Because I like you I’ll let you in on a little secret . . . sometimes Rich and I fight. Sometimes we fight frequently and sometimes we fight loudly, other times silently and many times fervently. These fights range in subject matter from very serious issues like finances and parenting techniques to sometimes even more serious issues like what’s the most effective way to keep our kitchen sponges from stinking? Replace them frequently or microwave them and keep them forever? (the correct answer is to replace them frequently FYI). In the wide range of our disagreements, I’ve noticed one common theme throughout almost all of them . . . . fatigue.
Fatigue! The Common Enemy of Marriage. It is out to get yours like a monster in the night.
Seriously guys, every one of our fights is either started by, perpetuated by or intensified by one of us being tired. When you’re tired your inhibitions are lower, your tempers are higher, you’re slower to hold your tongue and quicker to take offense. It just makes every problem seem worse than it is.
Photo cred: All Things Gale
And if you don’t believe me, believe science!
- A study at the University of Berkeley gave 60 couples a sleep journal for over a week and tasks to complete as a couple. They found that couples that got more sleep 1. worked better together, 2. encouraged each other more and 3. expressed more gratitude for each other; whereas individuals who got less sleep where more likely to prioritize their needs over their partners. Additionally, they found that insomniacs were FOUR TIMES more likely to suffer relationship problems.
- Another study entitled “Sleep deprivation impairs the accurate recognition of human emotions” found that sleep deprivation interferes with people’s ability to distinguish between the facial expressions of others. Misreading your spouse’s emotions can lead to PROBLEMS.
- The National Institute of Health found that losing even ONE HOUR of sleep can negatively affect your mood, your ability to think properly and respond quickly.
Sleep! It’s important! So, without further adieu, I present:
6 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage When You’re Really, Really Tired
1. Go to bed earlier.
This is a really obvious answer, but it’s so hard. Once we put the kids down, there are always a million things I mean to do – there’s those darn dishes (always! how can five people use SO many dishes?!), general clean up, answering emails, phone calls, blog posts, sewing projects, laundry and the ever appealing allure of watching a show with Rich (which tends to win out much of the time regardless of how many other things I need to get done).
So there are about one million things keeping us from bed time at night no matter who you are. The procrastination of sleep does not discriminate- it affects productive types and lazy types alike. We’re all in good company here. I know when I set rules like this for myself – be it diet, bedtime, whatever- after a while I tend to get all teenage rebellion-y on myself and I say “NO! Junk food and staying up FOREVER!” Of course, that is night-time Celeste talking. Morning-time Celeste is much more logical and tends to deeply resent that night-time Celeste and her wily ways.
Anyway, I think the first thing we need to do in regard to bedtime is to think of it not just as something that affects us, but as something that affects our spouse and kids (and co-workers and friends). If you can’t get yourself to go to bed earlier- do it for your spouse. And do it together with your spouse!
Now, that being said, there are times when we just can’t get more sleep. Newborns, work deadlines, and illnesses are some very legitimate reasons why we are just going to be tired. There are certainly times when bonding with your spouse, work, church or home responsibilities and other priorities just need to take precedence over sleep. But these should be the exception rather than the rule. So, for those times try a few of these other suggestions:
2. Frequently acknowledge being tired as the real source of your emotions both to yourself and to your spouse.
This is key. It is much easier to take offense when we’re tired, so when you find yourself being offended, pause and tell yourself, “Wait. It’s ok. I’m just tired. I won’t think about this until I’m better rested.” Or when you snap out and lose patience with your spouse, remind both yourself and your spouse that it’s just the fatigue talking.
My ‘mad-at-Rich’ attitude and my ‘tired’ attitude look shockingly similar, so it’s understandably very difficult for him to distinguish between the two. When you are super tired you should find yourself FREQUENTLY saying to your spouse, “I’m sorry. I’m really not mad at you I promise. I’m just tired.” Over and over. Make sure they know you are not upset with them and remind yourself of that too.
3. Don’t keep sleep score.
This is a hard one for me. Here’s an all-too-common scenario: It’s 7:00am – the girls are awake and wanting breakfast. Both of us pretend to still be asleep and wait until the other one runs out of patience and gets up. I stayed up late doing the dishes (read: browsing the internet) and the baby woke up twice last night. Rich had gone to bed early since he had been drop-dead tired from a project last week. I wake up and think, “Why is Rich still asleep? HE went to bed first! HE didn’t wake up with the baby! His turn!” Meanwhile he’s thinking, “Why is she still asleep?? SHE can take a nap today! SHE didn’t have to stay up until 3am all last week finishing that work project! SHE got 8 hours of sleep all last week! Her turn!”
Or this one: I ask Rich to do something. He replies, “Oh babe. I’m so tired, can I do that tomorrow?” My mind immediately thinks, “YOU’RE tired?!” as I calculate how much sleep he got last night vs how much I got.
I’m not saying you should feel that there is NEVER any excuse for taking it easy. No, no, no. Take it easy when you need to! But don’t give up on your day or on your ability to be nice without giving it a shot first. So next time you get too little sleep- try to fake it till you make it. Smile at your spouse even if you don’t feel like it. Compliment them. Hug them. Try pretending you have energy and see what happens.
5. Do not make tired your way of life.
You don’t get a ribbon or a prize for being the busiest, or for surviving on the least possible amount of sleep. Of course there are infinite things that can eat up every hour of the day and night that you could be doing. But if your lifestyle is long days at work or home, hobbies or entertainment or extra responsibilities every single night, and self-medication of caffeine throughout the day, then you’re building a life founded on constant exhaustion. And that’s shaky foundation.
If you have insomnia issues, it’s worth looking into some solutions or medical interventions. Go to a sleep clinic. Read some books on how to sleep well. Try some relaxation tapes (I always have insomnia the last trimester of my pregnancies and I can’t believe how well relaxation tapes helped me get to sleep and back to sleep this last pregnancy- I’m HUGE advocate).
If you’re constantly missing sleep because of toddlers and/or babies (I’m not talking newborn- you’re just going to be tired if you have a newborn), personally I think it’s worth checking out some books and making a plan with your spouse. You can go the non-crying route, or the crying route, or the crying-a little route. I’m not at all confident about most of my decisions as a mother, but I am so very, very happy I read some good books, talked to other moms and made a plan when my first was 6 months old. I can’t tell you the difference it has made on our entire family when we are all able to sleep well.
6. Prioritize- put the best things first.
When you have limited energy, it’s ESSENTIAL that you do the very most important things first. Remember the rule of good, better, and best: don’t put things that are ‘good’ ahead of things that are ‘better’ or ‘best.’ This will leave the best things undone and will undoubtedly lead to fatigue. Figure out what the very most important things are for you and your family. Do those things first when you have the most energy and then fill in the gaps with the better and the good.
In researching this post, I came across this FANTASTIC article called, “Exhaustion is Not a Prerequisite to Perfection.” The author outlines her battle with the false notion she needed to constantly exhaust herself and how she’s solved her fatigue problems by prioritizing. Here’s a quote:
[I] learned that there are many causes for my fatigue. Some are beyond my control. Thankfully, however, the Spirit helped me see that when I focus tough-mindedly on my major priorities, when I have sufficient self-discipline to attempt to accomplish only those priorities, then I have a mind-set that protects me from fatigue and exhaustion. Whatever else I am able to do after that I view as a bonus. But I take pleasure in what I am able to do, and I do not feel guilt and frustration over what I have not been able to do. For me, this overall orientation is a major key to living without fatigue.
I am happy to have learned that constant fatigue damages my body, clouds my mind, and limits my spiritual resources. When I’m exhausted, I simply am not capable of living a joyful life. And because I want to find the joy in life that the gospel promises, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal, always keeping in mind the great truth that “men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)
So, if you are feeling constant fatigue, take a serious life-evaluation and cut out the things you can cut out and cut back on the things you can cut back on.
Just do your best and leave the rest to God- He knows what things are good, better and best for YOU, His child, and He’ll help you if you ask Him to.
And seriously, if you’re reading this and it’s after 10:30pm- do yourself a favor, do your spouse a favor and shut this computer and GO TO BED!!