How to Avoid a Marital Battle with the Sleep-Deprived
I am calling it a battle on purpose although it can easily escalate to a World War—unless you know what to do.
Sleep deprivation makes you groggy, which is an easy part to handle. Sleep deprivation also makes you easily irritated, intolerant, and angry, especially when your significant other has had a good night’s sleep.
What after a good night’s sleep looks like something to laugh about, after a sleepless night, can look like something to fight to the death over.
Without sleep, you have no energy, and without energy, every little nuisance seems like a major crisis, a crisis you don’t have the energy to deal with. Thus, your irritation. Thus, your intolerance. Thus, your short attention span and predilection toward shouting matches.
Here is what I have learned to do to save the situation:
If you are really exhausted and energy-depleted, shut up. Just shut up. Both of you.
One of the most dangerous times for this sort of conflict is when a spouse comes home from a long trip, particularly from another time zone, and is very sleep-deprived. If they pick up what seems like an irrelevant subject, it might quickly become a life-or-death subject. Thus: just shut up.
For this reason, I suggest that you do not let your well-rested spouse pick you up from the airport after a long trip. By the time you get home, you two might be ready for divorce.
As a rule, on the first day back from such a trip, it should be forbidden to talk about anything.
Let the tired party grumble, complain, and even try to start a fight. Do not react. Shut up. Just serve them as well as you can with a closed mouth. Whatever you might say to defend yourself or explain your position will fall on deaf ears. Your sleep-deprived partner is looking for a fight. It is as if he or she is jealous that you had a good night’s sleep while they were laboring somewhere else. They are subconsciously trying to punish you.
You might make the bed, close the curtains to darken the room, and put them to sleep. Some will refuse, and for good reason: if they sleep during the day, they won’t sleep at night, which only prolongs the battle.
Let them do something, but be aware that it must be something they do alone, like gardening, washing the car, or ironing their clothes (but not answering emails; the emails they send will be aggressive and belligerent).
I have found that going to the gym and sweating profusely helps. When I am recovering from a serious jet lag, I sweat profusely at night. Apparently, that is how the body adapts, so help your body by exercising and sweating. I don’t know why, but sweating in saunas or steam rooms does not count.
Sex is another way to sweat it out, but beware not to expect long, loving foreplay. The act is probably going to be of the short, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am variety. The sleep-deprived person is energy-depleted and irritable, and it will show up in the sex. Let it be, but only in these cases—don’t allow it to be the modus vivendi of your amorous encounters.
I am watching and learning. If new insights emerge, I will share them in the next blog posts.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes