Romantic relationships are wonderful—without my husband, I’d be adrift, lonely, and decidedly unhappy—but that doesn’t mean marriage isn’t hard. I’m very proud of my relationship but that pride as much the result of hard work, compromising, and talking things out, as it is a result of the innate chemistry between the two of us. After ten years, I think the compromising and talking is even more important. And I’ve noticed, without fail, when one of us is sleep deprived, compromising and talking gets a whole lot harder. As much as we love each other, as committed as we are, we’ve had some truly difficult times. Almost all of them have involved a lack of sleep. As it happens, a new study has shows that relationship quality is directly affected by quality of sleep, and vice versa.
The Chicken and The Egg.
If you sleep poorly, you’re more likely to fight with your partner. If you fight with your partner, you’re more likely to sleep poorly. It’s the makings of a vicious cycle, one many couples fall victim to every day. Eventually, this cycle ends in reconciliation, or in breakups and divorce. This study looked at 29 heterosexual, co-sleeping couples who did not have children. The trick is, sleep tends to occur when an individual feels calm, safe, and able to down-regulate vigilance and alertness. If you’re in the middle of a fight with your spouse, you aren’t likely to feel these feelings.
A full 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce. That’s a staggering statistic. Of course, it’s impossible to conduct a scientific test to determine what role a lack of sleep may have played in these divorces. But, considering these recent findings, I think it’s safe to assume sleeplessness didn’t help.
Embrace the Idea of Separate Beds
One way to help reinforce marital harmony is to have your own bed (a natural latex mattress that’s incredibly comfortable won’t hurt either). Many couples shy away from the idea of separate beds because of the social stigma. They think it means they’re relationship is in trouble or that they aren’t trying hard enough to co-sleep. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies show that couples experience 50% more sleep disturbances if they share a bed. And, as we’ve seen, if you sleep better, your relationship will see the dividends.
If you can’t stand the idea of a separate bed, couples therapy may help you confront the relationship problems that are contributing to your lack of sleep. If those get better, your sleep will get better, and better sleep means less stress, more patience, and a better marriage.