[Trigger warning for misogyny and g ender essentialism.]
Another day, another science reporting fail. I stumbled across this WebMD article as a suggestion from Google (why it thought this would be relevant to me, I'm not sure). What caught my eye was the rather odd title:
When Wives Don't Sleep, Marriage SuffersWell, the title seemed half reasonable. If either partner doesn't sleep, it would be reasonable to expect that a marriage would suffer (most people I know get grumpy with less sleep). But why just wives? And why marriages, specifically? Couldn't any relationship suffer from lack of sleep?
The article begins...
When couples fight, sleep often suffers. Now a new study shows that the reverse may also be true. Not sleeping well, it seems, can make for a rockier relationship.Leave it to our wonderful media to turn that into "When Wives Don't Sleep, Marriage Suffers," because, after all, everyone knows that women along determine the happiness of a marriage—while they sleep. Men have nothing to do with that. Because those "less positive" interactions are just from women's lack of sleep, and not from any issues that may be causing a lack of sleep.
The study, which was presented at the SLEEP 2011 conference in Minneapolis, found that wives who have trouble falling asleep are more likely to report negative interactions with their spouse the next day. Husbands were also affected, rating the couple's interactions as less positive the day after their wives tossed and turned.
When women had trouble falling asleep at night, they were more likely to report more negative and fewer positive interactions with their spouses the next day.Yes, very curious. Perhaps there is more going on here than just sleep problems?
Husbands also reported fewer positive interactions when spouses couldn't fall asleep easily.
Curiously, however, husbands' sleep difficulties didn’t seem to affect couples' relationship interactions.
Let's introduce the study's parameters, shall we?
For the study, researchers recruited 35 healthy married couples and had them wear sensors that monitor movement for 10 nights. The average age of study participants was 32.Let's start with "35 healthy married couples." It would seem that the only requirement for participation in this study would be couples who reported no regular sleep problems. But "healthy" has so many connotations, and so many different ways of being defined, depending on who's doing the defining. It isn't even totally clear here whether "healthy" refers to the physical health of the spouses, the emotional health of the spouses, the "health" of the marriage itself, or some combination thereof.
During the day, spouses were asked to keep diaries detailing how they were getting along.
They rated how strongly they felt positive things, like feeling close to their spouse and valued, and whether or not they talked about their feelings with their partner.
On the negative side, they were asked how much they felt criticized, dismissed, ignored, or whether they were having an argument.
The problems continue right after the word "healthy." Why was this study restricted to married couples? Unless there is some magic in that little legal document, married couples aren't the only ones who have "negative interactions." The study makes any relationship other than a privileged heterosexual marriage invisible. That's hardly surprising but not very useful.
Also not useful: Tired gender-based stereotypes:
On days when husbands reported more positive interactions with their wives, the husbands got less sleep.Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
"Shorter sleep duration itself is not necessarily meaning that you sleep poorly," says study researcher Wendy Troxel, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"Couples that have more positive interactions during the day may be engaging in other activities in bed at night," she says.
"We're stoic," says William J. Strawbridge, PhD, an adjunct professor in the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California in San Francisco. In a study published in 2005, Strawbridge also found that poor sleep was related to marital dissatisfaction.So men are stoic sex beasts who don't care about interacting with their spouses. (Unless it's to "engage in other activities" with them.) And women?
"It's true that men just don't want to talk about stuff like that and don't seem as sensitive to it. Interaction in a marriage is more important to a woman than to a man," he says.
"Women tend to be more sensitive to the highs and lows of relationships and they tend to be more communicative when they're feeling the stress," Troxel says.You knew that was coming! Once again, ScienceTM proves that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Can't argue with that, can you?
Actually, I can. 35 couples and no control group? I think you skipped a step. As mentioned earlier, relationships beyond heterosexual marriage were not considered. At all, from what I can tell. If they wanted proper control groups, same-sex partners would be the perfect control. They may not be legally married, thanks to the law, but could easily have been in a committed relationship just as long as those in the study.
The average age of this study was only 32; it is not stated how long the average marriage of the group was, but it couldn't have been that hard to find same-sex partnerships that mirrored the study group. If the couple were both men, did neither partner's sleep difficulty result in morning tensions? If both women, did each one's sleep problems affect their morning? I only have the questions—the research should have been providing the answers if they wanted to reach the above conclusion.
So once again we have the perfect storm—half-baked study, half-assed reporting, and another ScienceTM Tribute to misogyny. Women are, once again, all to blame for marriage problems. You know it's true—women wrote the study and the article.
Note: I have yet to find the reference to this study (perhaps because it has only been presented at a conference), but here is some previous work of head researcher Dr. Troxel. Dr. Troxel seems obsessed with marital quality but uninterested in anything other than heterosexual relationships.