Montclair Local Voices’ Ask Task: Is it Normal to Sleep Separately?

Dear Allison,

My husband and I have a healthy marriage. We go on date nights about three times a month. On the weekends, we are intimate. No matter how tired my husband is after work, he always spends quality time with our son. And before fully winding down for the evening, he makes sure bills are paid and family matters are discussed.

But once it’s 9 p.m., he wants to sit on the couch, have a drink and watch TV. We don’t enjoy the same shows so we prefer being in separate areas of the house. Inevitably my husband falls asleep on the couch and comes to our marital bed around 4 a.m.

When we are in bed together, we rarely touch or snuggle. We each desire being left alone. I do feel there is a societal expectation that married couples go to bed around the same time, lay together and should want be comforted by each other’s presence as they drift to sleep. I worry that our desire to be alone, not snuggle and sleep in different areas of the house might lead to marital issues in the future. What are healthy habits for couples on sharing a marital bed while maintaining a personal desire to unwind in different ways?

Thanks for your help.

Separate Together

Dear Separate,

So much good stuff here! Thank you. Here are the concerns I’m reading: 1) the societal expectation for how married couples interact “in bed”; 2) a general state of contentment with your current weekday bedtime routine; and 3) concern for what this “slippery slope” may lead to. Plus, a general curiosity as to general healthy sleep habits for couples.

Let’s start with healthy sleep habits for couples. As it’s said, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors.” Different cultures and different couples do things differently. In Norway, for example, couples sleep with separate comforters, two twin-sized comforters in a king- or queen-sized bed. This recognizes that each individual has different sleep needs. There are mattresses available that recognize the sleep needs of individuals, from sitting up to lying down to the strength of the coil. Hard to snuggle in those situations, too.

In some situations where there are sleep challenges, like different wake-up times due to work, heavy snoring or sleep apnea, the couples have made a move back to twin beds in the same room. Sometimes, when couples are managing the nighttime waking habits of young children, one member of the couple sleeps in the guest room (or on the couch) while the other sleeps in the marital bed, in hopes that someone may get a good night’s sleep.

There are cultural and situational precedents for sleeping separately. Everyone knows the importance of a good night’s sleep for health. So if sleeping separately offers that, it’s ultimately a good thing for you as individuals and for your partnership. Well-slept, happy partners can continue to foster a healthy marriage, and shag it up on the weekends.

Is the pre-bedtime routine really working for you? You say that your husband has a drink in front of the TV to wind down. How much is he drinking? Why is he falling asleep in front of the TV? That’s generally not a healthy sleep routine, as drinking even one drink per night will impact his sleep, and passing out on the couch instead of going to bed intentionally has an impact as well, especially if he’s coming to bed at 4 a.m. Also, does that 4 a.m. entry disturb your sleep?

Since you enjoy your date nights, I wonder if you could also do a weekly media date night at home where you watch something together. Find something you like in common, a good comedy, or some political satire? Watch it together outside the bedroom, then head to bed together. Sweet dreams.

Dear Allison,

My husband and I are almost too into our 1-year-old daughter. We’re older parents (I’m 40, he’s 45), and she was very much wanted after multiple rounds of assisted reproductive technology. We fight over who gets to hold her, feed her, bathe her. We sometimes do it together but that feels somehow less satisfying than doing it solo. How do learn how to share our baby?

Everyday I come home exhausted. I work all day, cook dinner, and take care of the baby. After I put her to bed, I slump on the sofa, catatonic, processing my crazy day. I know I should be doing yoga instead of surfing the web. Something energizing, not draining. But I can’t stop, even though my thumbs are sore from scrolling, and my eyes glazed over. How can I get the energy to get energized?

Baby Crazy

Dear Crazy,

Well look at that. Your first paragraph is about not wanting to share your delicious baby, and the second is about how exhausted you are. You’ve identified the solution yourself!

Since you say that taking care of the baby together is less satisfying than doing it alone, could you take turns? Monday and Tuesday you take the lead, Wednesday and Thursday he takes the lead? This could give you an opportunity to recharge, and have the “energy to get energized,” as you say. Instead of being at home, you can take that yoga class, or see a friend. Keeping your nondomestic social life active is important for your happiness, and can be energizing.

Perhaps you can split the chores so that on nights where he takes the lead with the baby, you cook dinner and vice versa. Everyone doing everything isn’t the best use of your time or energy. Splitting up responsibilities is more efficient so there is less energy leakage.

This parenting thing … it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Your daughter will be with you in your home for 18 more years, likely more. She’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You need your energy to parent, wife, and be your best self.

As for that phone — your eyes are glazing and yet you can’t look away. So let me ask you: If your daughter was doing what you’re doing, at 13, how would you handle it? I’m guessing the responsibility of the cell phone, which we know is addictive, would come with some ground rules, like … no cell phone in your bed at night, no cell phone after 9 p.m., etc.

So what are some healthy ground rules that you could set for yourself? Maybe use a timer, so that you’re not on Facebook for more than 10 minutes at a time? You’re a parent, decide what you think is appropriate and then follow the rules.

And establish consequences if the rules aren’t followed, like … maybe you lose baby privileges for the night. Mother the mother, mama.

Montclair Local Voices’ Ask Task: “I don’t want to have sex”

Dear Allison,

I just don’t want to have sex with my husband any more. There I’ve said it. I like him, I love him, he’s a great father and partner. I’m just not into sex. I’m still nursing (our fourth child), and I get enough physical stimulation. I know he’s disappointed about it, but I just can’t bring myself to have sex.
— Sexless in the Suburbs

Dear Sexless,
Thanks for going there. I can assure you you’re not alone. And I’m going to guess that your husband would like more sex, and the sex drive gap is what’s bothering you. Let’s start big: have you considered an open marriage? Many have and do (yep, right here in Montclair), while others are completely opposed. Just putting that out there.

Marital sex can be a natural extension of love and connection. Do you have ample opportunity to connect with your husband? Other than the logistics of running a household with four (!) kids, are you able to connect in a couple bubble just the two of you? Are your needs being met? How’s everybody’s grooming, yours included? Do you get dressed and use the bathroom privately or is everything just hanging out a little too much?

Many, many Montclairites swear by the Five Love Languages (5lovelanguages.com). They offer a quick, free test that you and your partner can both take to see which type of love you like to receive.
You’ve been sharing your body with four tenants (and one is still nursing!). Before you can get back to partner intimacy, you may just need some time to reclaim yourself.

Please write again in a couple months and let us know what of this you put to use and how it’s turned out.

Dear Allison,
My neighbor is a nightmare. Loud, rude, curses at her kids all the time, screaming at all hours of the night. She’s a SAHM [stay at home mom], husband is always at work, kids are 5, 7 and 10. They paid more than a million for a crumbling house. Late bonfires, smoke wafts into my house. Loud dogs who bark constantly, and seem to be let out starting at 6 a.m. until midnight. I’ve lived here for five years, she’s lived here for one. I’ve tried talking with her, I even brought her a goddamn casserole when she moved in. Nothing but bad vibes.

What can I do? I’m out of ideas.
— Mad in Montclair

Dear Mad,
Ooof. This is a hard one. You found the house, and all was well until…bad neighbors.

Good fences DO make good neighbors: do you have a fence? Is it thick, high? Does it deaden the barking from the dogs and the mom? That’s a place to start.

It’s hard to be home alone without your partner, as the primary caretaker for the kids. Does she have friends that come by? Does she have any help with the kids? I know … it’s about you, not about her, but I can’t help but think she isn’t happy and is acting out.

A home-cooked meal and a bottle of wine may help. Or you may be way past that point.

Bad neighbors have ruined many a good home. And Montclair ordinances err on the side of expecting neighbors to be neighborly. Poor treatment of pets and yelling at kids isn’t really covered in our local laws.

So to be straight with you, it comes down to how frustrated you are. Can you find a way to block it out, or is it all-consuming? If it’s the latter, it may not be surmountable.

Dear Allison,
I’m getting a bad vibe from my au pair. She doesn’t seem warm, doesn’t like to be affectionate, won’t hug or kiss my kids. Even if they fall and scrape their knees. Zero affection. I’ve spoken with her about it, and she said, “That’s just how I am.” This is not going to change.
I’m going back to work full time in a few months, and she’ll be primarily caring for my infant. I worry about her lack of physical affection. Is it a big deal? Maybe it’s cultural? Should I just get over it?
— Trying to treat her like family.

Dear Trying,
Life coach hat off; mom hat on. I have been through my share of childcare, and change has not been easy. One thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to follow your gut.

It’s also become clear to me that the main job of a caretaker is to take care of the primary parent. Not making you tea and scones, but making sure you’re comfortable with how your kids’ needs are being met. It sounds like physical affection is important for you, especially with your newborn.

Some parents don’t want their caretakers to be physically affectionate; you do. If you want it, and she’s told you that she can’t deliver it, it’s a mismatch. Period.

There are plenty of caretakers that will cuddle and be affectionate with your children. This is important to you, which means it’s important.
There’s someone out there who is a far better fit for your family at this time. Let’s find them.

This article originally appeared in The Montclair Local

Anxious Before Bedtime? This Habit Will Turn That Frown Upside Down

Did you know that the time before bed is notorious for piquing people’s anxiety? That’s when you think about things you should have said during the day, when you start wondering about logistics, a big presentation for tomorrow, or if your kid is coming down with the flu.

Therapists know it’s a notorious time for anxiety. Plus, if you’re sleeping with your smartphone, or watching media at the end of the night, let’s hope there are lots of positive images or else all that negativity stresses your conscious and subconscious and can sent you straight to nightmares (literally).

So, let’s flip that switch. Instead of stressing about life, or watching media, try this practice. It’s called “Three Good Things”.

  • Review your day, from the moment you woke up until now, and think of something good that happened. Did you have lunch with an old friend? Did you stick to your new diet? Did someone give you their seat on the subway? Did you buy a meal for a homeless person? Did someone get a coffee for you, just because?
  • Now, take a few minutes to really think about one of those good things. Let’s say it was a coworker that bought you a coffee. When they gave you the coffee, what did they say? What did you say? How did you feel? Did you give them a hug? What was the reason? How did the coffee taste? Were you hoping for one? How did you feel for the next 10-15 minutes as you sipped the coffee? Did this lead to a conversation with a coworker? Did you think about paying it forward to someone else tomorrow?
  • By taking 3 to 5 minutes to sit in the moment, to relive it, your brain is able to experience the same happiness you felt at that moment. If you imagine yourself back in the situation (the more details the better), you literally re-live it in your brain.
  • Feeling good? I hope so. Now repeat. You’ll find that thinking of a second good thing is even easier than the first – you’ve primed the pump. Continue to flesh out your memory, asking yourself detailed questions about how you felt and putting yourself back in the moment.
  • Repeat one last time, for a total of 3 memories. Try to spend at least 5 minutes on each memory to maximize your brain’s ability to return to the scene of the sublime.

Aside from the straight-up joy you’ll be feeling, the good news is that this exercise, if completed every day for a week, has been proven to increase happiness immediately, as well as one week, one month,  three months and six months later, according to a 2005 study by Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Sometimes, as I practice “Three Good Things”, I find myself dozing off to sleep as I relive these memories with a smile on my face. It sure beats making lists, scrolling through Facebook, planning the commute or some other stressful activity. And I sleep much better.

I’ve had clients who enjoy practicing this with their partner, as a way to recall and share the very best moments of their day. It can help bring couples closer together, especially after they start families and so much of their lives are focused on logistics. This simple act of focusing on what’s good makes life better.

Allison Task is a career and life coach who helps clients move from insight to action. She has been coaching for more than 10 years, and sees local clients in her Montclair, NJ office and global clients virtually. She is a speaker, best-selling author and on-camera host. Contact Allison for a conversation to establish your goals, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

This article was originally featured on Professor’s House and Dr. Laura.com.

The Mindset Shift That Can Unearth Joy In Any Situation

Have you ever had a really rough moment with your child, and then someone else—maybe an older person—will tell you how absolutely delightful your child is? And then you respond with something like, “Yeah, you may think so but…” Or maybe you’ve had a friend admire your house, and you can’t help but show them the terrible bathroom or the crumbling ceiling or something else you find wanting.

Here’s the thing. If we’re a collection of our thoughts, and we choose to find the negative—the difficult—in a situation instead of the positive, whether it’s out of perceived modesty or humility or just plain old pessimism, we do ourselves a disservice.

We are what we think about. So, if you want to be your best and happiest self, it behooves you to elevate your thoughts.

There’s a wonderful practice that I’ve adopted. It worked so well that I’ve turned my children and my coaching clients on to it to great effect. It’s the practice of cultivating awe.

(this article originally appeared on MindBodyGreen.com)

 

How to Help Your Spouse Find A Better Job

If your spouse is looking for a change, follow these 4 steps to recalibrate their career trajectory.

There are few things more heartbreaking than someone hating their job. Work is where most people spend the majority of their waking hours. And if your spouse is the breadwinner, they feel this responsibility—they have to work, they have to make money, or the whole system breaks.

I live in the suburbs, where I see lots of dads and moms dragging themselves to the bus or train stop at 6 a.m., commuting with miserable looks on their faces. The twinkle long ago left their eyes, and they are hating every minute of it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you are watching the spring go out of your partner’s step…

(originally appeared on HitchedMag.com)

Don’t Even Consider Moving Without Answering These Important Questions

As a life coach, the author has helped clients decide if they should move across the country, out of the country, or stay put. Here are the questions she has her clients ask themselves when deciding to make the move.

Do you have friends or family there? Do your friends have family there or does your family have friends there? Do any of your Facebook friends have contacts there? Simply put: Get the skinny from someone who lives there. Get the inside scoop. Ask what they love about the place, what they wish was different, how it works for families, singles, kids, pets—whatever is important to you. Recently, my husband was contemplating a job change to Baltimore. I found out I knew two people who were living there: a friend from grade school (who I hadn’t spoken with in 20 years) and an ex-boyfriend’s sister (who I hadn’t spoken with in a decade). We connected via Facebook and in days we were having long conversations where I could cut to the chase, get the story on the city from people who knew me—and the city—well.

Are you looking for an adventure?

Sometimes it’s time to mix things up. Perhaps you’re living in the same town where you were born and you just want to try something new. Maybe you’re in your 20s and ripe for an adventure…

“I’m a Single Mother by Choice—and I Love It”

Are you considering becoming a single parent by choice? Here’s how one single mom did it all on her own—from selecting sperm to becoming pregnant to having two children—and she’s sharing all her top secrets on how you, too, can become a parent.

Have you always wanted to be a mom?

Kate McNeil did. She comes from a very close family, and being a mom was always part of the life she saw for herself. So when she wasn’t finding a worthy partner and she was getting older…she realized not having a partner didn’t need to keep her from having a family. Kate started telling friends about how she could leave Brooklyn, move to New Jersey, and become a mom. She could do this on her own. Kate cautions that once you start building out that vision, it can happen rather quickly. In her case, once she decided to give single parenthood a go, she was pregnant within four months. Read on to find out everything she learned on her own journey to motherhood...

(originally appeared in Reader’s Digest, rd.com)

8 Secrets No One Tells You About Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

These are the little things that every new mom realizes eventually, but no one really talks about.

1. You may pump in some crazy places.

While it’s wonderful that companies are now required by law to provide lactation rooms and breaks to nursing moms, you may not be pumping there all the time. Have you ever had to go to the bathroom on a long road trip and you’re stuck in traffic and, and…you just pull over and pee at the nearest gas station restroom, even if it’s filthy? Sometimes biology takes over and you just need to do your thing. Breast milk let down is like that, too. Your breasts may get full and hard as rocks and need to do your thing, even if you’re in the car on your way to a meeting or commuting on the train. You may want to invest in a car adapter or a battery-operated breast pump so you can pump on when you’re on the road. Though you may cover up, people may catch on to what you’re doing. And expect the cloth to fall so that you’re less surprised when it does. Even if you’re pumping in private, you may forget to lock the door or pull the blinds and co-workers with the very best of intentions may still walk in. Rest assured, they are always, always, way more embarrassed than you are.

2. Working helps you connect with yourself again.

“It’s so nice to have adult conversation!”, “I feel like my pre-baby self again!” and “It’s good to not have to focus on the baby for a few hours,” are some comments I hear in every class. Let’s face it, before you had the baby (and while you were carrying the baby) it was all about you. Since having the baby…

(this piece originally appeared on Reader’s Digest, rd.com)

What You Need to Do to Bounce Back Stronger from Failure

We all make mistakes. It’s how we handle it that can make matters better—or worse.

1. Congratulations: You Failed

Call it what it is: You messed up! Did you crash your car into a light pole? Or was it only that you tucked your skirt into your underpants and walked through the office before realizing it? As long as you’re okay physically, dust off and get right back up. (Resilience is key.) As skiers say, if you’re not falling, you’re not getting better. Rule one of bouncing back from failure: Admit it, own it.

2. Do a post-mortem

Post-mortem translates to “after death” and doctors use it to refer to the review done following a patient death to spot any errors. You’re still breathing, but you’ll have trouble moving on from a mistake unless you conduct your own post-mortem. Analyze the situation and figure out what went wrong. For an outside perspective, you may want to enlist friends and loved ones. Recently, a client of mine was supposedly fired for frequently coming in 10 minutes late. The thing was, he hadn’t been late since his boss warned him about it three months earlier. So lateness wasn’t really the reason. By speaking with coworkers, colleagues, and a coach (me), he was able to figure out what led to the firing and deal with the real issues.

For the next tip, click here

(note: I originally wrote this piece for Reader’s Digest’s web site, www.rd.com)

Put More Hours in Your Day

As you know, we all have the same 24 hours. And yet, at some point everyone wishes they had more time, if only they could put more hours in the day. In fact, for 60% of my clients, time management is a primary goal.

Recently, 3 of my clients have had great success with exactly that — putting more hours in the day. Here’s how they did it.

RISE AND SHINE!

“Samantha” is a working woman, approaching retirement. She has a grown child and a husband. She needed to find more time, with the caveat, “Don’t make me do anything at night, that’s when I wind down.” Now, after she returned home from work, she’d cook, eat and watch a couple hours of tube.

But she was clear: nothing new at night. So instead of using that down time, I just asked her to have less of it. “Would you be willing to go to sleep an hour earlier an wake up an hour earlier, that way you’d have an extra morning hour.”

“I love mornings. Let’s give it a try.”

I am happy to report, that for the last 2 months, she’s woken up between 5 and 5:30 (5:30-6 on the weekends), had tea, walked into her office, and started her big personal project. We put 5-8 more hours in her day, by paying attention to her natural time preference. This gal’s a true morning glory.

GIVE AND RECEIVE

“Cindy” is an entrepreneur and mom of 2, a 3-year and a 3-month old. It goes without saying that she doesn’t get much sleep. And doesn’t seem to require more than 5 to 6 hours total. When her children go down, she goes to town working on her start-up. She goes to bed around 11 or 12, wakes a couple times during the night to feed her daughter and is up by 6 or 7.

I’ve had enough of Peter Maas classes at Cornell to know just how important sleep is. She noticed that she was forgetting the simplest things, concerned about losing weight post baby, and just generally foggy. Where could she get more hours in her day?

Get more sleep. Have fewer hours, and more quality hours to get work done.

Mission accomplished; she’s made a commitment to get to bed earlier a couple days a week and notices a significant difference in her mood and productivity thereafter.

NO MORE BLURRED LINES

“Jeremy” is a father of 4 and partner in a large law firm. He is the primary breadwinner for his family, and he works hard in an industry where you never leave the office. He takes early trains on Friday to see his children play sports, then wakes early on Saturday and Sunday to complete work that didn’t get done on Friday.

Except he really doesn’t want to wake up early on the weekends (would you?). We changed his work schedule to give him sufficient “ramp down” time on Friday and “ramp up” time on Monday. Weekend work is out of the question. By making a more clear line between work and family, he was able to be more present for both, respectively.

Did we bend the time space continuum? No. Did we put more quality hours in their days? You betcha.