I am not a marriage counselor, nor do I pretend to be, but everyday I receive letters from parents all over the world telling me how I have saved their marriage. These letters come mainly from mothers, and some fathers, who say that they were spending no time together, were fighting all night, felt emotionally drained, and absolutely at the end of their rope. There was one current theme in all these letters I receive that seemed to be the root of all their marital angst and that was lack of SLEEP. How can lack of sleep be ruining your marriage and why isn’t anyone talking about this?

We all know that marriage takes work, and lots of it. We know that in order to feel happy in our relationships we need to feel supported and nurtured. We need to make time to connect on every level from the emotional to the physical. We also know how quickly we can start to feel disconnected from our spouse and this disconnect starts chipping away at the very foundation of the marriage until there doesn’t seem much more to fight for.

The 2001 US census Bureau states that the average age of a marriage before divorce is 8 years. During this time, couples often embark on many stressful events that can put a strain on marriage. They often move to larger houses, take on more debt, start new careers and HAVE CHILDREN. Then add months or years of interrupted sleep to all this and you have a recipe for disaster!

Often in my seminar classes I will ask parents how it feels to be tired. The responses are usually similar. They feel grumpy, depressed, and emotional. They over-react; they argue often, they don’t eat properly. Mothers feel overwhelmed by the demands from their children and spouse. They feel burnt out, helpless, scatterbrained. One mother even told the class that she was so exhausted one morning that she put the toaster in the fridge and didn’t even notice until the next day when she went to make toast!

Dealing with a baby or toddler several times in the night often leads mothers to feelings of resentment. Not necessarily towards their children but more often towards their spouse. One mother said, “I don’t get angry at the baby, but I sure let my husband have it the minute he walks in the door!” At 3:00 in the morning, an argument often ensues on who’s job is more important the next day. Yes, often dad has to work, but mothers also have to get up and deal with children all day. Arguably an equally demanding profession. One mother told me that after the 6th wake up that night, she walked into her husbands “bedroom” and screamed at the top of her lungs that he should get out of bed and deal with his child, or she was moving out!”

To be fair to fathers, they often don’t know how they can help. It’s a helpless and frustration feeling for many fathers to try repeatedly to put their children to sleep only to fail time and time again. Often the mother will eventually walk into the room and take over once she sees that her partner is unsuccessful, which only leads to more frustration for both parties.

So often I see couples who bed share with their babies, not by choice, but out of sheer desperation. I call this “co-sleeping out of necessity”. Meaning that co-sleeping was not their first choice but it seems like that is the only way anyone gets more than a few hours of rest. What this often leads to is mom and baby in one bed and dad in another. One couple I saw had not shared a bed in 8 years! One parent slept with the older child, while the other slept with the younger. Tell me how that can be healthy for a marriage?

There is no denying that sharing a bed with your spouse is a crucial ingredient to a healthy relationship. Not just for sex, but for that deep intimacy that comes in the night when you reach out for your partner and they are there. It’s the pillow talk you have before falling asleep that can be the one time of day that couples have to share their thoughts, feelings and dreams. Even if it’s just to talk about the cute things the children did that day, it’s still a connection. That is pretty hard to do when there is a sleeping baby in someone’s arms. The mere idea of accidentally waking that baby that just took an hour of rocking to get to sleep so scares most parents that they wouldn’t even dream of striking up a conversation. Then there is the constant movement and restlessness of most children that usually drives one parent from the bed somewhere in the night. Even if it means sleeping in the toddler bed, it’s usually a preferred option to having a tiny foot in your face all night.

Do all of this for months and even years and it’s no surprise that a marriage would start to disintegrate fast. In my opinion one of the most important things I can give to my children, besides a good night sleep, is a healthy and well functioning marriage. I want them to see how couples who love each other act towards one another. I want them to see mutual respect and compassion. I want them to see that we make time for each other and nurture the relationships that matter the most to us. I want them to see how all family member’s needs are important, not just their own. I want them to see all this so they will go out into the world and find these things for themselves.

I want to model these things that I hold true, so they will model the same for their children. I can’t do this if I am exhausted every day. I can’t do this if the only thing I care about at the end of the day is going to sleep for a few hours. I can’t do this if my children are by my side from morning and all night. I can’t do this if I resent my husband because he won’t or can’t help me in the night. I can’t do this if every day the only thing I can think about is getting my kid to sleep more.

This needs to be discussed. This issue needs some spotlight so we can start repairing one of the most important things in our children’s lives… us!

Author's Bio: 

Dana Obleman launched her successful private practice as a Sleep Coach in 2003, and since then has helped thousands of parents solve their child’s sleep problems.
Dana offers individual consultations with parents (in person or via telephone), group seminars, and is the creator of "The Sleep Sense Program", a best-selling "do-it-yourself" guide for tired parents.
Dana has made numerous television appearances, has been featured in national and local newspapers, spoken at multiple parenting trade shows and baby conventions, and co-hosted a popular parenting radio program. She was also recently invited to present a lecture on solving infant and toddler sleep problems to a convention of family doctors at one of the country's largest medical schools.
She currently lives on the West Coast with her husband and three young children.