Check out the first part of this series: Your Bed or Mine? The Struggle of Sleeping With a Partner
Some couples are destined for failure in the bedroom…
No, not THAT kind of failure, but failure to sleep well in a common space. There are gender differences in sleep need (women typically need slightly more sleep than men) but also gender differences in sleep practices- a 2004 study by Gay, Lee and Lee demonstrated that women were more likely to get more sleep than men because they have a tendency to be protective of their sleep. Women are more willing to go to bed earlier to preserve a healthy amount of sleep, whereas men in this study tended to treat sleep as a necessary evil (Meadows et al, 2008).
A 2017 study by Keller, Haak, DeWall, and Renzetti also demonstrated that poor sleep is related to incidences of aggression within marital relationships, even when outside stressors are factored into the equation. In my clinical work, I tend to see that these gender differences in sleep practices can create some significant marital challenges because dealing with anyone whose sleep is disturbed can mean that you are dealing with an irrational being!
In my personal life, I definitely am one of those women who are very protective of sleep, mine and my children’s. I like to go to bed early, especially if I have an early morning workout. My children have even learned not to come to my side of the bed at night because they will not get a nurturing response from mama if they disturb my sleep! My husband is more the opposite- he likes to stay up later than the rest of us (I think he appreciates the quiet of being alone) and is much less aggressive when awoken in the middle of the night. We make these differences work through the aid of a very big bed and some nighttime practices that make things go smoothly.
For some couples, the differences can be too tough to iron out, and they make the decision to dedicate their own rooms for sleep. This choice has been made easier by the larger homes many people live in; it is not uncommon even for houses to have multiple master suites as part of their basic design. There are some ways that this can be done and be protective to the marriage. Here are some best practices to help make it work:
1. Make sure everyone is on board.
Sleeping apart should be a decision that is agreed upon by both partners. It doesn’t go well when one partner is pushing an agenda, and it is important to explore why this is so important to the partner if there is only one person who wants the arrangement. It is possible that this is a sign of deeper struggles, or it can be the result of one partner’s unwillingness to address a challenge with their sleep. Either way, you need to get to the bottom of the conflict before you take up separate rooms.
2. Make time for togetherness.
Yes, I do mean that you may need to schedule time for intimacy, and I also mean that it is important to have some sense of when you will have time for feeling like you connect as a couple. I have seen some couples do very well with establishing a date for physical intimacy, and also dates to make sure that they are emotionally connecting. Separate bedrooms should really be about optimizing sleep, not setting up separation.
3. Give each other freedom to make your room feel like you.
One of the biggest areas where we can create comfort for sleep can be within the aesthetics of our sleep environment. Some couples try to keep private the fact that they sleep in separate rooms, so one partner is stuck with a room that looks more like a sterile guest area. If your room doesn’t feel like a place you want to be, then it can be hard to feel that the bed is going to be a good place to sleep. Set up the linens, décor, and layout to feel comfortable for you- you can worry about what people think when or if the topic ever comes up.
4. Celebrate your relationship!
Making a decision to put your rest as a priority can actually create improvement in your relationship. Some studies show that marital satisfaction goes up when partners are sleeping well, so this might be the path to better togetherness. It might make sense to establish a timeframe in which you re-evaluate separate togetherness, just to make sure it still feels good to both of you.
You might be surprised how many couples actually have found that this works well for them. Jeff and I lived apart for a year while I completed my pre-doctoral internship, and I have to say that when we got to see each other on the weekends, it was as fun as when we were first dating. Have you tried separate before? Any preferences within your own relationship?