Have you ever noticed that you fight more with your partner when you’re exhausted? In fact, you may have picked up on the fact that you are more likely to argue with anyone when you’re tired, whether it’s your partner or someone else entirely.

If this is true for you, you’re not crazy. In fact, research backs up what you have noticed. Fortunately, seeing a problem is often the first step toward solving it. Here’s why you’re more likely to get into arguments when you’re tired.

What are You Feeling?

Research shows that human beings aren’t as good at recognizing facial expressions when we’re tired. Most of the time, we do a decent job of knowing when the people around us are happy, sad, angry, etc., just by looking at their faces. When we’re tired, though, this ability is reduced significantly.

You can imagine how this contributes to arguments. If your partner is feeling something negative and you don’t recognize it, you have a higher chance of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Similarly, if they are excited, and you don’t ask about it, it could hurt their feelings and cause them to think that you don’t care.

Counteract this in your relationship by paying careful attention to your partner when you’re tired. If you still can’t figure out what’s going on, be honest with them. Tell them that you’re exhausted, and you really want to know what’s going on with them and explain this study. Hopefully, that will open lines of communication between you.

Why Empathy is Hard

Researchers have also found that our ability to be empathic – to feel what other people are feeling – is reduced when we are tired. The study looked at both direct and indirect empathy, which means that they examined both what research subjects said that they felt when they looked upon a situation where a healthy person would feel empathy and at how their bodies reacted. Both kinds of empathy were lessened when the person was tired.

This lack of empathy may contribute to fighting because empathy is key to emotional intimacy. If your partner is angry or upset about something and you cannot be empathic, they could easily feel like you aren’t hearing them well or like their distress isn’t important to you.

Address this disconnect by being honest with each other. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings even if you can’t feel them, and let your partner know why you’re struggling. This acknowledgment can go far toward ending arguments before they begin. You can also offer to be with your partner in other ways, like snuggling in bed together.

Now that you understand why arguments are more likely when you’re tired, you can begin to do something about it. Maybe you can upgrade your mattress and sleep better at night, or you can refuse to engage in conflict when you don’t feel rested, or you can agree to sleep on it and talk again in the morning. That way, you won’t damage your relationship simply because you haven’t gotten enough sleep.

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