Before I got married, I had a lot of people offer me warnings: “You’ll probably fight a lot more,” “There will be little things about him that annoy you” and so on. However, there was one warning that no one gave me, but turned out to be huge. Sleeping with someone when you’re used to sleeping alone can be an adjustment.
Each of us spends roughly one third of our lives in bed, and although science has never found a clear explanation to why sleep happens the way it does, we know it is vital to our health and happiness. For me, sleeping in bed with my husband slowly became easier and eventually my new normal, however, what if it hadn’t?
The Marriage of Sleep and Happiness
Sleep, being as vital as it is, plays a significant role in marriage. First of all, being asleep is one of the most vulnerable things we can do. Research indicates that you need to feel sufficiently safe and secure in order to reach deep sleep, and therefore sleep requires trust in your surroundings, including who you are with. Healthy relationships can promote healthy sleep by providing that necessary security, but when conflict arises, and trust and emotions are damaged, that ability to achieve sound sleep may be hindered.
This matters because poor sleep affects your ability to regulate your emotions and behavioral responses to interpersonal situations. Simply: when you are tired, you are much more likely to be unpleasant to people that you love. Although you probably know this just by personal experience, consider the impact lack of sleep can have on your marriage. A pattern of poor sleep, leading to agitation and conflict, will again cause poor sleep, thus making no improvement on that existing conflict.
With this information, two things are important for couples to know:
Fixing your sleep will reduce conflict
Remembering that sleep (or lack of it) may be affecting the conflict within your relationship may help you rethink your words and work to keep calm when things get heated. It also may help you remember to use the phrase, “I am sorry that I am being so grouchy – I haven’t slept well,” rather than having to later apologize for what you said while tired.
If you or your partner has sleep apnea or snoring, it might be time to find a resolution. Both can be addressed by your family doctor, or by attending a sleep center. At home lifestyle changes may help as well, including losing weight, reducing intake of alcohol, and quitting smoking.
If you experience insomnia or nightmares, guided meditation, yoga, or prescribed medications may be helpful.
Another possibility for couples to consider is sleeping apart. Although it may sound like a horrible punishment to be banned from the marital bed, studies have found that there can be more sleep problems created than solved by sharing a bed. One study found that, on average, couples suffered 50% more sleep disturbances if they shared a bed.
Resolving conflict will improve sleep.
On the other side of the coin, resolving conflict can be a crucial part of achieving healthy sleep behaviors. Someone may have once told you, “never go to bed angry,” and there is some value to that, although it is not foolproof. Staying up late to try and resolve an argument can often lead to more escalation. Instead of getting anything resolved, you and your partner may find yourselves becoming more exhausted, crabby and less logical. However, putting conflict on the backburner and taking time before bed to physically relax and reconnect with your partner can do wonders. Spend time holding hands, hugging, or even just laying together and discussing the positivity that is present in the relationship. Taking a vacation from conflict you can’t resolve right this moment can allow you to achieve the deep sleep needed to reevaluate the conflict in the morning.
If you feel like either your sleep or your relationship is suffering, it may be time to consider exactly how related those two things are and work to assure each is taken care of.
For more tips on keeping your marriage healthy and happy, take the RELATE assessment today.
Written by Melece, Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, PhD.