The XX Factor

The Real Reason You and Your Partner Fight So Much

It’s not you. It’s my insomnia.

Photo by Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Couples who don’t get enough sleep fight more, and that’s bad: That’s the conclusion of a new study from UC Berkley published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. “Couples who fight more are less happy and less healthy,” explained researcher Amie Gordon. “Our research helps illuminate one factor that leads couples to engage in unnecessary and harmful conflict by showing that couples experience more frequent and severe conflicts after sleepless nights.”

This is kind of a “no duh,” but in addition to solidifying for people what they already know, these findings can actually have policy implications. After all, there’s been a lot of public chatter and political campaigns built around conservative anxieties about the rising rates of single motherhood and serial monogamy outside of marriage. Conservatives generally recommend marriagethe younger you can seal the deal, the better—as some sort of magic-bullet solution for this problem, if you even agree it is a problem. Unfortunately that probably wouldn’t do much more than raise the divorce rate again, putting those who are really worried about people having multiple relationships in their lifetime back to square one.  

Maybe then the real question is: Why is it so hard for so many people to hold together relationships in modern America? It’s not feminism, and it’s not gay marriage—maybe it’s a lack of sleep! With this study in hand, we can say with far more certainty that it’s a contributing factor to relationship strife. Americans are overworked, underpaid, and stressed out all the time. Unsurprisingly, it’s causing them not to sleep very well. Thirty percent of the workforce is chronically under-rested, getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Clearly, these people are also picking more fights with loved ones, which might be breaking up relationships. We know what kind of policy solutions help fix that problem—raising taxes on the rich is an excellent starting point—so if you’re really serious about making sure people have fewer overall sex partners, I mean, more stable relationships, then stop bellyaching about wedding rings and start working for a more progressive tax structure and better institutional supports for all different kinds of families. 

And yes, by all means, go to bed earlier. No one likes a grump.