J and I thought about taking dance lessons before our wedding. We were living in different states most of the week, but we figured we could squeeze in an hour during the three days we did spend together. We are, after all, rather ungainly dancers.
We decided, however, to forgo dancing lessons and make fools of ourselves on our wedding night. If we had one hour a week to devote to preparing for our wedding, we were going to spend it in pre-marital counseling, not in learning the cha-cha. I do not mean the meetings we had with the rabbi, during which we mostly discussed how to avoid offending my side of the family at the ceremony. Nor do I mean the type of counseling friends have gotten from their clergy people, advising them on the sanctity of the union they were about to enter. I mean honest-to-goodness, every-week-for-four-months, warts-and-all counseling. With a trained therapist.
“Why bother?” an older friend asked me. “Your arguments will all be about two things throughout your marriage. You’ll argue about the kids, but mostly you’ll argue about money.”
Well, here we are, seven years in, and I can tell you, we rarely argue about money. We’re way too tired. If we’re going to argue, it’s going to be about something far more basic.
We argue about sleep.
J travels a lot, and his internal clock is so whacked out he’s never quite sure what time zone he’s in. I, on the other hand, have become a much lighter sleeper since having kids. This is a recipe for a lot of disrupted slumbers.
It is true – there are fortunate souls out there who can function on very little sleep. I have always envied people who are fresh as a daisy after six hours. How much more they must accomplish each day with those extra hours on the vertical. I am not one of those people. I need nine hours a night.
I can get by on eight, but if you really want me to be my charming, sweet-as-pie self, leave me uninterrupted from 9:30 till 6:30, at which time I will leap out of bed, ready to jog five miles or deconstruct Victorian sentences. Needless to say, night after night of only six or seven core hours leaves me twisted in funny shapes.
I suspect we are not the only couple with slumber-related disputes. While some folks may need less sleep or may be more able to doze right on through one another’s tossing and turning, I do think there must be other couples out there who every now and then find themselves arguing because of sleep. Stumbling languidly into the kitchen on Thursday mornings, there must be others who, while arguing over the coffee maker or the phone bill know that, deep down, they are snipping at each other because they are just plain tired.
“The baby kept me up for two hours last night, but he slept right through it.”
“She got in an hour after I went to bed and turned on the hall light.”
“I can never sleep after eating his lamb and curried cous cous.”
You cannot get angry at the baby, you cannot admonish the hall light, and you cannot take back the extra serving of cous cous. The only thing to do is turn on the other adult in the house. It will not make you less tired, but at least you’ll have someone to blame.
I have to say, I think nothing will solve our sleep-deprivation until the boys are adolescents who actually want to sleep later than we do. We will probably continue to have the grumpy mornings and exhausted evenings that lead to spats over emptying the dishwasher. But, we learned something in those four months of counseling. We may not have learned how not to disagree (and, if you’ve figured that one out, shoot me a quick email, please), but we have learned how to sit down together and search for solutions.
We have come across a few, not the least of which is ensuring each of us gets a good nap at least once a weekend. Another is occasionally sleeping in separate rooms when too many sleepless nights have piled on top of one another, making a stack in peril of toppling over and burying us in our own exhaustion. A futon for a living room chair may not be elegant, but it can be a very practical way to create a spare room. These things help.
What helps even more – from my side at least – is a little monologue I have in my head. “He’s just as tired as you are. You are both being grumpy because you are exhausted. And the boys are learning to treat people disrespectfully whenever they aren’t feeling up to snuff.” This speech only blocks about half the snippy things on their way out of my mouth, but at least it stops some of them. And we both keep working on it.
If there’s one thing we learned in pre-marital counseling, it is that a good relationship is a continual process, not a state of being.