If you’ve ever traveled across time zones, you’ve probably experienced jet lag — a temporary sleep disorder caused by your body’s internal clock getting out of whack. Jet lag can leave you feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed.
As if travel jet lag weren’t bad enough, it turns out there’s another cause for jet lag-type symptoms: relationships. “Relationship jet lag” is a term coined in a new study published in Couples and Family Psychology.
“Individuals in romantic relationships must be able to transition between phases in which they are operating as a couple and others when they are operating as individuals. Individuals who struggle to make the mental ‘set shift’ into their current phase may experience disrupted functioning,” wrote the study authors.
In plain English, relationship jet lag occurs when two partners are out of sync. For instance, maybe one partner is full of energy from working alone from home all day, while the other partner is drained from back-to-back meetings in the office.
Relationship jet lag feels like each partner is on a different track, trying to catch up to the other. It can feel like a short, uncomfortable disruption. Acknowledging that relationship jet lag is happening can soften the tension and prevent small issues from becoming bigger problems.
What to Know About Relationship Jet Lag
Relationship jet lag tends to happen during moments of transition (hence, the jet lag analogy). “For many of us, these transitions happen every day. If you live with your partner, you experience a transition right when you reunite with your partner after a day at work, and you will transition again the next morning when you leave your partner to go to work,” said psychologist Danielle Weber, the lead author of the study.
However, it’s not just physical transitions that can cause a jet lag-type effect. Partners can get mentally and emotionally out of sync throughout the day, too. Someone could be caught up in problem-solving at work and bring that issue home with them, rather than transitioning from their professional mindset to focus on their partner. While unintentional, this distraction can leave the other partner feeling neglected or ignored.
“We often get distracted when doing a particular task, so it’s only natural that we don’t always manage to move between different settings and people perfectly,” said Weber.
How to Address Relationship Jet Lag
If this dynamic sounds familiar, that’s because it can happen even to the most satisfying partnerships. Noticing that so-called jet lag could be impacting your relationship is the first step in resolving the issue.
“Once you have that awareness, if you know that an upcoming transition might be hard for you, it may be helpful to intentionally think and act in ways that will make the transition easier,” said Weber.
You may notice, for instance, that you and your partner struggle to get on the same page at the end of the day. If one person is bringing work home with them, talk about ways you can make the transition easier and more meaningful. Give yourself a 10-minute window between the end of the work day and engaging with your partner. Or spend a little time rehashing your days together to bring someone out of their headspace and into a shared conversation.
“Be as open as possible to honest communication and try to identify repeating patterns and discuss them together,” said Jodie Cariss, therapist and founder of Self Space, a London organization providing on-demand psychological services. “Take responsibility for yourself by asking how loved your partner feels, how you can support them, and get them to do the same.”
Combatting relationship jet lag takes a little self-care and open dialogue. If only getting over travel jet lag were that easy.