Can you admit that sometimes you simply lose your cool with your spouse but don’t know why? Or that you find things to pick at? Maybe you chalk up your crankiness to being overwhelmed. Let’s face it, it can take a lot of energy to control emotions with someone you’re familiar with, especially when you’re sapped of energy at the end of a long day that was so full of troubleshooting, multitasking and mini “emergencies” that you forgot to…eat…
Hello? Forget to eat?
Indeed. You may actually be flying off the handle not because you’ve proverbially got too much on your plate, but because you haven’t eaten all day. Of course you know you get cranky when you skip meals, and you know how bad it is to let that happen. Yet life’s demands may still lead you to fall into this trap from time to time. In fact, such slip-ups could ruin your relationship with your spouse.
SWEETEN IT UP, BABE
When you skip meals or don’t eat on schedule, your body becomes low on glucose—blood sugar, that is. Glucose provides energy for your body…including your brain, where your emotions are kept in check. Glucose appears to play a big role in controlling aggressive impulses and behavior between married people, according to a study that allowed couples to let off steam in a way that fans of the old TV show Candid Camera would love.
In this study, Brad J. Bushman, PhD, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University and a team of researchers from other academic centers recruited 107 couples who had been married for an average of 12 years. At the beginning of the first part of the study, which lasted for three weeks, each participant completed a short questionnaire to measure his/her relationship satisfaction. Participants also were given a blood glucose meter and a voodoo doll (!) with 51 pins.
The participants were instructed in how to use the meter to measure their blood glucose every morning before breakfast and every evening before bed. They were also told that the voodoo doll represented their spouses and that they could (privately) stick up to all 51 pins in the doll per day, depending on how angry they were with the spouses. The participants recorded how many pins they stuck in the doll each day before removing them for the next day. This activity measured their angry feelings and aggressive impulses, explained Dr. Bushman.
At the end of the three weeks, each couple arrived at the lab to take part in another experiment that would measure their aggressive behavior. Each partner was sent into a separate room where he or she sat before a computer and was told that they were competing against his or her spouse in a contest to see who could press a button faster when a certain image appeared on the computer. Each was also told that the winner of the contest could blast his or her spouse with very loud obnoxious sounds (such as fingernails on a chalkboard, a siren and a dentist drill) that could be as loud and last as long as the winner wanted—up to 105 decibels (about the same volume as a fire alarm) and five seconds.
As cruel as this sounds, this “game” is a validated psychological test of aggression that has been used in research laboratories for decades, explained Dr. Bushman. In reality, though, each participant was playing a rigged game against a computer, not his or her spouse, and each spouse “won” and “lost” an equal number of games. Dr. Bushman’s research team recorded how aggressive the spouses were on the task.
Finally, the researchers analyzed all the information they had gathered to see the relationship between the participants’ glucose levels and their aggressive impulses and behaviors.
- Aggressive impulses. The lower a person’s evening glucose level, the more pins the person jabbed into the voodoo doll that was supposed to represent his or her spouse. This was so even from people who rated their relationship satisfaction as high. And watch out, guys…women tended to stick more pins in the dolls than the men did.
- Aggressive behavior. Same finding here. The lower a person’s evening glucose level, the louder and longer that person intended to blast his/her “loser spouse” with irritating noise.
How romantic. Now, just ponder how aggressive behavior caused by low glucose plays itself out in homes every evening. So much resentment builds from misplaced irritation and aggressiveness—both for the aggressor and the target of aggression. No wonder the divorce rate is so high.
EAT TO MAINTAIN SELF-CONTROL
You may know that yelling over whose turn it is to do the laundry or whether the toilet seat should be up or down is counterproductive, but when your blood glucose levels are too low, you are unable to override those emotional impulses. Self-control requires energy, and energy is not an unlimited resource. By the end of the day, our bodies are less efficient at converting glucose from the food we eat to energy, according to Dr. Bushman. So do yourself, your spouse and anyone you interact with a favor and stay nourished.
Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular four-to-five-hour intervals, and include a healthy, protein-rich snack, such as almonds or yogurt, and “slow carbs,” such as an apple or a cup of baby carrots, in between main meals to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day and your mood calm, cool, collected and kind.