Instead of learning to dance


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.

20 responses to “Instead of learning to dance

  1. You two sound very grounded. Good for you!

    I, like you, need oodles of sleep. My husband, not so much. But (oddly, or not so oddly) I have always been the one to take on all middle-of-the-night responsibilities pertaining to children.

    Jack has had croup this week, and today I was teasing my husband, laughing about the fact that he never hears one of our kids crying, or coughing, or throwing up, at night.

    And he said, “Oh, I hear them. I just know that you’ll take care of it.”


  2. Ahh yes, sleep arguments. I’m so glad that from Monday to Friday he’s already left the house when I get up … lol … and for the other 2 days I set up the rule that no one, under no circumstance, wake me up before 9 am! Well, my daughter sleeps longer than I do but my son, the cheeky guy, has the guts to wake me at 8.55 am – regularly – arghhhh!!

  3. You know, that you are so conscious of these things is so impressive.

  4. Maybe we should have done the counseling instead of the dance lessons! I’ve been trying to think about how to post about our sleep arguments and couldn’t quite do it. We’ve also stared occasionally sleeping apart, especially since our clocks are way off and I, like you, have become a very light sleeper. These are the arguments, though, that I never expected to have.

  5. realitytesting

    Amen, sister. It’s good to know I’m not the only one limping downstairs to the couch on a fairly regular basis anymore.

  6. ah yes. sounds so familiar and yet it’s a process that just has to work itself out (no matter how long it takes or how hard it can be)

  7. looks like those counseling sessions were worth the dancing with 2 left feet at your wedding 😉

  8. It will get better – there will come a day when they will sleep and even if they don’t sleep, they get up on their own and wander to the TV – that is a blessed day – it will come. Hang in there. Take care. Kellan


    sorry. but it is.

  10. I thought we were the only ones! I am an 8-9 hour a night gal, and motherhood has worked horrors on my morning mood. But even before kids came along, we had sleep issues. My husband is a late-nighter, and I used to love my morning time. He was shocked the first night he came to bed late and tried to cuddle only to be greeted with a “Leave me alone! I’m trying to sleep!” I do stay up later now to get non-kid time, but we still have some rough nights. Separate beds are occasionally used to keep us sane but never because we are fighting. Seems to work for us. Sounds like you have a great marriage!

  11. When we had a newborn, sleep became more precious than – anything. I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. Every night we would say to each other, “We are not going to cuss tonight. Tonight’s going to be a good night, and we are going to stay calm and not cuss.” It never worked. We don’t argue over sleep as much as we both become irrationally angry when we are sleep-deprived, so someone usually ends up yelling (at no one in particular) at 1 am. It was miserable.

  12. 15 year marriage of which… quick count… nope, none of it had normal sleep! Young babies, far too much work, horrific hours… and I am totally an 8 hour minimum person. Even now with much older children the trouble still is getting it in a row!

  13. A true-to-life post if ever there was…me – night owl, husband – early bird, boys – still sporadic sleepers at ages 12, 10 and 9.

    You made a nail-on-the-head point that much marital arguing can be traced to sleep deprivation…mental and physical exhaustion.


  14. There is no way to never disagree, not without some major dysfunction but you have the right of it with constructively solving!

    And I hear you about sleep!

    Using My Words

  15. Heh. I haven’t slept a full night in nearly two years now. I’ve actually forgotten what it’s like!

    Sadly, though I long for sleep, I am the one who can actually function on 4-6 hours a night if I have to, though I’d say my average is about 7 these days. My husband? Is the most unimaginable monster ever if he doesn’t sleep 8-9 hours every night. It was real fun when Bean was a wee newborn, and I was recovering from a C-Section, and had to listen to said Hub moan about “feeling like he was going to die” from lack of sleep.

    So I took/take one for the team. I do 95% of the kid duty so he can sleep in and not be interrupted at night..and in exchange, I get a husband I don’t ponder pushing down the stairs. 😉

  16. We fight about sleep too. He’s a very heavy, restless sleeper. He only needs about 5 hours a night. I, like you, need 9 hours of sleep uninterrupted by the guy beside me and I’m a very light sleeper. We sleep in separate beds at least once a week so I can get some darn sleep!

  17. Yes, we argue about sleep. He thinks he deserves a medal for taking our 2 year old to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and wakes me up to tell me what he just did. Nevermind that I used to creep out of bed as quietly as possible every time our baby would cry, hoping hubby could sleep through it.
    And let me tell you about the time I was 9 months pregnant and hadn’t gotten more than 3 hours of sleep a night in months, and the dear hubby woke me up to ask me if I could walk on his back. ??? So crazy.
    Anyway, yes, we argue about sleep. And to be honest, I would rather argue about sleep than money or kids any day.

  18. I once heard a TV interview of some famous football player and they asked him what his favorite hobby was. “Sleeping,” he said. I thought, “now THAT’S an honest answer!” Sleeping as a hobby? I’m so there… If I could just get someone to take care of the kids, house, do my job, etc…

    Good decision with the counseling instead of dance lessons. You are definitely my type of gal.

  19. Wow. It sounds like you guys are doing really well. I don’t know if I am cut out for marriage, to be honest. I want my own space, the couch to myself (or with the kids), my own bed, all that selfish stuff.
    The sleep thing, that is not cool. O I am so cranky when i am sleep-deprived, especially when there is another person around to be cranky toward!

  20. i need so much sleep it is ridiculous. if i’m even deprived of an hour i am HELL.