Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Stay Married on Two Hours of Sleep

Note:  I am a caring nurturer, a member of an online support group, but not a licensed therapist.

Friends sometimes ask how we do it.  With all the stress and pressure and lack of sleep, how do we make our marriage work?  When asked this question, I smile and take another sip of coffee and say, "Sorry, I spaced out for a bit there.  What was the question?"

The truth is we fuck up all the time.  Hopefully, we learn from it, and find new and inventive ways of fucking up.

The sleep issue goes way back.  One of the first major meltdowns we had over sleep was when our older son was a newborn.  My husband is a very heavy sleeper--nothing bothers him.  I, on the other hand, wake up when a moth farts on a tree outside.

One particularly awful winter night, the baby was crying and crying and I tried everything to calm him down.  Diaper.  Bottle.  Swaddle.  Unswaddle.  Rocking, singing, and pacing the floor.  Nothing worked.  I was reaching the end of my patience when I remembered the words of the nurse: "No baby ever died from crying."  I needed a break.  I put him down in his crib and went to my husband for back-up.

"I need your help.  He won't stop crying," I said.  My husband continued snoring.
"Please, wake up!" I begged.  I shook him.  "I need help!  He won't stop crying!"
"All right!  All right!" he yelled, and rolled over and put the pillow over his head.  Meanwhile, the baby continued wailing from the other room.

I was furious.  I decided I was going to dump a bucket of ice water on the bastard if he didn't get up.

"WAKE UP!" I yelled.  He kept sleeping.  Fine, then.  Ice water it is.  I grabbed hold of the doorknob and yanked the door of our bedroom open, only to discover that the hinges were loose.  The door came out of the frame and landed on the top of my bare foot.

"OWWWW!" I shrieked, and let go of the door.  There was this huge BAM! as the door went crashing to the ground, the baby cried louder, and I hopped up and down on one foot, cursing and crying.  My husband didn't stir.

"WAKE. THE FUCK. UP!"  I grabbed the first thing I could find--a water bottle--and hurled it, not at him, but at the window next to him.  The glass, which was not double-paned, shattered.  January wind and snow gusted into the room.

My husband stirred a bit and opened one eye.  "Did you open a window?"  he asked.

"No, I broke the window, and the door, and if you don't get up, you're next!"

     *     *     *
We've gotten better since then.

Still, it's hard.  We both work outside the home, so there's no opportunity to nap during the day.  And as hard as it is to care for a sleepless newborn, at least they're not mobile.  They don't wake up and jump on the dog.  They don't butter the couch and cover themselves with every bandaid in the house.  They don't climb the furniture, break lamps, or go outside to fetch handfuls of snow to put in our bed.  Sleepless ASD kids are just harder, and it's too easy to get exhausted and angry, but we do our best.  My husband and I have guidelines that we try to follow, and we're both guilty of violating them.  I'm here to share our "wisdom" (whaa-whaa-whaa) with you.

1.  Take turns. Duh, but a lot of people don't.  The key here is to have shifts.  It makes no sense for you both to be popping out of bed every 15 minutes.  Try to have shifts so that each person isn't on duty all night, and you both can have some sleep.  We generally do two-hour blocks.  Any more than that can be scary.

2.  Work out the schedule ahead of time.  We hardly ever do this, but it works when we do.  For example, last night I knew it was all on me.  My husband had to get up early this morning, and we have no school, so it was my job.  (Last night was so effin' miserable that I've already told my husband that tonight I'm taking two Tylenol PMs and going on soma holiday.)

3.  When you're on duty, protect the sleep of your partner.  Besides keeping your kid safe, that's the most important thing you can do.  Who's going to relieve you when you're burnt out?  Close the bedroom door and take the noisy kid somewhere else.

4.  Don't be a fucking martyr.  When it's your turn, and you hear a noise, get up and take care of it.  Don't throw the covers back in a melodramatic fashion and go stomping out of the bedroom.  (See Rule #3)  Don't come back in the bedroom and rant about whatever the kid is doing wrong.  It's your turn.  Don't grumble about how hard your life is.  You both live in the same house.

5.  Ask for help when you need it.  Sometimes patience runs out before your shift does, and you need help.  Sometimes you walk into a perfect storm of smeared poop, maple syrup, and dog vomit.  When these things happen, and you're going to lose it, ask for help.  And Sleeper?  Get up.  This is an emergency.  (See Rule #4) 

6.  Say "Thank You."  It's really important.  I cannot overstate this.

When things go well, we can laugh about his exploits the next day.  When they don't, we know we're in this together.  We pour the coffee and hug it out and hope for a better night soon.


  1. This is pretty much EXACTLY how my husband and I stay married. Oh, and we say 'I'm sorry' a whole lot, and forgive each other and ourselves a whole lot. Humility is a great thing to learn during this autism-parenting life. We try to foolproof our routines, too. Somedays, the fool is me!

  2. Great post. It's such a team effort. I came to visit the blog today because I'm on day 6 of solo duty with five kids, one of whom is on the spectrum. Also, all the kids were off school Friday, Monday, Tuesday and tomorrow because of the negative wind chill. Also one of them got stomach flu. Also I'm super grumpy now and looking at vacation cottage rentals. And DH's flight got canceled twice.

  3. Oh, dear! Good luck, friend!


    I don't know if you can see it but this shirt made me think fondly of you! "I'm an intelligent, classy, well-educated woman who says "FUCK" a lot." Thanks for sharing the exploits and making us all feel less alone!

  5. My amazing friend, I love you to pieces. Great post! xoxo