Elizabeth's Side: His sleep schedule is irritating.
After 18 years of marriage, you'd think we would have conquered the whole sleep schedule by now. But it's worse than ever! I need to go to bed by 10:30 at the latest. That means being asleep at 10:30. As a working mom, I need a solid eight hours of sleep just to survive.
Every night when I tell James that I need to go to bed, he always gives the same response, "Do you want trouble?" ("Trouble" means that James will follow me to the bedroom for a short time until I fall asleep and then go back to the living room.) If I say no, then he simply stays out in the living room as I go to bed alone.
So here I am with the same two options night after night: Go to bed alone, or if I'm in the mood … then go to sleep alone. I'm just not a night owl, but most nights he goes back to the living room, watches TV, does work stuff or whatever it is that he does after I go to bed. I know he's not cleaning the house!
It irritates me that unless I'm up for one more "activity," James is out of the picture, or even sometimes afterwards he's back in the living room. I hate going to bed alone, but staying up and waiting for him to be tired just isn't an option.
James' Side: Her sleep schedule isn't realistic.
Every night at about 10 or 10:15, Elizabeth puts down whatever she's doing and gives me a look. She's ready to go to bed. But that's the time when I'm still wide awake and ready to keep going.
It's a broken routine. I hear her say, "I'm tired …" then fill in the blank with any number of sentences describing every detail of just how tired she is. As if, after 18 years of marriage, I don't know that she needs to be in bed at 10:30."
Depending on the "look," my typical response—and yes, I realize that it's a bad habit—is to ask, "Do you want trouble?" or "You don't want trouble do you?" or "Okay, I'm not tired yet, I'll be there in a while."
Some nights, if she's still awake enough, I'll follow her to the bedroom for some "quality" time together, then I return to the living room. I just can't fall asleep—so I don't want to lie there wide awake when I could be doing something.
But the other nights, when Elizabeth isn't in the "trouble" mood, I stay up. That's when Elizabeth gives me the "I hate going to bed without you" speech.
I feel bad. Sometimes on those "trouble free" nights, I'll still try to go in with her and lie there for 10-15 minutes of boredom, eventually leaving once I hear her first signs of sleep. Then I go back to what I was doing. It seems silly.
I want to spend time with Elizabeth. But lying in bed not sleeping seems like a waste of the most creative time of my day.
What They Did
The underlying element of James and Elizabeth's issue had very little to do with their sleep schedules. It was more about time that they needed to spend together. James would go to bed, if he got what he (they) wanted. But on the nights that James didn't get what he wanted, Elizabeth didn't get what she needed.
From the beginning of their marriage, they'd decided that it wasn't an option to have a TV in the bedroom. That actually became a blessing in finding a solution to their sleep schedule issues.
The two of them developed a plan. First, both of them would meet in the bedroom at 10 o'clock. For the next half hour or so they both committed to choosing one of four options.
Some nights it's "trouble."
Other nights it's reading time. James, the more awake of the two, will read aloud. They either pick up where they left off in the Bible, read articles they found in parenting, marriage, or other magazines or websites; or read articles from the local paper.
Other nights they concentrate on a prayer focus. And will pray together.
Some nights they simply talk. They discuss anything from the deep mysteries of life to what they should buy during their next trip to the grocery store.
The key is their commitment to spend time together. Elizabeth tries to stay awake a few extra minutes, and James tries to focus on Elizabeth. Their commitment to spending a half hour together at "bedtime" became a strong bonding time for them. Elizabeth got a husband who came to bed with her; James got an opportunity to "do" something productive with his wife, instead of simply waiting for her to fall asleep.
"The great thing is that every night is a mutual choice," James says. Their goals became much less about sleep schedules and much more about spending time together.
"It feels like we're better connected now," Elizabeth says.
James agrees, and adds, "You gotta love TiVo."
James Rock is an author, the Get with the Program columnist for In-Site magazine, and program director of Trout Lake Camps—a "mega-camp" in central Minnesota.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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