Are you bickering more after kids? Blame sleep.

Research shows that despite the joys of having children in our lives, they also demand so much of us as parents. From lack of time alone, to making demands every minute, to tantrums and picky eating to changing whims from one second to the next but the biggest culprit to those small battles you have with your partner is the lack of sleep.

Dr. Stephanie Wilson out of Southern Methodist University has studied the effects of lack of sleep on marital conflict. She says that when both partners are sleep deprived the squabbling is worse, if only one partner is lacking sleep then it’s not as bad. That’s because lack of sleep makes it more difficult to regulate our emotional responses, which means, it’s more difficult to see a situation from your partner’s point of view especially during a conflict. Being able to see a situation from your partner’s point of view is what Dr. John Gottman refers to as “accepting Influence.” Instead of arguing for your point of view, taking a step back and listening to what your partner’s subjective reality is, is accepting influence. In addition, Dr. Wilson explains that when both partners are extremely tired, neither can give the other the benefit of the doubt.

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Yes, please!

In other words: discussions are more likely to devolve into criticism and defensiveness.

Criticism and defensiveness are two of the four negative reactions that can put relationships in danger, according to Gottman. Once you start having negative interactions with your partner it’s like a black hole — it’s easier to enter that negative space than to exit it.

So what’s the solution? Positive interactions and more of them. Dr. Gottman, calls these interactions as “bids” and “turns” — based on the idea that responding to a “bid” for connection means deciding whether to turn toward or away from your partner. Turning toward is positive and opening the door to communication and turning away is essentially turning your back on your partner and stopping all communication. It is simple: You just have to throw out a bid such as “How was your day?” or “I heard a great joke today?” and your partner simply has to respond to you with a turn telling you about his day, or asking to hear that joke. This may seem overly simplistic, but these easy gestures really help you feel connected, especially when you don’t have the time or energy to have more in-depth conversations.

Lack of sleep makes it easier to fall into negative communication patterns such as using criticism and defensiveness. So, decide to take some responsibility for part of the problem and resist getting sucked into that black hole of blaming and unhappiness. Show appreciation and turn towards your partner as much as you can. You will see the closeness you feel for each other grow.

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