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When Wives Don't Sleep, Marriage Suffers

Researchers: When Marriage Is Happier, Husbands Sleep Less
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Tracking the Effects of Sleep on Marriage

For the study, researchers recruited 35 healthy married couples and had them wear sensors that monitor movement for 10 nights. The average age of study participants was 32.

During the day, spouses were asked to keep diaries detailing how they were getting along.

They rated how strongly they felt positive things, like feeling close to their spouse and valued, and whether or not they talked about their feelings with their partner.

On the negative side, they were asked how much they felt criticized, dismissed, ignored, or whether they were having an argument.

When women had trouble falling asleep at night, they were more likely to report more negative and fewer positive interactions with their spouses the next day.

Husbands also reported fewer positive interactions when spouses couldn’t fall asleep easily.

Curiously, however, husbands’ sleep difficulties didn’t seem to affect couples’ relationship interactions.

Explaining Gender Differences

“Women tend to be more sensitive to the highs and lows of relationships and they tend to be more communicative when they’re feeling the stress,” Troxel says.

“So the fact that women’s sleep problems affect both their own and their partner’s next day’s marital functioning may say something about women’s expressiveness, whereas men tend to kind of repress or withhold negative emotions,” Troxel says.

Other experts agree.

“We’re stoic,” says William J. Strawbridge, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California in San Francisco. In a study published in 2005, Strawbridge also found that poor sleep was related to marital dissatisfaction.

“It’s true that men just don’t want to talk about stuff like that and don’t seem as sensitive to it. Interaction in a marriage is more important to a woman than to a man,” he says.

On nights following days when they rated their marriages as more positive, however, men got less sleep.

“For men, on average, when they reported higher marital functioning, they had more frequent sexual activity,” Troxel says. “It was not the same for women.”

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