In North Carolina, Mike's wife jumps out of bed eager to get started on the day's to-do list. Coffee is made, the dog is walked, the family is called halfway across the globe, and life is great. Mike gets up at the last possible minute to avoid having to interact with anyone until he absolutely must.
"Those 7 a.m. international Skype calls nearly drove me to sleep on the fire escape," Mike said. Getting ready in 20 minutes is easy for him. "Grooming my beard happens before I go to bed -- no sharp objects in the morning. Overall, I am less likely to do harm if I am in bed." His wife said he moves in a foggy haze in the morning and is generally crabby. He said the sound of the alarm clock makes him physically ill.
In Milan, Bryony is happy to wake up early. She makes herself a cup of tea and tackles emails and the newspaper before her children wake up. If there's time, she turns to unfinished chores from the night before.
"How long can you remain sleepy?" she demands of her husband. Over breakfast she peppers him with questions about the day ahead, ready to make plans. Her husband is never ready for the interrogation. Most mornings he can't remember if he has meetings or client dinners scheduled. Bryony longs to tell him to get a grip on himself. "You can't stay this drowsy for that long," she thinks.
In Brazil, Carla feels almost as if she's already standing up when she opens her eyes in the morning. She darts out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. "I usually don't stay in bed, because my husband says that I start talking a lot, and loudly, and he'd rather enjoy silence while he wakes up."
Her husband complains when she insists that he join the family at the breakfast table and answer her questions about the day ahead. Carla could always set the alarm for later and get more sleep, but her husband needs the extra time to wake up. "Loud noises, loud voices or loud music in the morning always make me very irritated," her husband said. "Sometimes I want to ask Carla to shut up."
Women take note: According to sleep researcher and Sleep for Success CEO James B. Mass, sleep cycles are genetically determined, and women are more likely than men to be larks. "You can't blame a person, it's not environmental," Mass said, noting that "owls," who function better at night, have a body temperature that doesn't begin to rise until later in the morning.
Is it possible for someone to become a morning person? Yes, but it's not easy, according to Mass. It helps to be exposed to daylight immediately after getting up. Take a 15-minute walk, or get an FDA-approved light for indoor use, he suggested.
As long as you and your partner remain in different time zones, the best you can do is learn to understand and respect each other's nature. "It's important to work this out because it's how your day starts and you don't want to be irritated every single morning," said Suzanne Berman, a psychotherapist in private practice in Fair Lawn, N.J., who has worked with couples for more than 25 years. She offered the following tips for couples:
• Communicate: Don't expect your partner to guess what you need or what you're feeling about your morning dynamics.
• Make each other your priority: "If your behavior is continuously irritating the other person, the statement you're making is that you don't care about their needs," Berman said. This might mean not being able to make that morning phone call while your husband is still sleeping, for instance, but it's important to realize that seemingly-small acts build up over time and can cause resentment and create distance between partners.
• Compromise: If you want the alarm set for 6:40 a.m. so you can sleep as long as possible, but he wants it at 6 a.m. to have extra time to wake up, try setting it for 6:20. "The couple needs to work something out so that both people feel their needs in the morning are being respected," she said.
• Be realistic: "If your husband isn't going to make it to the breakfast table, maybe you need to stop making his breakfast," Berman suggested. And stop trying to have that deep conversation in the morning. "Don't keep pushing your own agenda. That won't get you anywhere; you're wanting something your partner can't give you."
• Live in reality, not in fantasy: "People are who they are, with their habits and routines," Berman said. The notion that 'If you loved me, you'd change,' is fantasy. Instead, tune into what your partner is telling you about themselves, and take that seriously.
• Accept that you are two separate individuals: "You're a couple, but you're not the same person," Berman said. "It's hard for couples to accept this, especially women."
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