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A Lack of Sleep Can Hurt Your Marriage

The health of your relationship can depend on how things are going in bed. And I’m not talking about sex!

When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep schedules are out of synch, it’s a lot harder to have a happy, connected marriage. So today I hope to convince you that catching some ZZZ’s together is one of the most romantic things you can do.

What’s Causing Your Sleep Problems?

For working parents, a great night’s sleep can seem like the impossible dream. Lots of factors can come together to keep you from getting the rest you need. They include:

  • Stress and anxiety. You wake up at 3 A.M. and an endless loop starts playing in your mind: Will there be layoffs at work? Will your son pull up his grades? Is your mom showing signs of dementia? What’s going to happen next in this crazy world? More than two-thirds of Americans report that they lose sleep because they’re worried about something.
  • Your jobs. Different work shifts can put the two of you on different sleep schedules. Sleep also gets disrupted if either of you feels compelled to keep checking work email late into the night.
  • Technology. Even if you aren’t using your devices for work at bedtime, having them in your bedroom still makes it harder to sleep because they keep your brain alert and disrupt your natural sleep rhythms.
  • Packed schedules. Our busy days don’t leave us time to wind down and process the day. So we end up staying up later just to get the mental space we need.
  • Your kids. If you have young children — or even older kids who still wake up at night — your own sleep can suffer.
  • Each other. When a night owl marries an early bird, they can cost each other sleep. And when one partner has a sleep disorder — such as snoring or insomnia — the other often loses rest too.
The Sleep-Deprived Marriage

Have you ever noticed that even when people complain about a lack of sleep that they seem almost proud of it? It’s as if they’re “humble bragging” to the world that they can still do it all even when they’re exhausted.

But the truth is that skimping on sleep can profoundly damage our health, our work and our relationships. It keeps us from being at our best and from being there for others in the ways we want to be.

When you’re not in a healthy sleep routine, you may notice negative effects like these on your marriage:

  • Weaker connection. If the two of you are on different sleep schedules, you miss out on pre-sleep talking, cuddling and sex. The same is true if you go to bed at the same time but spend the moments before sleep on your phones. Marriage is all about maintaining connection, and missing these intimate moments can contribute to the two of you drifting apart.
  • Less interest in sex. A lack of sleep lowers libido for both men and women.
  • Nastier arguments. Being sleep deprived doesn’t just lead to more conflicts. It also changes the tone of those conflicts. Couples who get enough sleep are more likely to stay constructive and keep their sense of humor when they argue. On the other hand, couples who lack sleep get more hostile and negative. This is important because how often you argue is less important than the way that you argue.
  • A lack of gratitude. Appreciation is one of the key ingredients to a happy marriage. But when you aren’t sleeping enough, you feel less grateful for you partner.
 Sleep Your Way to a Happier Marriage

You know now that you need more sleep. But you also know that your crazy schedules and all the things causing you anxiety aren’t going away. So what can you do to get the rest and the nightly connection you need to keep your marriage strong?

  • Create work boundaries. For some tips to help keep your job out of your bedroom, see my recent article on workaholism.
  • Curb technology. Ideally, you should keep your devices out of your bedroom before sleep. But if that’s not possible, start putting them away earlier to give yourself more time to wind down and to connect with each other.
  • Create a “good night” ritual. If the two of you don’t go to bed at the same time, you can still share some moments of connection at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to cuddle and talk even if one of you gets back up afterward.
  • Take care of yourselves. If you’re prone to middle-of-the-night worry sessions, look for at least one way you can start better managing stress, whether that’s exercising more or planning some time to talk with a friend.
  • Give yourself some breathing room. You might need to create some space in your schedule for more downtime and sleep. That’s especially true this time of year, when traveling, socializing and even wrapping presents can keep you up late.

It’s easy to let sleep fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. But when you take steps to get the rest you need, you’ll see the benefits quickly in your marriage and in other areas. For more advice on maintaining a happy marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

When Your Husband Doesn’t Like Your Friends

Does your husband roll his eyes when you mention particular friends of yours? Does he try to get out of activities where he knows they’ll be present? This might not seem like a big deal, but it could turn into a trouble spot in your marriage.

Researchers have found that conflicts over friends can raise the risk of divorce, especially when a husband does not like his wife’s friends.

So what are you supposed to do with this information? After all, you love both your husband and your friends.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. You need friends! Having a variety of nurturing relationships makes your marriage stronger. If your husband doesn’t like you spending any time with friends, there’s a deeper problem.

Assuming, though, that his animosity seems limited to a certain friend or friends of yours, let’s take a closer look at what might be going on.

Does He Not Get Your Friendships?

First, if you know he has issues with a friend of yours, don’t let his dislike of your friend become the “elephant in the room.” Try to create a space to talk openly about what’s happening. For example, maybe he worries that the just-divorced friend you’re hanging out with a lot is filling your head with ideas about leaving him. But, in reality, you and your friend actually spend most of your time talking about work or the kids.

Another possibility is that you have different ideas about friendship. Let’s say your husband’s family lives by the famous quote: “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Your family, on the other hand, emphasizes loyalty above else. So it makes sense that he’s not too happy you’re sticking by your aimless friend from high school. And it makes sense that you wouldn’t dream of distancing yourself from her even though she drives you a little nuts. When each of you understands where the other is coming from, you can find a way through the tension.

Is He Jealous?

Your husband might also be jealous of the bond you have with your friend(s). It’s a challenge for any of us to maintain a healthy support system amid all the demands on our time. But men are even more likely than women to rely on their partner to meet all of their emotional needs. Your husband may feel that your friends are crowding out couple time. In this case, it could be helpful to encourage him to build up his own friendships and pursue his own interests.  You can also make sure the two of you are actually setting time aside to spend together on a regular basis.

Is He Right About Your Friends?

Finally, consider that your husband may be on to something. Does he dislike your friends because he’s noticed they drain all your energy and leave you irritable? Has he seen a pattern of your giving more than your friends? Do you and your friends say means things about your husbands under the guise of “teasing” or “venting”? That last question is especially important. Research has shown us that contempt is lethal to marriages. So you don’t want to do anything to cultivate it.

Everyone needs friends, but the way to balance friendships and marriage is unique to every couple. You can learn more about how both you and your husband can build and maintain a healthy support system in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Why Has Your Husband Changed So Much?

Does your husband ever seem like he’s become a totally different guy?

It might sound like I’m about to launch into a creepy “Jekyll and Hyde” story for Halloween. But I actually want to talk to you today about the real-life power of stress and how it affects your marriage in ways you may not be aware of.

This article is for you if you’ve ever wondered “What happened to the great guy I fell in love with?” The answer is probably not what you think.

Before we dive in, though, let’s clarify the intention of this article. My advice here is not for you if you’re in a situation involving dire issues like abuse or addiction. If you ever find yourself saying things like “My husband is a great guy, except when he loses his temper” or “He has a totally different personality when he’s using,” then please consider seeking professional help.

Then and Now

First, let’s think back to when you and your husband first became romantically involved. You were totally new to each other, which really lit up your brains. He was paying lots of attention to you, and you to him. So you both felt seen and appreciated. If neither of you had children from previous relationships or other family obligations (like an aging parent), the beginning of your relationship may have also been a more carefree and less stressful time in your life.

Fast-forward to today. You probably have many more demands on your time due to your family and your careers. That makes you feel more stressed, which in turn makes it much more difficult to emotionally connect. You’ve quit looking deeply into each other’s eyes because you’re too busy looking deeply into your phones. All of those qualities that seemed so intriguing about him at first are now old hat. Instead, you notice more of his faults — his abrupt tone, lack of helpfulness, emotional distance — and they’re driving you crazy!

Our Brains ‘Go Negative’

So what’s going on here? Has he really turned into a terrible person? You’ll be relieved to know that this is highly unlikely. When you’re overwhelmed with stress, you get worse at noticing the good things about your husband. At the same time, you become super-attuned to anything negative about him. If he’s super stressed, he’s doing the same thing too! This is just how our brains are wired. Our ability to react swiftly to threats helped us survive as a species. But  it’s not so handy in a modern marriage between two stressed people. One partner’s mistakes or slights can feel threatening to the other one. If you feel quick to anger or criticize, part of you is just trying to protect yourself.

Bring Your ‘Good’ Husband Back

Just knowing that your stressed-out brain might be playing tricks on you can start defusing tensions with your husband. Here are a couple of other things than can help as well.

  1. Identify the sources of your individual stress. Are you sleep deprived, eating junk foods, or just plain lonely? Do what you can to bring your own stress down by making small changes like getting an extra hour of sleep or making sure you’re spending some time connecting with each other during the week. Sneak in the little things that keep love strong, like asking about each other’s days and marking special occasions. It may not seem like much, but can make a big difference over time.
  2. It’s hard to start treating each other more lovingly if you don’t address the underlying stress that’s causing you to be critical and defensive.Take a hard look at your priorities as a family and seek ways to ease the pressure on you both. Do you need to reduce the kids’ activities so that you all have more time together? Can you rethink your budget so that you can work less or pursue jobs that aren’t as demanding.

Try these strategies and you’ll start seeing more of the man you fell in love with and less of that irritating guy who never does anything right. If the tips in this article are useful for you, can find many more like them in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Divorce Is Contagious — But You Can Inoculate Your Marriage Against It

You might be worried about the flu and other physical ailments that start circulating this time of year. But a contagion of a very different kind was the subject of a recent story in the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune took a look at how divorce can spread through social circles. It cites a study that found you’re 75 percent more likely to get a divorce yourself if a friend has divorced. Even a friend of a friend getting a divorce raises your own chance of divorcing by 33 percent.

Why does this happen? In the article, relationship expert Helen Fisher says friends’ divorces prompt us to reassess the condition of our own marriages.

Just as physically ill people are hit harder by sicknesses like the flu, your marriage can also suffer from a weakened “immune system.” When your marriage is compromised, you may find yourself fantasizing about leaving, especially if a close friend has already taken that step.

Here are a few tips so you won’t unintentionally fall victim to the divorce contagion. It’s all about strengthening the health of the emotional connection between you and your spouse.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s hard to emotionally connect with anyone when you are running yourself ragged. Sleeping enough, eating well and managing stress make it more likely you will have the bandwidth to connect with your partner. Don’t forget to also make space for the people and activities you deeply enjoy. If you’ve been neglecting hobbies and interests, take some time to renew your passions. Have you lost touch with a dear friend? Reach out today. This can keep you from feeling that you’ve “lost yourself” — and that you need to leave your marriage to find yourself again.

Get Deliberate About Being Positive

Research shows that marriages stay strong when spouses share far more positive interactions than negative ones. But when we’re busy and stressed (which, for most of us, is always!), it’s easier to notice all the negatives. This week, try to intentionally look for and tell your husband how much you appreciate his good qualities. Be affectionate, playful, and compassionate to increase the positive even more. Keeping your  “emotional bank account” full with positives prevents it from being overdrawn in difficult times.

Seize Every Moment

Juggling the responsibilities of adulthood can make it hard for you and your husband to even “se” each other. When we focus exclusively on what we need to get done, and not on our partners, that intimate connection frays, little by little. You don’t need a two-week romantic vacation to rekindle your intimacy. (Although I’m very much in favor of taking one if you can!) Instead, take advantage of the small moments in your day — like when you both come home after work — to connect.  Investing even a little bit of time each day strengthens your relationship. Check out the Gottman Institute blog for a great resource on this topic:  “6 Hours a Week to a Better Relationship.”

The reality of contagious divorce is alarming, but it also serves as a powerful reminder to take care of your relationship. If you’d like a total “wellness guide” for your marriage, I invite you to check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Workaholic Husband? Here’s How to Protect Your Relationship

Being married to a workaholic can make you feel like the third wheel in your own relationship. If your husband’s job seems to consume all of his attention, that’s not good for your marriage, his health or your health. Today I want to share some advice on how to get things back to a more balanced place. Of course, if you’re the workaholic in your marriage, the information here applies to you too.

What Makes Someone a Workaholic?

All of us in the U.S., men and women, are working a lot these days. Some analyses have even found that maintaining the same standard of living requires working more hours than it used to. This financial pressure can certainly be one reason your husband works so much.

And then there’s the impact of technology on our work. Our image of a workaholic used to be someone who burned the midnight oil at the office. But now — thanks to smartphones and laptops — work can follow us anywhere. Your husband might actually spend more time at home than his father did, but be working more hours.

With these new technologies come new expectations about what being a dedicated employee means. In some fields, workers are “always on,” responding to work communications during evenings, weekends and even vacations. The weight of those expectations drives workaholic tendencies.

Researchers Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard found that there’s a difference between being a workaholic and simply working long hours. Workaholics are constantly connected to their work, obsessing about it and even feeling guilty when not working. They don’t take regular physical or mental breaks from working.

Workaholic Habits Take a Heavy Toll

Rothbard and ten Brummelhuis also found that workaholics suffer both physically and emotionally. They reported having more health problems and were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome. They experienced more insomnia, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of depression than employees who worked long hours but did not have the same workaholic tendencies.

A new study out of Virginia Tech sounds the alarm that a worker’s significant other and family also suffer ill effects when the expectation to work is constant. The researchers state that “‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

Work vs. Relationships

Not surprisingly, an excessive focus on work harms your relationship too. In the Virginia Tech study, partners of employees who feel the pressure to always be available for work report that the quality of their relationship suffers.

If your husband is a workaholic, his long hours and the constant intrusion of his work on your life are probably stressing both of you out. And when you’re in a state of constant stress, It is much harder to connect with each other. You have more trouble seeing the positive aspects of your relationship and tend to magnify the negative ones. You become more reactive and defensive. “Little things” could push you right over the edge.

Resentment can also be a problem, especially if you are also working full time. Women still typically take on more domestic responsibilities, and that’s probably even more true in your house if your husband is preoccupied with work. As I talked about in my last post, the mental load  of being the household and family manager is exhausting. You might also feel angry if there’s an unspoken assumption that his job is the “important” one and that you should curtail the development of your own career to pick up his slack at home.

Working Together on Change

For all of these reasons, your husband’s workaholic habits just aren’t sustainable. But I also realize that he’s unlikely to suddenly start leaving the office and switching of his work email at 5 p.m. every day. So what’s the realistic solution?

First, start a conversation with your husband about how much of the pressure on him is external and how much is internal. Workaholics can put more expectations on themselves than any boss ever would. He may have grown up with the idea that “the most important thing for a man to do is work hard and be a good provider for his family — even if this means he can’t spend as much time with them.” And he might even assume you believe the same thing.

Talk more deeply about the gender expectations you both grew up with. The revelations might surprise you both. You may be assuming that he works a lot because he enjoys it more than participating in family life. But he might feel that he’s doing the most loving thing for your family.

You can support your husband’s career and also insist that there be some boundaries with work. Discuss with him the considerable amount of research indicating that being a workaholic actually decreases his productivity. If he’s highly driven to do his best at work, he may be surprised to learn that having more downtime will make him more effective on the job.

The two of you can experiment with balancing work and your personal life differently. For example, what happens if he stops checking work email after 8 p.m. for a week? Does he really miss anything? Is he better rested, less stressed and more productive? Use the information you gather to guide future decision making, always negotiating for an arrangement that supports your relationship.

For more help with navigating your busy lives, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.