Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dismaying Story #48: Separate Sleepers




Dear Andrew,

How often do you hear of couples living in separate bedrooms? I do hear stories of older couples with separate beds, but usually in the same room and it's usually for health reasons, isn't it?

Well, we are a young couple (barely 30) doing just that. We each have our own bedroom and we both love it. We have been married eight years this September and our separate rooms didn't start intentionally. My husband has always snored and HAS to have the TV on to sleep. I have never been able to sleep through that, but had somewhat adjusted to it.

We planned our second child to be born around the time my mom was moving out of our house so he could have his own room. Well, she never moved out and he stayed in our room. This child wouldn't sleep and kept us both up. So after several months, my husband mentioned sleeping on the couch to see if the TV bothered our son. It worked! Our son slept longer that night than he had in a long time. So, my husband stayed on the couch. When my mom moved out he moved into her room and has been there ever since.

I now get sleep like I haven't had in many years. No more arguing about the TV volume or channel, no listening to him snore (it's gotten worse) and I don't have to share the bed. Why would I give that up?

The few friends that we have told about this situation cannot believe we live like this. Is it really that unusual? Would it jeopardize our marriage as some people say? What about when my boys are old enough to understand? How do I explain it to them?

Otherwise, we strive to have a happy, as close to normal as possible relationship.

Signed, Rested and Happy


Dear Rested,

I know people who would find it extremely difficult to feel close if they slept separately, and I suspect some of the readers' comments in reaction to this post will reflect the same emotional need to be together. Some couples like this will put up with a considerable degree of sleep disturbance to achieve the closeness and will consider that to be a worthwhile tradeoff. (And, of course, many couples are able to sleep together without keeping each other awake.)

Sleep disturbance, however, can be a source of tension between spouses. Snoring, fidgeting or kicking while asleep, frequent bathroom visits, sleeping with the TV on -- any of these can contribute to sleep deprivation for the affected spouse. Tired, cranky people do not always get along with each other as well as they might when rested and refreshed.

Snoring is perhaps the most commonly reported disturbance. A University of North Carolina study shows that approximately 30 percent of women and 40 percent of men are habitual snorers. Moreover, according to a 1999 book entitled The Snoring Cure, by age 60 this increases to 40 percent of women and 60 percent of men. Another study by British researchers found that sleep disturbances caused by secondhand snoring often lead to rifts between partners (such as rarely having sex) and 70 percent of snoring couples resorted to sleeping in separate rooms.

The reasons for this are understandable. We all know how horrible it feels to be exhausted, especially if you live that way on an ongoing basis. People whose spouses prevent them from sleeping often dread going to bed and may even build up resentment toward their partners. The snorer may also be embarrassed, much as they would if they had a problem like bad breath that led to difficulties with their partner.

Given that there may be practical reasons for sleeping apart, does this necessarily lead to a lessening of intimacy and closeness? According to Canadian author and sex columnist Josey Vogels, the answer is a resounding "no." She points out that while sleeping in separate bedrooms has the potential to strain a relationship, couples can more than make up for it by paying attention to each other while awake.

We all know that "sleeping together" involves more than just sleeping. We read together, talk, make love and cuddle, all of which can help to build closeness. None of these, however, happen while we are asleep. Vogels maintains that the time spent asleep is the least important in terms of your relationship. She speaks from first-hand experience, too, since she often retreats to the spare bedroom because of her husband's snoring. She recommends spending some time together in bed together before separating for sleep, and suggests that surprise visits can add to the spice.

You are right to think of your children's views. Show plenty of affection for each other when they are around. Show them and tell them how much you love each other and explain that the sleeping arrangements are simply so you can get a good night's rest. They will take their emotional cues from you. Reassure them in a happy way that all is well and they should have no problem accepting this as a normal part of your life.

The results are what matter the most. If you and your husband are getting along well and the intimate side of your relationship is in good shape, then don't fix what isn't broken.

All the best,
Andrew

32 comments:

  1. My parents always slept in seperate bedrooms and I thought it was strange. I assumed it was because they no longer wanted to *be* together. As an adult I asked my mother if that was the case and she laughed and said "where you sleep has nothing to do with where you have sex...". (I still need therapy after that one!) Apparently, they got in the habbit of sleeping in seperate bedrooms when they worked different shifts - it was easier so they didn't wake each other up.
    I just had never considered that.

    Personally, I couldn't imagine not sleeping in the same bed as my husand. On the few nights that one of us isn't home with the other, neither of us gets much sleep. Sex aside, I think sleeping in the same bed is very intimate and wouldn't want it any other way. That said, his snoring does drive me crazy...

    Whatever works, I guess.

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  2. oh my! she hit the nail on the head for my faimly! I sleep on the couch to get away from my hubsbands snoring 6 nights out of the week! I wake several times a night because rolls on top of me, snores, and sometimes wakes me in a fit of rage... Of course he has no clue that he has done this all in the morning! So I make sure to sleep on the couch... We always go to bed together, to hold each other... when i hear his breathing get deep, i move to the couch ;)
    It's not wierd to sleep in seperatw bedrooms! If we had the space I would do it too!

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  3. Well, I'm not married, but I do have a significant other. I spend weekends at his house, and we sleep in the same bed, and I wouldn't trade that time for anything. We're not having sex, because we've agreed to save that for marriage. But the intimacy and closeness that we've formed has come, in a large way, from that time we share.

    I know some people in my circle of friends and family wouldn't approve (we're quite conservative), so I haven't told them, but even if I did and it caused an argument, I'd stand by my decision. I cherish those moments, and during the week when I have to go to bed alone at my own house, it's just a little bit lonely. I can't imagine not sharing a bed once we're married. But again, I'm not married, so what do I know? However, neither of us are snorers or have other sleep disorders, and we don't have kids (babies, specifically), which I can see might get in the way.

    I don't want to sound like I'm casting judgment - forgive me if it sounds that way. I can understand how some of the stories people have told would make sharing a bed difficult - I guess you'd just have to try to keep the intimacy in the relationship in other ways.

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  4. My partner and I work different shifts - I work days, he works nights. But even still, he snores like a freight train. He is a HEAVY sleeper. Three seconds, he's out. I'm light. Sometimes it takes me a half hour to drift away. Because of this, his snoring keeps me awake. For the last six years, we've mostly kept our sleeping arrangement the same -- sharing a bed. However, sometimes it helps when he works his overnight shifts because that's when I get the best sleep. I don't condone couples sleeping separately (I mean, how do you quell the morning friskiness that most men wake up with if your other half is a room away?), but if it helps them sleep, by God, more power to them.

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  5. I believe sleeping together provides a great deal of the intimace that is necessary for a relationship to thrive. Sex is waaaaaay secondary to that.
    But it is true that you can have any kind of relationship, based on any kind of circumstances, as long as they are agreed to by both partners. I know a couple who have an agreement that they can go out with other people, and even sleep with them, as long as it's out in the open. Many people could NEVER condone this sort of marriage... and many would think this would be destructive. Works for them, though.
    For me, I like the intimacy of sleeping together. I am in a relationship now where we both have our own places, but he comes and spends the night about four times a week. I am the one who snores in this story, and I'm sure he'd prefer it if I didn't! (hee) But then again, he is the one who first showed an interest in "sleeping" together.
    My sister also snores as terribly as I do, and her hubby chose to use earplugs as a solution. They are a very close couple and I'm sure he could think of no reason to deny the cuddling time that so much matters to him!

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  6. I need a seperate bedroom. My husband is up and down all night. hearing things, letting the dog out (she can wait till morning) and going to the bathroom. I haven't had a decent nights sleep since our relationship was new and he kept his but in bed all night.

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  7. The majority of the people that I see that sleep in separate bedrooms are people who have been married for 30 years and are living more as roommates than spouses. I never see them show ANY affection.

    If snoring is really bad, the snorer should see a doctor about it. I believe some of it can be remedied. As for needing a TV to fall asleep, I think that's a bad sign that someone watches way too much TV and relies on it. I don't think that's necessarily very healthy.

    However, if the relationship is generally healthy, as noted in that email, by all means, sleep wherever you want.

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  8. What a great subject to explore! I just can't make up my mind. The idea of having my own sleeping quarters sounds good---I like the T.V. on and the foot of the bed vibrating to fall asleep. I like the windows closed, so the train whistles don't wake me up and the A/C on, so my asthma doesn't kick in. Most of all, I love seeing his head on his pillow and hearing him gently breathing --- then, I know he is still alive. He, on the other hand, prefers to sleep with the windows open, radio on and no vibration. We do have extra bedrooms, but I can't sleep when he is out of town --- could I sleep when he is out of the room? I better toss a coin or give the separate option a try.

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  9. ok - she is talking about me - or i could have written this...smile

    we find that we are better people in our relationship when we both get sleep and this means that he has his own sleeping space..

    something he does which is really nice - i actually asked for it - when it is time for me to go to bed he will come in and tlak for a bit until i fall asleep and then go into his space..and snore his heart out while watching tv with the headphones on...

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  10. Can you go read the 9/5 blog and help this man out

    http://cailmarlo.blogspot.com/

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  11. I'm not married but the last time I was involved with someone I always made him go home at night. Not that I didn't like him or like cuddling with him, but he wasn't fun to actually try to SLEEP with. He snored, he moved around a lot, hogged the blankets and pillows, was too warm, rolled over on me (he outweighed me by eighty pounds), etc. If we had had room for a queen-sized bed it might have worked, but we didn't, and I can't sleep with that much activity in the room.

    It was never a problem, we just realized that our sleeping patterns didn't match and since neither of us missed something that we would have been sleeping through, anyway, it was never an issue. We cuddled plenty when we weren't sleeping.

    I tend to need a little more personal space than some people, so this just seems like one of those whatever-works-for-you situations.

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  12. My husband and I not only sleep together in the same bed every single night, but we also go to bed at the same time :)
    I was away from him for 2 weeks last year and I hated it. I need to feel him close to me at night.

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  13. Well folks there are a lot of reasons to get a good nights sleep. You can sure function better when you're rested. My husband snored for years. I finally got him to have a sleep study and he had sleep apnea. Now he uses a CPAP machine and doesn't snore at all. Then he was getting up 3 or 4 times a night to go to the bathroom. I took him to a urologist and sure enough, he had an enlarged prostate. He couldn't empty his bladder. He had a procedure called Cooled TUMT. It shrinks the prostate and allows the bladder to be emptied. He doesn't get up any more at night. Finally, I can get a good nights sleep with my husband. I slept on the couch for several years to get some rest. So my advice, if you're having problems, take your hubby to the doctor and have him evaluated.

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  14. People who don't snore always say snorers should see a doctor about it.

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  15. Ok I can't resist throwing in my two cents here.

    My live-in boyfriend and I rarely share a bed all night. We keep each other awake half the night if we do - moving around, snoring, stealing all the blankets - that type of thing. Also, he had a hard time adjusting to my bed because it's softer than his old mattress.

    So I solved the problem by buying a futon mattress. It's on the floor next to the bed. Now, when I'm not home, he does usually sleep in the bed. But if I am home, and sleeping in the bed, he will sleep on the futon mattress. The guy likes his space. Maybe if we had a king sized mattress, we could share a bed. But we don't so that's that.

    Of course, some people think we're crazy. But really, sleep is important. And trust me, we get plenty of cuddle time, talk time and intimate time. He will usually wake me up and lay with me to talk, cuddle or be intimate before he goes to sleep on his futon mattress.

    I don't know how I would do if he were in a different room though. I like sharing a room - I've done it most of my life since I shared a room with my sister for 18 years, had my own room for a few before I moved in with my boyfriend and now, we share a room.

    Overall, I think that there is nothing wrong with sleeping separately. It's a couple's choice and it depends on them. Every relationship is different and there is no normal! Happy sleeping to all of you!

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  16. If it works for you and that's what both of you want then go for it.
    Personally I can't get a decent nights sleep unless I'm elbowed between the eyes in the middle of the night.

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  17. Anonymous3:29 AM

    my parents have had separate bedrooms ever since i can remember. for the same reasons: they both snore heavily and my dad moves a lot while he's asleep. while i can understand their decision and why they make it, i can also say they have never been a very affectionate couple.

    i think you're wrong about sleeping together not being important. i feel much safer when i feel my boyfriend's arms around me. yes, when i wake up in the morning i notice we both have moved and we're not cuddling anymore but i fall asleep in his arms and that is very important. and the first thing we do when we wake up is go back to holding each other. and that is for me a very good way to get close to him and a very important part of the intimacy we share.

    if others are ok with not sleeping together, fine by them. but i think it can do wonders for a couple's affection.

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  18. My husband and I frequently sleep in separate rooms, for all of the reasons listed by others - he snores, (so loudly sometimes that even earplugs don't block the sound) and I am a light sleeper but fidgety, so if I am a fidget and keep tossing, I remove myself from our bed for his sake, and if he is snoring like a freight train, I wake him and he removes himself to the recliner, where his sinuses and my ears get relief. We also both took to separate rooms - neither of us in the master bedroom - for a period of months when our bed was killing our backs. Of course the solution to this was a new bed, but we still often opt for separate sleeping spaces because a good night's rest makes us better spouses in every other way.

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  19. As long as it's okay with you both it shoud not matter WHERE you sleep.It has nothing to do with your affection for one another.

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  20. If it works for both of you dont worry what anyone else has to say!

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  21. My husband and I sleep in the same room, just different spots. We've taken to sleeping in the living room, on two seperate couches. For two reasons:

    Our bedroom is right above the moldiest part of the basement. I am deathly allergic to mold. I kept waking up, my face swollen, unable to breathe. So we abandoned the bedroom.

    For two, we only have a full-size bed. I like the room cold, and to have piles of blankets. He likes it warm, with no blanket or sheet. I move around like a maniac. He rolls over on top of me.

    So now, we sleep on the couches in the living room. It works best for us. We're super-affectionate, and love spending time together, but seriously, we need our sleep. We've found, too, that since sleeping like this, we've fought less, been less irritable, and had more sex. Interesting, huh?

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  22. I just heard something interesting on the Today Show. They were interviewing two women who had written books about intimacey. I only listened briefly, but one of them was saying that people mistakenly think that more intimacy automatically means more sex. So they get confused when they have more of the closeness(they were specifically addressing having been married for years) and yet less sexual encounters.

    She said, "Love wants closeness. Desire wants distance."

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  23. Anonymous2:13 AM

    Interestingly enough, our sex life and our communication has gotten better after sleeping in separate rooms. We do spend time together in my room before he heads to his room and we are affectionate in front of the kids. We also instituted a 'date' night in his room to keep the closeness. We were never very snuggly before bed anyways-when in bed, I sleep. We snuggle elsewhere!!
    For the people who say their parents were never very affectionate in separate bedrooms, do you believe that was a direct result of the different rooms or other relationship problems??

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  24. Long after the fact, but the New York Times just printed an article about sharing a bed.

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  25. If we journey back in history far enough, wealthy people always had separate sleeping quarters. It was the poor, the peasants who instituted sharing beds out of necessity.

    Separate sleeping and dressing quarters gave way to the mistique and mystery that is totally lacking in shared space. Privacy was held in high regard.

    Ever hear the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt"?

    Think on that for a moment. And then recall what you felt for your lover before he farted on you in bed, or scratched his gonads incessantly while lying there watching TV. Did either of those things turn you on, make you feel romantically inclined?

    Or how about when he turns over and breathes in your face so often that you have to lie in one position every night to avoid that lovely romantic odor.

    Can you recall what it felt like to fall in love before the nastier more personal aspects of your mate turned the romance to stale?

    I myself am very private. I don't like to get dressed or undressed with someone watching me. I like to go to the bathroom alone, bathe alone and stretch way out when I sleep. I like my blankets, my temperature preference and the TV on or off as I wish.

    I had a good sex life and marriage for 21 years, until my husband died. We slept in separate rooms and we had the thrill of mystery always.

    It is like all other things in any relationship,..... what works for the people in it.

    My new man hates my preference and it is his insecurity and mainstream closed minded notions about relationships, and his whining and demanding that will foil things, not the actual sleeping arrangement.

    ~P~

    But then his ideas are always in keeping up with the Jones's....:-P

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  26. Anonymous2:08 PM

    I guess my question is, how do we handle the different sleeping preferences? Only married 4 months, my husband recently decided that he feels he is being kinder to me by moving to another room for the night after I fall asleep due to his insomnia. I actually prefer to have him in bed with me because I sleep well the vast majority of the time even when he can't. I prefer the intimacy sleeping together brings us but understand when he has to move to another room on occasion. However, he'd rather move every night after I fall asleep to avoid the occasional sleep disruption for me. Any ideas on how we compromise?

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  27. Anonymous11:44 AM

    I haven't seen this one yet...I am a 60 year old woman, married for 42 years. My husband says it is normal for older people to sleep in seperate rooms. I don't think it's right. He told me yesterday that I was snoring so loud in the spare bedroom that he had to close my bedroom door and his bedroom door to keep the noise down. I hate sleeping apart from him but he can't stand my/any noise. He is a light sleeper and I'm not. Please comment!!!! Maybe it will help me to talk to others about this. HELP....

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  28. Anonymous2:09 AM

    Well Pia, I wish I had your ideas about sleeping arrangements and bathing arrangements etc.. It really sounds like the best solution for me too. My husband of 42 years doesn't like it when I get water on the floor after I shower in his bathroom so I've moved my showering to my bathroom and that arrangement is OK with me. I am having trouble with having a seperate bedroom from him. I don't really like sleeping alone. I've really slept alone much of our married life because he has been out of town much of our married life. I'm just having a hard time with the concept. Do you have seperate closets etc. too? Oh, I should say the reason for us needing seperate bedrooms is very embarassing to me...it is because I SNORE and he is a light sleeper. I wish I could get over this silly hangup!!!!

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  29. Anonymous10:17 AM

    My husband and I have slept in separate bedrooms for years. It started when I was very sick and didn't want to share the germ while we were sleeping. Both of us had a GREAT night of sleep. It was the start of a beautiful thing. We are a young couple and don't care what anyone thinks about our separate bedrooms. Our marriage is just as strong as the folks that judge us to be strange. I bet a lot of them would be in a much better mood if they were getting as much sleep as us! :)

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  30. Anonymous10:43 PM

    I am so glad to find this article! I decided to look this up after my husband and I had another discussion about sleeping in seperate rooms.

    I snore and am a very heavy sleeper, plus I'm a night owl. He's a light sleeper and early riser. He usually goes to bed after our toddler does at 8 pm and I don't feel productive unless I'm up until 1 am--I don't have to be at work until 9 am.

    My husband says ear plugs don't work for him. I had a sleep study since my father had sleep apnea. Turned out I was normal so no medical fix.

    So my husband started sleeping in the guest room to get a good night rest. I have to say I enjoyed having my own bed to myself and not worrying about waking him up when I went to bed. I was just concerned about what our son would think as he got older. Right now, he doesn't notice since my husband goes to bed after him and is at work by the time my son and I wake up in the morning.

    My husband has really enjoyed it and says it is fine since his aunts and uncles have always done it. He has 2 sets of aunts and uncles with no children, but 1 set who have three children. The husband of that couple is also a Lutheran minister. All three couples are close with their spouse. My husband comes from a strong German Lutheran background which I believe has something to do with it. His parents, however, shared a bedroom.

    I am so glad to know this is not abnormal and can't wait to tell my husband. We plan to be honest with my son when he starts asking questions about our arrangement, but we're a very physical family--lots of hugs and kisses-- so I don't think he'll be screwed up by all this.

    I really liked Pia's comments and am in total agreement about the bodily functions. My husband has actually started using the hall bath which our son uses since it's closer to the guest room. He also says he doesn't like the shower in our master bath. So I pretty much have the master bath to myself as well. We were 30 when we got married and had spent most of our lives with our own bedroom so this was not a big adjustment.

    Thanks for settimg my mind at ease. Glad to know we're not alone.

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  31. Anonymous9:45 PM

    My husband had a stroke 2 years into our marriage. He was always a bit of a snorer, but the stroke left him with soft pallat damage and that made the snoring intolerable. We have seperate rooms (and closets) and it has been amazing to have sleep. He sleeps better because he isn't worried about keeping me awake, and I sleep better, because it's quiet. He does have emotional issues that make it hard for him to accept that this is our life now, but we work thru that. I don't think any one plan works for everyone and if a marriage is going to survive at all, flexibility is the key to most all issues. Even bedrooms and closets.

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  32. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Great post. I find the difficulties and choices made by couples in their sleeping habits to be fascinating. I’d love to read more on this topic.

    Here’s a recent article I particularly enjoyed on couples’ sleeping arrangements: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/zzzzzzzz/

    I’d love to see more like it. Thanks!

    -Karen

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