Arguments in marriage are like pyrotechnics in Michael Bay films: it’s not a question about whether they will happen so much as how many there are and how large they’ll be. It’s not that you want to fight, it’s just that it’s inevitable: A lot of real conversations need to happen about a variety of topics and a good portion of them won’t be eye-to-eye. It’s both of your responsibilities to make sure these don’t boil over.
But sometimes, though, you just want to win — or at least not lose as badly. And this requires some strategic thinking. How should you approach your partner? What can you do to be more persuasive? As it turns out, the when might be the most important piece in your path to victory.
At least, that’s what Michael Breus says. In his book The Power of When, the renowned sleep doctor argues that everything from personalities and moods are driven by our chronotype, a biologically pre-determined setting for our internal body clock. Chronotype explains why some people are up and at ’em in the a.m. people or snooze-button smashing night owls, yes. But the unique system, per Breus, also affects the schedule of everything from energy level and emotional highs and lows to digestion and when we’re going to be less reactive. In The Power of When, Breus sorts people into four chronotypes: dolphins, lions, bears, and wolves. And, as is detailed below, each has circadian rhythms running on different schedules. Study up and you can have the upper hand.
Lions, per Breus, are early risers. They wake up refreshed and waste no time attacking the day. They’re type-A personalities and high achievers — Breus described them as go-getters who are often comfortable in leadership positions and excel when taking on focused challenges. They’ll fall asleep during movies that start later than matinees and want your TPS reports on their desk by 10.
About half of people fall into the bear category. They’re good sleepers overall. Their biological clocks are generally in line with the sun’s rising and falling. As a result, their alertness spikes in the morning, plummets in the mid-afternoon, gains some ground in the early evening before dropping off altogether at night. The schedule puts them roughly on pace with the working world. They’re the normies of chronotypes. If they were pants, they’d be khaki.
Dolphins are problem sleepers, who have great trouble falling asleep, low sleep drives, or anxiety-related insomnia. “They are type-A personalities with a serious level of either neuroticism or anxiety and that has a tendency to overcompensate for what it is they try to accomplish,” Breus said. “So, dolphins are just as smart and driven as a lion, but their perfectionism gets in their way and a lot of times they can’t complete projects because of it.”
Wolves are late risers who struggle in the morning and peak in the evening. Breus described them as creative types who are often somewhat reclusive. They’re not natural attention seekers by nature, they don’t shy away from danger. “While they might have a tendency to be a little more introverted in general, they’re much more willing to take risks,” Breus said. Of all the chronotypes, Breus said wolves are the most likely to have sex in public — it’s sort of like a bachelorette party before and after the tequila and Xanax kick in.
Depending on your chronotype and your partner’s, you’re going to want to plan your fights accordingly. You can determine your own chronotype by taking Breus’ online chronotype quiz and then figure out your partner’s based on his/her habits.
When To…Wrestle with Bears
The bear personality is far from ferocious. But that doesn’t make arguing with them a walk in the seven-acre woods. They tend to avoid fights and often seem distant and evasive during their post-lunch afternoon energy dip around 2 p.m. Breus says your best time to argue with a bear is after 4 p.m. when they’re often in a great mood. “Bears might not understand what the fight is about, but they’ll be most willing to compromise when in a good mood,” Breus said.
When To…Dialogue with Dolphins
Breus cautioned against getting in a dolphin’s face too early in the morning. “Talk to them sometime after 10 a.m., because they wake up with a significant amount of anxiety,” Breus said. “So you want them to have had an opportunity to either work out or start their work or do something that can help reduce that anxiety a little bit, because they wake up anxious, and they go to bed anxious.”
Breus described dolphins as neurotic perfectionists — they’re likely to be focused on their tasks and liable to be annoyed by interruptions in the afternoon. If you serve them a nice plate of pasta around 7 p.m., they become open to suggestion. “Wait until after a carb-heavy dinner and they’ll agree to just about anything,” Breus said.
When to…Roar at Lions
Lions aren’t easy to persuade. “They’re very set in their ways,” Breus said. “They’re almost militant thinking. They’re pretty sure that they’re correct and their way is the way to go.”
Wait until 9 a.m. to confront a lion. These early risers like to carpe their diems, especially early in the morning. They’ll be annoyed if you try to get them out of their work groove. “Lions are very focused individuals, they’re Type-A personalities,” Breus said. “They get shit done. And so they don’t want to have that conversation in the morning, they want to wait until they’ve gotten their stuff done.”
Lions start to mellow out in the late afternoon, but they’ll bite your head off if you bug them between 3 p.m and 8 p.m.
The sweet spot, Breus says, is mid-day. “If you really want to be persuasive to a lion, immediately after lunch seems to be one of the best times,” he said. They’re fed, they’re happy, they’ve got their energy level back, and they’re kind of moving through the last third or last half of their day.”
When to…Howl at Wolves
These creatures of the evening start their days slow and groggy. Their energy levels rise steadily throughout the day, peaking in the evening. They start at a higher level of tension than morning types and are most relaxed at 4 p.m. and then swinging upward until evening.
To win an argument with a wolf type, Breus said to get the jump on them early. “You can win arguments with them in the mornings because they’re sleepy,” Breus said. Otherwise, wait until 8 p.m. Breus said wolves are wide-awake and sharply articulate at this hour, but they’re also in their best mood of the day. Breus advises extreme caution. Weigh risk against reward and re-read the section above about wolves’ affinity for sex in public.
So, use this information wisely. Is it an exact science? Hardly. But when you want the upper hand, physiology may be your best weapon.