Real Intimacy: Sleeping ApartWritten by Lori Hollander | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The number of couples who sleep apart has been increasing. Once considered unusual, this set-up is now reported by nearly 25% of couples, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep researchers point to the biological components involved. Studies find approximately six nightly awakenings caused by a partner and serious tension arising from a “lark” living with an “owl.” Of course, problems ensuing from snoring, blanket stealing, and midnight kicking come with the territory.
For these reasons, the National Association of Home Builders estimates that close to two thirds of custom-built houses will have two master bedrooms by 2015. Really? Really.
According to Simon Crompton in the The (London)Times, “In a 24/7 world where sleep is increasingly precious, single beds may represent the future.”
But many deeply cherish cozy pillow talk before drifting off, the warmth of one another’s skin during sleep, and the sight of their partner’s face first thing in the morning. Stolen blankets and midnight awakenings are well worth it for many.
So if sleep challenges arise, is finding your own bedroom the only way to resolve it?
If each partner genuinely wants to sleep apart, then discussing sleeping problems openly and chooses a plan together is essential. Cuddling up and lingering over conversation before retreating to individual bedrooms works for many. By infusing extra energy into their relationship, where they sleep may matter less for these couples.
But for many others, sleeping separately signals deeper relationship problems that need attention. And separate beds may bury the problem rather than solve it.
While a whopping 25% of couples sleep apart, the reality is that only a portion of those couples truly enjoy it.
In my clinical practice I have found that for many couples, sleeping separately was not a joint decision. And for many more, it was not intentional, either. For example, if a month of late studying and sleeping downstairs somehow morphed into years, it is likely that unspoken feelings began running the show.
In other words, when a strong underlying source of relationship tension leaves one partner feeling backed into a corner, a separate bedroom may seem like the only way out.
But when that partner stops coming to bed, the other person is often left with feelings of rejection and hopelessness.
In an effort to avoid initiating what may seem like an ugly conversation, many hope that time will bring change. Unfortunately, however, these patterns tend to cement the longer they are left alone.
But here is the good news. If you can get to the core of the matter successfully, these situations are easier to turn around than they look.
Here are several highly effective ways to start uncovering the most common underlying problems.
1. Start in the middle
If you are sleeping apart, try planning three nights weekly to sleeping together. The knowledge that certain nights are still reserved for alone time can make time together take on a different feeling practically overnight (pun intended).
2. Eliminate common “under the radar” obstacles
A highly underreported problem involves touch, too much touch, that is. One may squeeze a partner lovingly, but the recipient (usually a woman) may feel, ahem, “groped,” potentially disrupting her from unwinding and relaxing before sleep. Simply touching differently can create more room to relax together rather than apart.
3. Clear the air between you
Often, sleeping apart has more to do with what occurs outside the bedroom, a symptom of emotional distance taking a toll. If so, listening (much) more, paying extra compliments, and criticizing less often inspire desire to cuddle later.
4. Don’t overlook the little things
If snoring is severe, an advanced sound machine combined with old fashioned ear plugs may be essential. Don’t fight over blankets when individual ones are an option. And consider a king size bed for room to curl up together plus room to stretch out later.
5. Reevaluate every few months
Knowing that any new plan is not permanent instills freedom to experiment. And that freedom gives people more room to try and try again to find what works rather than settling for what doesn’t.
In sum, turning toward your partner rather than turning away, whether from a separate or shared bed, is vital for a future full of real intimacy.
Lori Hollander, MSW, MBA, is a couples and sex therapist for the Center for Real Intimacy, 3365 Washtenaw Ave, Suite 208, Ann Arbor, MI 48104