ADHD and Marriage: The Politics of Bedtime

Do you find yourself uptight about whether or not your spouse’s sleeping schedule matches yours?  Does going to bed at night together put you on edge?  Are you unsure how to communicate about how close you want to be (or don’t want to be)?  You may be suffering from an experience similar to the one my husband and I had.

Going to bed used to be a stressful time for us – I was unhappy that he never made it to bed at the same time as I did, he was unhappy that I was moody and cranky when he finally did get there.  Sex was politicized in too many ways to list.  I was so upset with him in general that just being near him put my senses at high alert (and not in a good way!).  Needless to say, it was hard to fall asleep and hard to stay asleep.  Our problem was compounded by a bad habit that I had of trying to get him to talk with me about our issues right before bed.  A bad idea, as we were both tired and these conversations often added to our distress.

In retrospect, I can see that much of the stress came from the fact that I felt his sleep patterns were a comment on our relationship, and I resented what I interpreted those actions meant.  He didn’t want to come to bed at 10?  That must mean that he doesn’t care to be with me.  He won’t read a book with me in bed?  He doesn’t like to share with me.  He takes a long time getting ready for bed, and makes me “wait” for him, even if we start getting ready for bed at the same time?  That must mean he’s rude and goofing around (again!).  These are just a few of these things which could make me angry and hurt, and by the time he really did get into bed I was just plain “prickly”.  Getting into bed was psychologically painful for me, and it was like walking into a minefield for him!

While one solution might be to move to another room, I wouldn’t suggest that as a first (or even a second) option.  Couples need the opportunity to touch each other and to gain reassurance from each other, and the bedroom is often a place to gain this even if you aren’t having sex.

No, first try reinterpreting what is going on.  My husband’s sleep patterns weren’t a comment on our relationship (at least not at first!).  He didn’t come to bed at 10 because he wasn’t tired then.  He didn’t read in bed with me because, like many people with ADD, it’s not a pleasure for him to read.  He wasn’t dawdling in the bathroom to spite me…he’s just never as efficient as I am when getting ready for bed.

And now I know better than to try to discuss really important matters at bedtime.  It’s not fair to either one of us to have to think clearly when our bodies are ready to shut down.  Now if we have something important to talk about, we set a time during the day.

So does having a partner with ADD mean that you’ll never go to bed together or enjoy that time?  No, not at all.  We’re a case in point.  Now that I accept his habits as ADD, rather than a comment on “us”, things have improved greatly.  I no longer feel stressed by our different habits and, because I’m not stressed, he finds it easier to meet me part way.  No more landmines to worry about!  He does enjoy reading in bed sometimes now, though not because he loves reading.  Rather, he likes the physical warmth of being next to me under the covers and a chilly evening.  (Who says we have to enjoy reading in bed for the same reason??!)

He’s a slow reader.  Combine this with his night owl tendencies, and I often find that I’m ready to turn out the lights before he is.  Rather than worry about whether this will keep me from sleeping, I’ll stay near him (and satisfyingly warm!), but roll over, put in some ear plugs and close my eyes.  He can keep going, and we both get the satisfaction of some shared time together.  (And the earplugs seem to do the trick in terms of blocking him out – a good example of a new approach to an old problem).

I also no longer worry about whether we “arrive” in bed at the same time.  In fact, he keeps a flashlight handy for those nights when I’m really, really tired.  He can find his way to bed without waking me up if I’ve turned out all the lights (our signal not to wake me).  He knows that the dark room doesn’t mean I’m mad (as it used to), only tired.

All of this helps both of us sleep better, which means that we are much more likely to wake up with a smile on our faces…well, okay, if not a smile, at least we aren’t mad!

What’s changed?  Well, because I don’t interpret his actions as acts against me, I no longer try to control his sleep habits and, while we both benefit from this, I swear I have gained even more from the changes I’ve made than he has.  Once again the bedroom has become a safe haven.  We both look forward to snuggling in bed – and arriving there is possibly one of the nicest parts of our day.  We don’t always get there at the same time, but more and more we do.  It has become a special time to say nice things to each other, touch, and be happy.  Five years ago I would never have believed it possible.