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Goodnight Phyllis Diller

News often breaks first on social media. But this wasn’t the case yesterday when a link announcing the death of legendary comedienne, Phyllis Diller, circulated on Facebook. Ms. Diller actually passed away in August 2012. As we’ve said before, technology is amazing but it isn’t perfect.

The timing of yesterday’s stale news moment was particularly odd since just Sunday evening I asked relationship expert, Nyiri Grigorian and sex therapist and sex educator, Miriam Baker, for their take on Ms. Diller’s famous line, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”

We don’t know whether Ms. Diller and her husband “Fang”, as she affectionately called him, really did stay up and fight (rather than sleep on it and deal with it the next day) or whether the one-liner was just the stuff that jokes are made of. The fact is that at some point in our adult lives many of us have been counseled by a grandmother or friend that the key to a happy relationship is never go to bed angry. I’ve received this advice myself and usually my husband and I follow it. Neither of us likes to go to sleep with an unfinished argument looming in the wings. Both of us find it’s much harder to get a good night’s sleep when I’ve got that kind of unfinished business hanging over my head.

Here’s what the experts have to say on the topic:

Nyiri Grigorian explains that adults have neurologic discharge issues prior to bed and may tend to become cranky and argumentative as a result. At bedtime our defenses are low and many of our repressed worries and conflicts can come “avalanching” in and cause us to focus on the problems or troubles we struggled with throughout the day. Interestingly, according to Dr. Grigorian, “adults may not be able to self-soothe themselves as easily as children do.” She explains that as we move towards the unconscious and get ready for our sleep-state, deeper worries and conflicts may begin to arise and create anxiety in the form of anger.

Apparently, many of us fight before bed because this is the time when our real, underlying feelings can emerge. According to Dr. Grigorian, these feelings are often the “sheep” that we count and that keep us awake: i.e., “she never walks the dog,” “he never picks up after himself.” Sound familiar?

Dr. Grigorian suggests you allow some time to consider how you feel and perhaps make some notes. Recognizing sleep’s restorative properties and its ability to put one back on an even keel, she recommends that after making those notes you put your feelings to bed for the night. She believes that sleep is nature’s way of healing the mind. So, between couples, issues that may evolve into a fight and may seem monumental and urgent in the evening are often better solved (or perhaps even washed away) the next day.

According to Miriam Baker, couples often fight before bed so they don’t have to have sex with their partner. She suggests taking a moment to examine your behavior and see if there’s a pattern. If you tend to start a fight close to bedtime, Dr. Baker suggests taking a closer look at your motives.

Back to Ms. Diller. She made me laugh. Loud and hard. I cracked up at her one-liners, gawked at her outrageous outfits and identified with her aversion to housework. No doubt, if she were still alive she would provide us with some good laughs about her desperate quest for a good night’s sleep.

Ms. Diller’s last performance at age 87 was memorialized in a 2004 documentary, titled “Goodnight, We Love You.”

While the link making the rounds on Facebook yesterday may not have been too timely, it’s always the right time acknowledge a female trailblazer. So, goodnight (once again) Phyllis Diller. We love you.