My wife has trouble sleeping. Some of it is her fault. She drinks loads of coffee and green tea and stresses out over every little thing. If I go to the couch to sleep, she takes it personally, like I’m abandoning her. She picks a fight and won’t let me sleep. I’m so tired at work that by the time I come home I can’t listen to her. She notices and gets angry. She’s convinced I don’t care, don’t love her, want to leave. It’s wearing me out. I’ve asked her to stop drinking caffeinated drinks. I don’t know what else to do. Advice?
Yes, I’m sending you and your wife on a journey to reclaim your health. Eliminating caffeinated drinks is a hot take. The core issue is your wife’s unregulated anxiety. Some of it may feel beyond her control, and that’s okay. But it would be helpful if she learned to manage her most potentially debilitating thoughts. Here’s my map: When a stressful thought crosses the horizon of my mind, I have options. If I’m feeling strong, I can choose to companion that lie and see where it goes. If I’m struggling, I might watch the thought breed until I’m overwhelmed, even paralyzed.
Alternately, I can question the veracity of my negative thought and kill it in its tracks—at least for the moment. Most of us recycle our thoughts, so negative ones may repeat. But each time I confront one lie, I exercise my capacity to slay. Eventually, the mind avoids automatically believing in and acting on thoughts that can harm me.
Don’t get me wrong—I do think your wife needs to gradually eliminate caffeinated drinks. She should practice sensible sleep hygiene, too: disengaging from electronics (cell phone, iPad, laptop, television, etc.) at least three hours before bedtime. No television in the bedroom. No liquids (including alcohol) two to four hours before bedtime. Sleep on a bed with clean sheets and pillowcases, in a room with fresh air or a circulating fan. Use a night mask and an earplug in at least one ear. A warm shower or bath before bedtime will soothe the mind, body and spirit. (Pro tip: Add four drops of pure lavender essential oil in the tub or rub it on your temples—avoid eyes and mucous membranes. Ahhhh, serenity!)
Sleeping next to our partners should feel sensuous and comforting. But sleep deprivation leaves us jittery, irritable and quick to snap at others. So until you and your wife can transform the bedroom into neutral ground, sleep in separate rooms. When she complains that you’ve abandoned her, say this: “I am here with you. I love you, but I don’t love the cranky man I become when I don’t sleep well. It makes me unable to be the partner I want to be.” Say it again and again. If your wife has a tantrum, don’t engage. Walk away but don’t leave the house. When she calms down, suggest seeing a therapist. Your wife needs help to excavate her most primal fears of being alone so she can trust herself to fall asleep and rest.