How to get out of bedtime fights?
July 8, 2016 4:37 AM   Subscribe

My partner (of almost a year) and I have gotten into a fight pattern that I'm trying to find a way out of. At bedtime, especially after a long tiring day, what he needs is to sleep right away, and what I need is some time together to cuddle or talk or make love just be together. When he falls asleep I have a strong emotional reaction.

So far the only solution I've found is to sleep in another room in order to let him sleep, but I'm still a bit resentful and hurt and this shows up the next day. Or I say something and we get into a big bedtime fight that keeps building up for days.

Now I'm focusing on changing my own emotional reaction and patterns. I've had this pattern in every relationship so far: feeling abandoned when my partner goes to sleep before I'm ready. Both previous partners have adjusted to this very easily and been present with me at night, but for my current partner this is not a realistic option.

I have always had trouble sleeping and some fear of bedtime: this might offer some explanation for the emotional pattern.

Seeing a therapist is not a realistic solution because I live in the middle of nowhere, so I need to find ways to work this out myself. Thank you.
posted by miaow to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get in bed earlier?
posted by jferg at 4:39 AM on July 8, 2016 [17 favorites]

I go to sleep at 930pm/10pm. My spouse goes to sleep at 1am or later. Cuddling is important to him. We both get in bed at 9pm and talk and cuddle until I say "sorry babe, falling asleep now." He usually gets up after this and does his thing until his bedtime. Important: he respect my "sorry this is it" & I make an effort to put in 20 min to 30 min of cuddle and talk before drifting off to sleep.
posted by CMcG at 4:47 AM on July 8, 2016 [33 favorites]

Is he physically affectionate and touchy-feely during the day? Enough to make you feel loved and wanted?

I think a two-pronged approach is required here. You are the one with the issue, so it's right that you think about carving out that time before he wants to sleep, as well as practicing mindfulness or whatever else to help you accept that he will fall asleep before you.

However, you should also think about not just the amount of 'you' time, in bed or in the evenings, but the quality of that time. It's OK to want to feel more affectionate from your partner, and to communicate that desire to him.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:03 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Go to bed earlier. Wake up earlier. Cuddle in the morning when you're both sleepy eyed and don't want to get up yet.
posted by zizzle at 5:08 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you trying to cuddle with him when you're both already in bed? When I'm in the process of falling asleep, my brain shifts into a state where any sort of interruption is unwelcome; the sort of physical contact that would be welcome during waking hours suddenly feels like static electricity. It's just my brain shutting down and has nothing to do with anything else. If your partner gets twitchy or prickly, he might have a similar reflex. (This weird brain reaction is the kind of thing that's important for a partner to communicate to you, both ahead of time and as it happens, because it's so easy to feel rebuffed.)

Cuddle before bedtime or during the day if you aren't already doing so. On the couch watching TV, do some makeouts while cooking dinner together, that sort of thing. A lot of people mentally schedule bedtime so they can fall asleep right away, and if it sounds like he's one of them.

If the two of you don't have any regular together time when you're awake, that's something you need to work out with each other. Sometimes people get caught up in work and other stuff, and downtime with partners can fall by the wayside, so it's good to recalibrate every few months. That's why some long-term couples swear by regular date nights and scheduled sexytimes and that sort of thing - you don't have to do exactly that, but figure out what works for both of you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:59 AM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I feel you on the disparate sleep schedules and how frustrating it can be, but I'm not quite understanding the leap from your partner falling asleep to abandonment. I think it's good you're looking for an alternative to fighting with your partner about this because s/he isn't doing anything wrong. Sleep is a biological imperative, and everyone's needs differ. Can you find a way to make that time when he's fallen asleep but you're still awake about self-care? It can be tricky to carve out time for ourselves in this busy world and that alone time can be awesome. Self-care could involve a variety of things. The key element is that you are doing something you enjoy and makes you feel good. It may take some time to transition emotionally, so until you get there, maybe you can journal (or sketch/paint if you're inclined towards the visual arts), how you are feeling. This would allow you to get it out and have your say, and may help you identify and address the root cause of these issues.

On the practical side, maybe my experience will help you. My partner and I have drastically different sleep schedules and needs. He goes to bed earlier than me and wakes up later. Like you, I enjoy connecting during that pre-sleep time, so I go to bed with him and have my iPhone with earphones handy so that when its lights out, I can try to fall asleep. If I don't fall asleep, I'll let myself listen to a book or music for 15 minutes. My rule is that if I'm not asleep in 15 minutes, I'll quietly get up and go into the living room. I have never actually still been awake 15 minutes later. The flipside of this is that I tend to wake up ridiculously early (and quietly get up and go into the living room). It's not ideal, but I take that time to myself to browse the internet and basically do the things I would have if I had stayed awake later the night before. I hope this is somewhat helpful & good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:11 AM on July 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

The core problem here isn't sleeping arrangements, it's that you are taking something very normal and natural (wanting to go right to sleep when you're tired) as a personal slight against you. It's okay to be bummed that your circadian rhythms aren't matching up and you're missing out on a few minutes of time you'd prefer to spend cuddling, but taking it to the level of needing to fight about it indicates something deeper going on here. Sleep is a biological necessity, not a choice that anyone makes to hurt you.

Have you thought about getting evaluated for a sleep disorder or getting some medication to help you sleep? It sounds like you feel really at a loss for what to do with yourself when everyone else is sleeping and you're not (coming at you as an Old with a kid--this is actually my favorite time of day because finally no one is bothering me and I can do whatever I want). You can approach this either by trying some techniques or medication to help you get to sleep and stay asleep, or you can reframe how you view this time as dedicated "you time" and see it as a time to connect with the things that you like to enjoy in peace and quiet rather than a time in which you must sequester yourself, alone and awake, as some kind of punishment.

I pimp these out here all the time, but do you know about sleep headphones? Sleep headphones + podcasts/books on tape, for me = a way to stay in bed with my partner, not bothering him (he has a condition that causes him to need more sleep than me), but also not sleeping, and also enjoying myself.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:30 AM on July 8, 2016 [18 favorites]

Can you be more flexible in when you get your cuddle time? Cuddling on/in bed can happen at any time, it doesn't have to be at just bedtime. My husband and I sometimes just lay on the bed and cuddle after supper or even while supper is cooking. Also, he tends to fall asleep way before me so nighttime cuddling doesn't always work out, so instead he has the alarm set for about 10 minutes before we actually need to get up and we have our morning cuddles. I actually love our morning cuddles, starts the day really wonderfully.

We also tend to crash out pretty early in the evening and are often too sleepy for sex at bedtime, so when possible we have sex earlier. During the week as soon as the kid is asleep we go have sex, then afterwards we go watch an episode of Downton Abbey or whatever. On the weekends mid afternoon sex isn't uncommon. Sex, like cuddling, doesn't have to happen just before you go to sleep.

Also, our "What did you like today" thing is a great thing that we do every single night for almost 3 years now which results in ending every day appreciating each other and connecting. It doesn't take long, but it is frankly a bucket full of awesomeness.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:35 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey, I just wanted to say that I get you on the resenting your partner for falling asleep before you/feeling abandoned. I used to feel this way, but then I just... got over it? Because it's really not reasonable, and there's not much he can do about it (he falls asleep faster than me, and that is just kind of the way it is).

I'm not sure how long it took, but we've been together for almost 3 years, living together for 2, so sometime in there.

You know what, going from a Queen size bed to a King might have helped a lot. His sleeping doesn't feel as "in my face" when he's another 10-12 inches away.
posted by mskyle at 6:42 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

First off, your self awareness is impressive. Good for you for understanding that this is your issue, and your problem to solve. That right there is the biggest indicator that you will be able to fix this. Have you considered getting a comfort animal like a small dog, that you could cuddle with before going to bed? Is there something that you could add to your evening routine that would make you feel better? We all have a love language. Do you know what yours is? It usually isn't just one thing. Yes, time with someone is big for you but do you also respond to small gifts? Could you purchase really nice bath things for yourself and treat yourself to a bath every night?

If you haven't tried journaling, then do. When you start to have these feelings, just write. You will eventually get to the root of them and then you can deal with that hurt.

This question was a trigger for me. My ex tried to control me by not allowing me to sleep or eat when he was angry with me. It was a way to wear me down until I agreed with him in all ways. It was horrible and nightmarish. Please, whatever you do, do not deny someone their basic needs like sleep, food, or going to the bathroom. This can be very traumatic for them.

You can beat this. You can heal from past wounds and change your nighttime focus from your needs to his. And there is nothing at all wrong with sleeping in separate bedrooms.
posted by myselfasme at 7:43 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

My boyfriend is a shift worker - even when he is on days they are very early days and so he is prone to falling asleep shortly after dinner if we're relaxing on a couch or bed, and it used to bother me more than it does now.
Conversely when he's on nights he stays up way later than my bedtime and that caused some hurt feelings early on as well because I don't like waking up alone in the middle of the night (when he's home) and it was triggering some old abandonment/trust issues for me.

It's nice that your past boyfriends were able to adjust to your preferences but for people who NEED THEIR SLEEP (and I am one), it's a recipe for grumpiness and resentment. It has nothing to do with how he feels for you (unless he's a jerk in other ways).

We don't live together but here are some things that have helped us:
-couples hammock time (he has a strong and comfy porch hammock for two set up) - we go there after dinner, I get awesome cuddles, he can doze off and we're both happy. He's fine shifting to his bedroom later. I'll sneak my iphone on or a book so I can read while he sleeps. I credit the hammock for solving a lot of relationship issues on my end actually - he wasn't a big cuddler early on but realized how much it helped me relax and feel close to him and now it's our thing
-he is fine falling asleep with his arm/arms around me, I can't talk to him but it's still comforting, if I can't fall asleep I extricate myself when I'm ready to get back up
-prioritizing sex before dinner as needed
-quality dinner times - no phones, cooking together, eating at a table, sitting and enjoying the time to talk and relax, occasional dates where we go to a restaurant with a nice atmosphere
-hand/arm/wrist contact during said dinners
-lots of hugs and kisses
-me recognizing how damned tired he is all the time (he's not a complainer) and wanting him to get the rest he needs, I can't be mad when I connect to my concerns for his health and well-being
-when I'm really tired, reflecting on how that affects my mood and sense of connection to my boyfriend, it keeps me from taking it personally when things feel a bit off because he's too tired to be playful
-feeling like my boyfriend understands where my emotions are coming from and seeing him trying to meet my needs by offering me the above things as needed, and him also understanding that I don't want to make him suffer, I'm just having feelings and am taking responsibility for them
posted by lafemma at 7:49 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Falling asleep while laying down in bed is pretty uncontrollable for most people. I have been on the other side of this where my partner got mad at me for falling asleep and I felt it was like getting mad at someone for sneezing. Sure there are some steps I can take to try to stop it, but at some point my body takes over and I can't stay awake. It seems like you accept that this is what he needs, but if you remind yourself that he can't even stop it from happening, that may help.
posted by soelo at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of surprised how sympathetic people are being with you. I need a lot of sleep. Sleep is really important to your health. It feels great to fall asleep when you're tired. If my partner was resenting me sleeping or falling asleep, I'd be baffled and probably ticked off. If someone kept trying to cuddle with me when I'd said I needed to sleep, I'd start sleeping elsewhere. I've actually gotten up and slept on the floor once when this happened.

This is like getting mad at someone for being hungry on a regular basis, or like another poster said, for sneezing.

More sympathetically, have you heard of the Five Love Languages? It sounds to me like you need more physical touch/intimacy in your relationship (or maybe it's even a quality time sort of connection?) and you're looking for it when you get to bed. If this resonates with you, can you talk to your partner about it? When my partner and I looked through this simple list of how we like to give and receive love and then talked about it, our relationship improved a lot. It might give you the framework you need to be able to say, "hey I need cuddles" well before he's ready to pass out.

For the "feeling abandoned" aspect--if you can't get to therapy, you could try journaling about it, but I think I'd try just sitting with it, in the meditation sense. A therapist gave me this exercise for feelings--try to locate the feeling in your body and just feel it, be there with it. By paying attention to it and allowing it to exist, it often passes faster than if you try to deny it or stuff it down. Not fun but worth a try.
posted by purple_bird at 8:50 AM on July 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you need to research and experiment and try some different bedtime strategies to find something else to keep you comforted when you are going to bed. Maybe a hot water bottle or heating pad? I sometimes heat up one of those microwaveable neck wraps and bring it to bed with me when it's cold, and it's very comforting. I also listen to white noise from my phone using Sleep Phones which is so soothing.
posted by radioamy at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2016

Me and my partner had this problem (it never got to fighting, though).

We solved it by developing a routine where we talk about the day at the end of the day. We ask ourselves a few of the same questions each night, the sorts of things people journal about. This gives him a guaranteed end point to the conversation, so it meets his needs, and it gives me a conversation at the end of the night, so it meets mine, too.
posted by aniola at 9:23 AM on July 8, 2016

Can you clarify whether you're getting enough physical affection/quality time/sex to meet your needs during the rest of the day? The solution to your problem will be very different if your emotional reaction is caused by an overall lack of physical/emotional attention vs. a specific bedtime emotional trigger.

I say that based on experience - I had a similar need for connection at bedtime in all my previous relationships, but now that I'm finally in a relationship with someone very physically affectionate, it's not a big deal when we go to bed separately (although it's still not my preference). I think I was (mostly unconsciously) thinking of bedtime as the "last chance" to connect physically or emotionally or sexually after missing out on it all day. Maybe your situation is similar? If so, I would put a lot of effort into improving your connection during the day. Non-accusatory discussion with your partner (i.e. focusing on resolving your unmet needs, not on what he's doing "wrong") would really help, if you haven't already been doing that.
posted by randomnity at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2016

OP, could you pop back in to describe your work/home schedules a bit? It seems a lot of answers are assuming there are missed opportunities to connect with your partner before bedtime.

I'm extremely sympathetic. As much as I like my alone time, I too spent years feeling abandoned when my husband "left me" in favor of sleep. I realize some commenters can't fathom that, but this doesn't make your feelings less real. They're feelings. Feelings are real, and getting to the root of them is much more important than anyone saying you're right or wrong to feel what you feel.

Are you anxious, generally? Do you feel that your partner's other interests consistently get priority over you? (Again, it would help to know whether there are times your partner is available to you.) Is this all about physical connectedness, or are there things you want to discuss with your sleepy partner?

If you can answer these questions, I think more specific advice might be available.
posted by whoiam at 10:13 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

not denying the validity of your needs. however, if your partner is falling asleep that's because tired. and tired == full of brain poison and out of energy.

this is simply not a time when quality attention is available to him - nor you. so staying-awake-as-a-matter-of-character seems counter-productive.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:25 AM on July 8, 2016

I'm a little confused about the logistics of what is happening. The way I understand it is that you and partner both come home, do your evening things (maybe together, maybe separate), then go to bed, where partner falls asleep very quickly and while you stay up (and maybe leave the room).

If that's true, then you might try getting your cuddle time in before bedtime. If it's more that partner comes home goes straight to be then falls asleep, that's trickier.

Either way though, I don't think it would be unreasonable for you to ask for some small amount of time - maybe 5-15 minutes, for cuddling. Maybe that means bedtime is 5-15 minutes earlier, or maybe partner can stay awake for 5-15 minutes after getting into bed. But the trick is that it needs to be a defined period of time (set a timer!), and you can't start asking for "Just 1 more minute" or anything like that if he agrees to it.

You also need to be able to forgive his falling asleep during the "cuddling" time. Because he will be tired, and probably cuddling will be very relaxing and comfortable for him. So no scorekeeping or demanding make-up minutes or poking him awake. It should be enough for you to know that he is trying.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:41 AM on July 8, 2016

My partner and I do cuddle/talk/hangout time at times when we're both rested and able to give the other person our full mental energy. We don't wait till we're in bed with the light off with one person literally dozing off after a long day of hard work.

Is this a source of conflict because you guys don't have a lot of that sort of time in your lives, in general? If so, can you mentally "schedule" it for earlier in the evening, or times when sleep is not a factor? (For example I really relish lazy weekend mornings with my partner.)

Is this a source of conflict because you feel like your partner doesn't value private hangout time with you in general, and is using sleep as an "excuse" to avoid spending undistracted time together? I think this might be a bit more complicated than just "change up the schedule", though I think the first step is probably to say (NOT as they are drifting off!), "I feel like we don't have enough unstructured time for just the two of us, to talk, cuddle, do whatever. It doesn't have to happen at night right when you're trying to sleep, but could we try carving out some time for just the two of us?" If the response to this is negative, I think you have way deeper relationship problems than the scope of this question.

If this is really just a "my partner is tired and I'm not" question, is there a reason this is always the case? In the absence of mandatory unchangeable sleep incompatibilities, I would probably just shift my bedtime to be earlier to preserve the snuggle time.
posted by Sara C. at 11:46 AM on July 8, 2016

It sounds to me like the cuddling is only half the problem. The other half is your abandonment issues. In addition to whatever you do with your partner, think hard about how you can take of yourself and particularly comfort yourself when you are alone in your awareness. Maybe a photo album of pictures that remind you how much your partner loves you so you can tell yourself he still loves you even when asleep? Maybe he could buy you a stuffed animal to keep you company and cuddle with you on his behalf? Maybe cuddling up under a blanket and reading a favorite book or comic or watching some TV that feels like an indulgence - something that special that you do for yourself only in this "alone" time?

Just playing arm-chair psychologist but I'm guessing you had some bad early childhood stuff that makes it hard to believe that you are still loved even when the loving figure is out of the room that comes up, now that you are an adult, during the vulnerable time at night. What would comfort that little child and is there a way that you do that for yourself? That's the nice thing about inner child problems - unlike your real childhood self, your inner child gets to have YOU as a loving adult to take care of them.
posted by metahawk at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Some people find that the transition into or out of sleep makes them irritable, or makes them emotional. Typically people wake up grumpy and hate everything until they are fully awake. It's possible that around the time that the time of day is signalling that you need to crawl into your shelter with your den mates you get anxious and sad and the anxiety keeps you awake.

So start a soothing ritual that is a treat that you do on those nights when partner falls asleep early. Get a specially snuggly blanket that feels like a teddy bear, get some shower jel that smells just right and soothing. Find some calming zen type of music that makes you feel weightless - something like Abbess Hildegard's Feather on the Breath of God - And buy some books of the sort you wouldn't usually invest in, of the kind that make you feel good, weather they are versions of the Fireside Book or Chicken Soup for the Whatever Soul or implausible wish fulfillment fantasies. And invest in a box of gourmet hot chocolate mix.

Reserve all these things for the nights when partner falls asleep. Give your self a wonderful present. Don't just pick one, figure out half a dozen things like that and make them the treat you get when you have an opportunity to fall asleep alone.

Explain the situation to your partner, and get him to make a very special point of doing something loving for your when you are both awake the next morning - making breakfast, or combing your hair, or telling you what personality trait of yours he likes best and why, etc.

Make a plan. A concrete plan. Don't just try to not be miserable when it happens, look after yourself. When you feel confident that you can look after your mood drop yourself you will find it easier to remember it is a transient thing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Reg. requests for clarification, I think this should be treated as a specific bedtime thing. I do find it easier to focus on his needs and not feel hurt when we've had an especially cuddly/connected day, but overall it is an independent trigger.
posted by miaow at 1:45 PM on July 8, 2016

I think you're talking about two different things: bedtime, and "fall-asleep" time. For him, those two are the same thing. He get into bed at the time when he wants to fall asleep, and so he falls asleep when he gets into bed. For you, they are two different things. Bedtime is a time to connect (which I'll use as a catchall for cuddling and talking and sex and whatever else you want from him at what is now your bedtime), and fall-asleep time happens some time after all that connecting is done. So if you want to go to sleep at the same time he does, you need to adjust your fall-asleep time to match his. And if you want to connect, you need to do that before his fall-asleep time.

So, the solution here is clearly for you to adjust your fall-asleep time to fall asleep when he does. Then, figure out together how to make sure that you get your connection time at some time that isn't right at fall-asleep time, whether that's right before fall-asleep time or at some other time. Because connection time is movable for both of you. But for your partner, fall-asleep time is not movable, so if you want to have the same fall-asleep time, you need to change yours. Then, if you still need more connection time, you'll be able to address that with him independent of the issue of his sleep.
posted by decathecting at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the issue is not super deep-seated in childhood trauma, you may be able to logic yourself out of the situation. In that situation, I would tell myself, "My partner falling asleep is a biological necessity, not something he's choosing to do to abandon me. I know he loves me because he expresses it in these ways: [list ways I feel loved]. He will be better able to participate in this relationship with me if he is well-rested and energized. Because I love him, I want him to take care of himself, which includes getting adequate sleep." I would add behavioral techniques, as well, like those mentioned above: Finding something else to cuddle (cat, dog, toy, blanket), doing "alone time" indulgent things, etc.

If the issue is super deep-seated in childhood trauma, I would work harder on finding a therapist. Or using my next AskMe question to get recommendations for books on whatever the underlying issue is. Feeling abandoned because one's partner goes to sleep, as a pattern of relationship behavior, points to some serious cognitive distortions and/or traumas, and solving the problem will likely involve fairly deep work, not just band-aid solutions. Therapy is the generally accepted Western-style way of doing that work, but yoga, meditation, spiritual practices, journaling, inner-child work, and other avenues are certainly available, but it's hard to suggest one without knowing what the underlying issue is. (And if you don't know, either, meditating or journaling or praying on that might be a helpful option.)
posted by lazuli at 5:47 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone
posted by miaow at 12:05 AM on July 12, 2016

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