Because I like you I'll let you in on a little secret ... sometimes my husband 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? In the wide range of our disagreements, I've noticed one common theme throughout almost all of them ... fatigue. Seriously, 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. 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 worked better together, encouraged each other more and 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 titled "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, here are six ways to wtrengthen your marriage when you're really, really tired.
1. Go to bed earlier
There are one million things keeping us from bedtime. The procrastination of sleep does not discriminate - it affects productive types and lazy types alike. We're all in good company here.
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 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-my-husband" 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 a.m., 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. My husband had gone to bed early since he had been drop-dead tired from a project last week. I wake up and think, "Why is he 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 3 a.m. all last week finishing that work project! SHE got eight hours of sleep all last week! Her turn!"
Or this one: I ask my husband 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 versus how much I got.
People. Do not play this game. Everyone is entitled to be tired. Let them be tired regardless of how much sleep they got. Communicate lovingly and don't keep score. Constantly and immediately forgive and ask forgiveness. And if you have problems like the ones described above - discuss it at a safe time and place like inventory and work out a plan together (not when you're tired ... bad idea).
4. Fake it till you make it. (Don't doom the day before the day begins)
If I know I got less than six hours of sleep, I tend to doom the day before the day even begins. I lay in bed in the morning and my mind immediately starts thinking of what I can skimp on today (What's the easiest breakfast/lunch/dinner I can make? How many episodes of "Magic School Bus" is too many for the kids today? How much chocolate do we have in the house?) I give up on the day before even making an effort just because I know I'll be tired. It's not just "getting up on the wrong side of the bed," it can mean "getting up on the side of the bed where I feel JUSTIFIED in being unkind or impatient."
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.
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.
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 10:30 p.m. - do yourself a favor, do your spouse a favor and shut this computer and GO TO BED!
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Celeste Davis' blog, A Thing Called Love. It has been modified and republished here with permission.