Exhaustion has been the number one contributing factor to our spousal spats once my partner and I became parents. We were the most low-key couple you could imagine; no relationship drama and zero shouting matches and absolutely no slamming of the doors or sleeping on friends’ couches after a disagreement. Once we added babies into the mix, and we stopped sleeping, our once innocuous bickering had a tendency to escalate rapidly. The most ridiculous fights we’ve had were due to lack of sleep. Not getting enough rest obliterated our patience and these days, with an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old, we manage to hold it together when dealing with our kids; we just run out of juice sometimes when we have to deal with each other.
I don’t expect our marriage to be fight-free. Not only do we live together, but my husband and I even work on the same floor. At the office, we are on our best behavior and we make it a point not to bring our family beefs to the job. But once we’re home, and we’re dealing with two kids who are talking over each other to get our attention while also ignoring our pleas to hang their coats up, our tolerance dips dangerously low. So, when I see my husband’s sweatshirt crumbled in a ball on the couch, I am not my best self having had just a few hours of sleep. If I were better rested perhaps I could calmly look away and gently ask him, out of the kids’ earshot, to please hang his sweatshirt up to set a good example. Without sleep? Well, without sleep I release the kraken. Over a sweatshirt.
In hindsight, these scuffles in our relationship are laughable because they’re over minuscule stuff that, in the grand scheme of having jobs and kids and a mortgage and never ending laundry, won’t ever matter. But in the wake of sleepless nights, when the kids wake up with nightmares or stomach bugs,or we’ve just stayed up too late to have some “me time” after cleaning dishes and packing lunches and signing permission slips, a wayward sweatshirt becomes everything wrong with my partner. Logic and maturity evaporate when exhaustion sets in, and some of the most ridiculous fights I could have with my partner ensue:
Not the middle school variety. We’re exhausted enough; we don’t need to be scraping mashed potatoes off the ceiling. No, I’m talking about fighting over using of the microwave. We have to take turns reheating our dinner plates because we don’t typically cook during the week. We both work full-time, so we batch cook over the weekend to serve us throughout the week. That means only one of us has hot food at a time. If I go first, my meal is cold by the time he is done reheating his.
Resolution is highly unlikely until we're financially able to have two full-power microwaves installed.
Quality time for my spouse and me is about 45 minutes in front of the screen, in between putting the kids down and making the next day’s lunches. However, “Netflix and chill” becomes a thorny scenario, addled by sleep deprivation and vastly different viewing preferences. He doesn’t like my half-hour comedies and I'm reluctant to watch another sports documentary. We may live in the "golden age of television," but this "golden age" is only creating more fighting fodder for these two zombie parents.
I look in on my kids before I go to bed. I always have because I absolutely have to know they are breathing before I fall asleep. But when they wake in the middle of the night, I’m not eager to run into their rooms. In fact, I wait it out.
“Let’s see if he gets up,” I think, listening to hear if my husband’s breathing has changed. I know he’s awake. He knows I’m awake. (Because once you have kids, you truly never sleep again.) So we wait there, in the dark, each pretending to be asleep while our child’s cries grow louder and increasingly agitated. Finally, someone answers the call. The one remaining in bed doesn’t exactly feel like the winner, though, when the other parent stomps back in the room, hissing, “Next time, it’s your turn.”
Lately, my husband has been really great about trying to get us to bed earlier. He shuts the television off after a certain amount of time, and encourages me to get my next day prep work done so we can be in bed by a certain time.
I stretch out on the couch, which I now have all to myself and his gentle reminders turn sour as I ignore them. Why do I do this? Am I trying to prove I actually don’t need as much sleep? Or that I won’t be told what to do, even though I clearly need someone telling me to put the phone down and go to bed? I’m always better for it when I heed his advice, but it’s just so nice there on the couch when I'm not doing anything, even if it causes me to be even more tired the next day.
There is no room for sympathy when exhaustion takes over. No matter what kind of terrible, horrible, no-good day my partner has had, I am convinced I had it a million times worse. I am also convinced that arguing about it is a great use of our time.
Maybe the toothpaste cap is left off. Or the empty toilet paper roll hasn’t been replaced. Or the water pitcher hasn’t been refilled (my bad). There is always one annoying, consistent transgression one of us will be guilty of and never apologize for. Or maybe, in my husband’s case, his apology has been refused by me so often he no longer cares if the toothpaste cap falls down the drain and is lost forever or, worse, clogs up our sink. Because that is what will happen, I’m sure. And that is why I give him such a hard time about a toothpaste cap. #sorrynotsorry
While I’d rather wash dishes than cook, I am truly the worst when it comes to drying dishes. I do not arrange them in the drainer properly, according to my husband (he who has no regard for the whereabouts of the toothpaste cap, may I remind you) so water pools in the lids of cups and puddles accumulate in bowls I’ve failed to turn over to dry.
To be fair, before I married him I didn’t know mold was my spouse’s mortal enemy. Nothing stirs up a man’s ire like a casserole dish besieged by water droplets. My argument is: who has time? Who wants to create more laundry by using a dishrag to dry anything? I think my solution is fine. Water evaporates… eventually.
To each his own, except when it comes to how we store our recyclables. I like separate bins, because it makes our super’s life easier and if the super is happy with us she's more likely to help fix our doorbell which hasn’t worked since we’ve moved in. Not everyone agrees with me, however.
Someone with whom I live, who will remain unnamed (but who uncannily shares a last name and two children with me), prefers the “general recycling area” approach; tossing plastic, metal, paper and cardboard into a cabinet out of sight. This presents a threat to my carefully crafted “win the super over so she can help us with household chores because we are just not the DIY type” plan. So battle over this, I must.
The change of clothes that should be in the diaper bag? The baby’s lovey? The baby? Every parent drops the ball (or maybe even the baby), but none of us wants to admit it. So we blame the other guy.
I do not snore. I don’t care what he thinks he hears because I am not snoring. I know this because I am barely sleeping. If I am not sleeping, then I am not snoring. This is not some sleep-deprived excuse. This is logic.
This is the most ridiculous fight I have (repeatedly) with my spouse due to a sleep deficit. Of course I’m overreacting. When I don’t sleep enough, I’m totally on edge and anything might set me off.
However, nothing is more sure to set me off than calling out my dramatic reaction to some casual remark my husband’s made. Did I go ballistic because he asked me if we had stamps? Yes I did. And then we fought about it when I staunchly refused to admit I overreacted. This is what love boils down to, you guys. If our relationship wasn’t rock solid, I wouldn’t have the confidence to act like a maniac over stupid sh*t. You know you’re with the right person when you can freely blow up at him about how you blow up at him about stamps.