauma in our lives that half the time, we don’t even realize we’re in a fight-or-flight response, let alone that there’s something we could be doing to get out of it. We don’t know why we get so angry and blurt out things that we later regret, or we don’t know why we get so angry and blurt out things that we later regret, or we don’t know why we get so scared and our mind goes blank and we forget how to put together coherent sentences. That’s me. Or a million other things that can happen when this stress activation affects our brain and our ability to communicate.

 

All right. So, let’s put an example to this, so it’s easier to understand. Imagine that you and your partner are fighting about something, something significant to the relationship, for instance, sex. Let’s say one of you wants a threesome, and the other is resistant to that idea. This has been a long-standing conflict between the two of you. And on this particular evening, things have blown up again. Neither of you feel heard by the other, and there hasn’t been any compromise in the past, so why would you expect that there’s going to be any compromise now? It’s 10 30 p.m. And you both have to get up for work at 6:30 in the morning, so it’s bedtime. What do you do?

 

You’ve made a commitment to each other to never go to bed angry, so either you stay up and keep fighting for several more hours, or you both say that you’re no longer angry, so you can go to bed. Meanwhile, you’re both still angry, you’re just pushing it down, so you can pretend and go to sleep. If you stay up fighting through the night, you likely don’t accomplish any forward movement in the conflict because now, you’re not only activated, you’re also exhausted. Your brain gets less and less effective at hearing each other. And when you go to work the next day, you’re practically useless because your sleep became secondary to your fight. Or if you go the second route and decide to not be angry anymore, that’s fun, because you are angry, but you’re trying to convince yourself and each other that you’re not angry, so you can go to sleep.

 

Nothing actually gets resolved, but you’ve pretended that it’s resolved, which means the conversation can’t easily be reopened. So, the tension builds and builds until sometime in the next weeks or months, it explodes again, and the cycle begins over. This is a terrible way to communicate. And it is the utter horse shit that you’re condemned to if you have a vow to never go to bed angry.

 

The alternative is this. Having a threesome has come up again, and it has exploded. You’re at an impasse. Both of you are activated, and neither of you are listening well. All either of you keep trying to do is prove your point. Meanwhile, neither of you are listening to the other. You realize this is not going to get resolved tonight. So, you break the cycle and say, “I know we love each other. And we both want to find our way to a compromise, but right now, I cannot see what that would be. And I’m exhausted. We both have to get up for work soon. How about we table this conversation and pick it up again tomorrow after work?”

 

Yes, your sleep will probably be a little disturbed because adrenaline and cortisol are still coursing through your body. But by tomorrow evening, they will have been neutralized. And without those stress hormones throwing you into fight or flight and clouding your vision and your hearing, you’re likely able to articulate yourself better, and you’re likely to be able to hear your partner better.

 

In this space, you’re able to talk about why one of you thinks having a threesome would benefit your relationship and your sex life, and why the other one is fearful that a third person will come between the two of you. Maybe you decide to go to a sex club as observers and see what you think when you’re there in that sexual energy together. Or maybe you decide to include threesomes in your dirty talk and the fantasies you share, but to keep it all theoretical for now. Or maybe you decide to go to www.leahcarey.com and book some sessions with me, so you can get support in navigating complex territory together. But regardless of where you end up, those are all real steps toward compromise, and those are things that you absolutely could not have come up with when you were flooded with stress chemicals.

 

Okay. I know that this may have seemed like a wild tangent from Dear Abby’s response to Lonely in the East, whose wife has left him to find herself and has asked for time and space while also saying she wants to work on the marriage. Abby says the wife is being unreasonable and “can’t have it both ways.” I would suggest there’s a significant possibility that this woman has done the equivalent of saying, “Let’s sleep on it and return to this conversation later,” except that they have been married for 28 years. That’s potentially a lot of swallowed words, a

 

lot of hurt feelings, and a lot of unresolved upset. A lot of cortisol can be built up over 28 years. It’s quite possible that Lonely’s wife is taking some time on her own to get back to a sense of herself.

 

It’s remarkably easy for women who’ve been in long-term relationships to feel like they’ve lost track of themselves. When everybody else’s needs, three meals a day, carpool, office parties, dance classes, take precedence over her own, she may need some time to remember who she is under the blanket of mom and wife. In telling Lonely that his wife doesn’t “seem open to repairing what drove her to leave your marriage,” she’s effectively saying, “Don’t go to bed angry.” And it’s his job to make sure his wife doesn’t fall asleep.

 

I would suggest the opposite. Send a handwritten note that says, “I understand that you’ve been a companion to my hopes and dreams for almost three decades. And now, it’s your turn. I miss you, and I love you. And I don’t want to let too long go by before we start working on things because the longer it goes, the harder it gets to start. But I also understand that you need some time, and I want you to have it. If it’s all right with you, I’m going to check in with you every two weeks, just to let you know that I’m thinking of you. Nothing deep, nothing long. I’d appreciate a quick text back. It doesn’t have to be any more than an emoji just to let me know that you’re still alive and kicking. But other than that, I’ll respect your desire for space. And when you’re ready, I’ll be here, eager to find our way back to each other.”

 

Let her rest. Give her the space she has asked for. You’re exponentially more likely to get the outcome you desire, Lonely, if you don’t push for that outcome to happen right this minute.

 

[MUSIC]

 

LEAH: Do you stop yourself from initiating cuddles or kisses because you’re afraid it will automatically lead to sex that you don’t really want? You are not alone. I’ve heard it from countless women. How would it feel to know that you could kiss or touch or cuddle your partner and also know that there is no expectation of sex, that you could get to set the pace and call the shots?

 

With one client recently, I’ve been workshopping how she can tell her partner that she wants to be able to interact with him without it automatically becoming sex. In the middle of our conversation, her eyes got wide and she said, “Oh, wow, he’s not the one who expects it to turn into sex. I do. I think it’s what I’m supposed to do, so I’m the one who keeps driving us there. I’ve been blaming all of this on him, but maybe it’s not actually his fault.”

 

The conversation she wanted to have with him suddenly changed. As we gamed out the words she now wanted to say, I asked her how she was feeling about talking with him. And while before, she had said she was completely terrified, now she said she was feeling excited about the possibilities.

 

This is the kind of shift that’s possible when you have a guide who can see the bigger picture and help you navigate the self-sabotage your brain has created believing it was keeping you safe. I would be so honored to be your guide on this path. I am queer kinky and non-monogamy friendly. For more information and to schedule your free discovery call, visit www.leahcarey.com/coaching. And we can find out if we’re a good fit. Again, book your free discovery call at www.leahcarey.com/coaching. And that link is in the episode description on the app you’re listening in now. Back to the show!

 

[MUSIC]

 

LEAH: All right, let’s do another one. Contemplating in Florida wrote, “Dear Abby, I am a single man who recently turned 40. I’m looking to find a wife who, like myself, has never been married and has no kids. I joined several dating websites, but most of the women are divorced or widowed or have kids. I just discovered a new dating website for single, never-married people. I’m not sure if I should join it, but having a website designed for people like me is a great idea. I’ve read that 25% of all Americans have never been married. Pew Research just reported a brand new poll, and millions of Americans have never been married, so I’m not losing hope. Should I join?”

 

Abby responded, “Dear Contemplating, by all means, explore that new dating site. When you do, expect to meet women who are considerably younger than you. Remember, however, that once you connect, you will have to take all of the precautions that people on other sites do to ensure that you do not get misled. Dating, regardless of how you meet someone, can be risky. I wish you luck.”

 

I want to question the premise of this letter right from the start. What is this fetishization of someone who has never been married and has no kids? I would need a lot more information before I was willing to take that at face value. If I had to make a guess, which, of course, I don’t have to, but go with me here, I’d say this guy actually wants the considerably younger women that Abby mentions. In fact, I’d guess that’s a feature, not a bug in his plan.

 

I’m also reading between the lines and guessing that the fetishization of never married, no kids is actually code for wanting someone who’s saving herself for marriage, which would then lead back to the idea that he’s seeking someone much younger than himself. Presumably, he hasn’t waited 40 years to have sex, but goodness forbid, a young woman has sullied herself by letting another man touch her before he got to her.

 

I know I’m doing a lot of hypothesizing here, but I do think it’s worth looking at how so many people code their communication to get across a point without actually saying it, and then they can plead plausible deniability if they ever get called on it. If I were a young woman who met this older man who was excited to meet me specifically because I’d never been married and had no kids, I would run fast, far away.

 

And part of the reason is that relationships with huge age discrepancies also frequently have really wonky power dynamics. Not to say that they all do, but many do, especially when they’re unexamined. If you’ve ever wondered about age differences in relationship, there’s a rule of thumb that kind of generally works pretty well. I wouldn’t use it as a hard and fast rule because it doesn’t account for varying levels of maturity and emotional intelligence. It doesn’t account for race or class or finances or any of the other things that can play so significantly into power dynamics. But it can help in terms of not exploiting the power dynamic inherent exclusively in the large age gap.

 

So, to figure out the youngest person that is generally advisable for you to date, divide your age by two, then add seven. So, for instance, I’m about to turn 50. So if I were looking to date somebody younger than me, man or woman, I would divide my age by two to get 25. Then I add seven. So, the youngest person I should date is 32. Contemplating in Florida is 40, so half his age is 20, plus seven is 27. So, the youngest woman he should date is 27. If you’re a younger person listening to this and you tend to date older, you can do it in reverse. If you’re 24, you would subtract seven, makes 17, and then double that, which is 34. So, the oldest person that you should be dating in terms of power dynamics around age is 34.

 

I also want to just circle back and question the premise of this in one other way, which is this man is writing in to ask if he should join a site that is offering what he wants. If they’re already offering what he’s looking for, why would he write in? Why would he even ask? There are so many red flags for me in this email.

 

But I also do think that it’s useful to mention dating apps and how many niche dating apps there are. While that can feel maybe a little frustrating or overwhelming, if you are looking for something very specific and there’s a dating app that specializes in that niche, it can be really helpful to get yourself in front of and interacting with exactly the right people. If you’re not looking for a heterosexual cisgender monogamous relationship, then maybe don’t go to the apps that are really specializing in that normative relationship. Look for the apps who are going to show you the people you actually want to be seeing.

 

[MUSIC]

 

LEAH: On to the big announcement. Since my surgeries last year, I’ve been struggling to keep up with the podcast. You might have been able to tell. A bunch of circumstances collided to make the production process much more difficult than it had been before. And in addition, I have to admit, I’d gotten bored with the old format. As great as I think those long-form interviews were, I was getting tired of asking the same questions over and over.

 

So, as you may have noticed, over the last year, I’ve been throwing lots of spaghetti at the wall trying to find a new format that would stick. And while I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve done, nothing has reignited the spark that I used to have for this podcast when I couldn’t wait to do the next interview, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and work on it because it was my favorite thing in the whole world.

 

Now, I don’t foresee a future where I’m not creating some type of content, but I need a breather from the relentless pressure I’ve been feeling this year. I even already have some ideas for what I might do next, but I’ve worn myself too thin. I’m exhausted. After five and a half years, it’s time to take a break. So, I’ve decided to put the podcast on hiatus.

 

I’m not exactly sure what this is going to mean for the future because all the doors are possible. I might take some time off and decide that I’m eager to start this podcast again. I might take some time and decide to relaunch the show with some entirely new format. Or I might take some time off and decide to pivot to YouTube or something else entirely. I’m not going to disappear. I’m just going to focus my attention a little differently for a while.

 

So, my goal right now is to allocate some of the time I have been spending on the podcast to Instagram where I have essentially entirely disappeared for the last year. And that’s why I shared the first Dear, Dear Abby letters here today. That’s a series I’m wanting to do on Instagram Live. True confessions, I have a content calendar made up to keep myself on track, but I hesitate to give you any information about when this will start or how often I’ll do it, lest I discover that I have once again over programmed myself because I have that tendency.

 

But I would love to have you join me on Instagram so that we can continue conversations about relationships, sexuality, gender, and all the rest. And big bonus, on Instagram, it’s a whole lot easier for that conversation to be two ways than it is with a podcast. You can speak back to me in the moment. So, I’m really hoping that this will be a win-win, at least for the interim.

 

So, please come find me on Instagram @goodgirlstalk. In the meantime, keep following this podcast feed in whatever podcast app you’re listening on so that you’ll get notification when I decide what I’m doing next. There is a huge sigh of relief in giving myself this hiatus, but it’s also bittersweet. You’ve all been my companions for the last five and a half years, and I have grown to treasure you so much. Those of you who email me regularly, those of you who’ve appeared on the show, and those of you who I’ve never heard from but who I know listen. Please come join me on Instagram so we can stay in touch, and I’ll let you know what I know when I know it. Thank you for joining me here. I love you.

 

And until next time, here’s to your better sex life!

 

[MUSIC]

 

 

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