Like many people I grew up believing that only “old” people slept apart and that sleeping in separate rooms meant the death of a relationship or sexual intimacy.
Some 31 years ago I brought a newborn baby home and I quickly learned that if my daughters father slept anywhere near us there would be no sleeping at all for me. In between feeding baby numerous times a night his loud and relentless snoring meant I’d lay awake all night. The decision to sleep apart for a few months made sense and helped us cope during that life changing time. We aren’t together anymore but to clarify, sleeping apart played no part in the decision to break up a few years later, our young age and incompatibility did.
I have always been a light sleeper whereas Lauren (my fiancée) sleeps like the dead (a skill I am very envious of). Our very first night together ended with me laying wide awake, tossing and turning whilst she snored loudly and slept soundly beside me. Looking back, I remember feeling a bit sad that night as I knew this (the snoring) was most definitely going to be an issue if we stayed together long term. Why did it make me sad? I too was still in the process of letting go of the unhelpful and often untrue narrative that sleeping apart would eventually ruin our couple connection.
Fast forward to nearly five years later, and by this stage we had tried all the things, from taping their mouth shut (a suggestion from a book I found called Breath) ordered expensive mouthguards, ear plugs, and we even taped a tennis ball on their back (yes we really did this). I was completely exhausted and dealing with a new nightmare (that being peri menopause, but that’s for another post) when Lauren again asked me if I thought it would be better if they slept in another room. Ever the pragmatist, and autistic, they have night-time rituals they need to perform which unfortunately became another interruption for me. Lauren calmy offered up this solution with no attachments to what it “meant” to have us sleep apart, other than the possibility of me getting some much-needed sleep. Lauren and I are privileged in that we have spare rooms in our house to enable this.
So, for the last 6 months we haven’t slept together at night. Instead, we make sure we continue our much-loved evening ritual of dinner together, cuddles on the couch and then, when I’m sleepy, I get up and take myself to bed, alone. I’ve even started to look forward to this quiet alone each evening. I read for as long as I like, listen to calming rain sounds and then turn the light off exactly when I want to. On a recent trip away, it was a fun novelty to share a bed again after months of not doing so, albeit we had to work around our night time differences as best we could, but knowing it wasn’t permanent meant it was manageable.
Now, when the alarm song goes off in my room in the morning, I then tell Siri to play our morning anthem “Lovely Day” in their room too, and if we have time we might meet for a cuddle in one of the beds along with our 3 fur kids. On workdays we meet up in the lounge room where I make them a coffee and we watch ABC news together. We both agree we love these rituals and find they help to reconnect us and no, in case you’re wondering, this has not impacted our sex life at all. Before our recent separate bed agreement, we had already agreed that we won’t have sex at night (we are both way too tired for ANY form of exercise at bedtime!).
As a sexologist I know many couples who sleep separately, and many tell me it saved their relationship. Some do it a few times a week, some just have weekend sleepovers, and some do it every single night. I quite regularly work with couples where during a session we all determine that a decision to sleep separately might be the solution to positive changes in their relationship.
I think it is very important that we all question and push back at restrictive, unhelpful relationship “expectations” and find out what works for each of us and our relationship. Many of these relationship expectations can feel like impositions, causing more harm to the relationship than good. When we make these agreements acknowledge that they don’t have to be permanent ones, and we can agree to revisit and shift the goals posts at any point they stop working for us. I emphasise a focus on being intentional about maintaining the emotional, physical and/or sexual connection in whatever way that looks like for the people in the relationship (this will look different for everyone) and rest assured that this can be done without sleeping next to each other.