Ralph woke up in the middle of the night to his wife putting a pillow on his head. He was laying on his back and she placed her pillow evenly on top of his head while her body straddled his. Instead of moving, he lay there silently wondering how long she would keep the pillow there. As his breathing became more labored and she apparently didn’t seem to be moving, he moved suddenly upward, startling her.
“What are you doing,” he annoyingly asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, “I was just joking.”
But this was no joke. She was a registered ER nurse who understood the consequences of her actions. Added to that, they had been having significant marital problems. The rest of the night, Ralph laid in the bed listening in fear for any indicators that she would resume the suffocation.
When Ralph brought up this incident in counseling, the therapist suggested that he press charges. He did not. He insisted that her behavior was not unusual, that she frequently disturbed his sleep.
This explained a lot of Ralph’s peculiar behavior. He had trouble remembering details accurately, suffered from emotional abuse fog, lost things, difficulty concentrating, controlling his emotions, and was unable to think clearly. He was sleep-deprived. As a subtle form of abuse, his wife was attempting to drive him crazy by depriving him of sleep. Here are some of her tactics.
- Waking him up after he fell asleep. Ralph’s wife would wake him up a couple of hours after he went to bed to rehash a disagreement from earlier in the day. She would claim that she was unable to sleep and needed to have a resolution but there was no resolution unless he agreed fully with her. When he did, she would belittle him by saying that he was placating her so he could “get his precious beauty sleep”.
- Claiming that he was snoring. On a typical night, Ralph would be woken up by his wife at least twice with her complaining that he was snoring. One night, he recorded his sleep only to find out that he was not snoring.
- Sharing paranoid thoughts and feelings just before bed. Another tactic Ralph’s wife used was stringing a random grouping of events together and drawing conclusions about him lying or cheating right before bed. This type of behavior caused Ralph to not sleep well as he struggled to understand her conclusions. Regardless of what he said, she was rarely satisfied.
- Punishment for napping. After a week of poor sleep, Ralph would use the weekends to catch up on some of his sleep by taking a nap. Instead of allowing him the rest, his wife would play music loud to try to wake him up. When he did get up, she would give him the silent treatment for ignoring her by taking a nap.
- Expecting him to video chat at night. Because Ralph’s wife sometimes worked the night shift at the hospital, she would require him to video chat with her just before going to bed. She insisted that he walk all around the house and show that no one was there and then put his phone on her pillow. When he would fall asleep, she would wake him up by yelling.
- Inciting fear in the middle of the night. Several times, Ralph was woken up in the middle of the night because his wife swore that she heard a strange sound in the house. She would not let it go until he got up out of bed to investigate the house. Then he was met with a barrage of questions about what he did and did not check.
- Making violent threats just before bed. “I could kill you in your sleep and no one would know,” Ralph’s wife would tell him. Before the pillow threat, he took her comments with a grain of salt but afterward, he was unable to sleep. He even moved to a spare bedroom but that still did not help him sleep any better. He felt like he was sleeping with one eye open all night.
- Throwing water on him in the morning. Exhausted from poor sleep the night before, when Ralph could, he would try to sleep in for a few extra hours in the morning. But if his wife was already awake, she would angrily throw cold water on him while he was in bed to wake him up from sleeping. She would then yell at him about being lazy.
- Attempting to have sex with him. One of the stranger things Ralph experienced was his wife trying to have sex with him while he was asleep. There were times when he woke up to her body on top of his. When they were a newlywed couple, this was exciting but later he realized that the only time she wanted sex was when he was asleep.
These nine tactics caused Ralph to think he was losing it. He was not. He was just severely sleep-deprived. When he moved into an apartment without his wife, he was finally able to sleep. This restored his ability to make better decisions as he eventually saw his wife’s behavior as abusive and sought a divorce.