Hey Parents: Sleep Scorekeeping Is Probably Eroding Your Marriage

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Raise your hand if you’re a parent who’s ever awoken and (loudly) proclaimed your sleep deficit to your partner only to have them do the math right back atcha. (“You’re tired? Were you up at 5 a.m. to change a dirty diaper?”) It’s annoying. It’s irritating. It also begs the question: Why can’t we just compassionately acknowledge our partner’s hardship…and move on?

Instead, parents the world over resort to something else: Sleep scorekeeping.

Sleep scorekeeping is what happens when one parent can’t speak openly about their child-fueled sleep deficit without the other parent issuing a response that evens (or one-ups) the score. It doesn’t matter if your kid is five months or five years—parents turn into sleep scorekeepers the minute they suffer a night where their routine is thrown.

And surely this isn’t good for your marriage, right?

Correct, says Jocelyn Freeman, relationship coach and co-author of The Argument Hangover, who notes that sleep scorekeeping, go figure, is exacerbated by fatigue and actually stems from feelings of resentment that your partner isn’t acknowledging your efforts. “When we begrudgingly bring up or compete about who slept more or less than the other, what we’re really saying is, ‘Do you see me, do you appreciate me and do you know how good you have it?’” Freeman says.

Because here’s the thing: When you have a newborn, sleep deprivation is expected. You and your partner are (probably) in it together and, while it’s not enjoyable, there’s shared sympathy. But as time goes on and lack of sleep becomes normalized, there’s less acknowledgment and validation of the experience.

Leigh, 37, from New Hampshire agrees: “When my son was four months old, even though I was nursing and therefore the main person required for wakeups, my husband would at least try to join me in solidarity. Or have my coffee ready in the morning—a form of recognition! But now that he’s four and still sleeping horizontally in our bed most nights, I’m acutely aware that I’m the only one missing out on sleep while my husband snores—or worse, wakes up to climb into my kid’s unoccupied bed.”

A better approach than simply grousing about it? If you find you’re frequently keeping score with your partner over sleep (or anything), sit down weekly to discuss each other’s wants, feelings and needs. “Schedule it in your calendar and when sticky topics—like sleep—come up, instead of reactively expressing your frustration, try a more helpful format like ‘I have been feeling exhausted lately and waking up repeatedly. Could you handle the morning shift so that I can try to catch up? Or cover bedtime so that I can chill out/go to bed early?’” Freeman says. [In other words, insert your best-case solution here.]

Bottom line: Find time to listen to each other in an environment where you can both be calm (ie: not the middle of the night) and problem solve together. Oh—and don’t hate us for saying this—but allowing each other to get more sleep helps too.

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Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...