Most of all, we love our space and the feeling of stretching, uncluttered, for seven to eight hours. And I realized during this last year of forced unity how much the choice we made for nocturnal solitude was a mutual gift.
I didn’t start out that way. When I had my first serious boyfriend in graduate school (I was late) spending the night together was a barometer of devotion. Not staying meant something was wrong.
I was less likely to think this by the time I met my husband. But even though I knew sleeping in separate beds didn’t mean we lacked privacy, I still thought we had to be missing out on something, especially when watching romantic movies featuring couples having fluffy pillows or each other. lovingly waking up wrapped around each other. The idea of a woman snuggling up to her significant other, then falling asleep in a blissful slumber, lived largely in my imagination.
So I tried to make it happen. While my husband and I clearly preferred our arrangement, I aspired to be a couple with traditional sleeping arrangements at various times – most notably in the early 2010s when we were having marriage issues. I would listen to friends say how much they appreciate the closeness of sleeping in the same bed and think, “Oh, that must be what we’re missing.”
Of course, it was not. The gist of our marital struggles was simply this: We both had to grow up. For me, growing up ultimately meant accepting that doing things in our marriage differently from the norm was what made us better. Like sleeping in separate beds.
Every few years, a study publishes results on sleep problems associated with couples sharing a bed or on the number of couples who don’t actually sleep, as 2013 research from the University of California at Berkeley, which found a bad night’s sleep together. may make couples fight more during the day, or a 2017 Better Sleep Council survey found that 63% of couples sleep most of the night apart.
Sleep scientist Wendy Troxel, whose name I’ve seen associated with at least half of the studies I’ve scanned, gave an entire TED talk on the topic of couples sleeping separately. She pointed out that not only is the study of couples’ sleep patterns relatively new (traditionally, most sleep studies have had a single person come to a sleep lab), there is hardly any research. on whether sleeping separately harms a couple’s privacy.
This is one area, however, where the data can’t tell the whole story because it’s the couples themselves who decide if it’s unhealthy for the relationship. My husband and I have better privacy now because we basically get along. We got here because of all the conversations and moments of vulnerability that happened during the day – not the sleepless, snoring-filled nights.
I know we’re not alone, and during the close quarters that defined 2020 for so many couples, I bet our situation was enviable. And yet sleeping separately is almost always portrayed as a sign of trouble in a relationship. In movies and shows, the trope of someone sleeping on the couch when their partners are fighting is ubiquitous. I used to bristle up and take these scenes personally. Now I laugh. It is a scenario so unoriginal and so false.
It’s the couples themselves who decide if it’s unhealthy for the relationship. My husband and I have better privacy now because we basically get along.
Of course, our kids see these same representations as well, and I doubt the majority of their friends have parents with separate bedrooms. Having recently written a book on honesty, I don’t hesitate to have frank conversations about taboo topics with children. What I pointed out in our conversations is that having separate bedrooms is not a sign of a problem; it’s a sign that we love and respect each other more than we care about optics.
Married couples who sleep separately have recently been called a “sleep divorce”. The nascent discussion and reporting on the subject is a good thing, but the term stinks. It’s a misguided and inherently negative term – and reinforces all the social pressure against taking action that can be healthy for both a relationship and a person’s body.
Maybe I’ll think of a better, funnier term tonight, in my quiet, cold room without sneezing or snoring. And the next day I’m going to walk into the kitchen, kiss my husband hello and, well rested and happy to be together, we’ll laugh about it together.