Could Separate Beds Improve Your Marriage?

Separate sleeping arrangements aren't always a sign of a bad relationship

Night after night, Lisa would be awakened by her husband’s snoring. Tired and annoyed, she’d usually shove him until he woke up. He’d grumble and roll over; then, within minutes, he’d be sound asleep and snoring again. Lisa, meanwhile, would be wide awake and furious.

“I was starting to want to kill him,” says Lisa of her husband of 13 years and father of their three children.

It wasn't long before one or the other ended up sleeping on the spare bed in Lisa’s office. After a couple years of adhering to the ad hoc arrangement, Lisa and her husband finally admitted the obvious: They preferred sleeping separately.

“I have to say it’s awesome,” says Lisa, who only wanted her first name used because they’re not out as separate sleepers. “My husband thinks it’s great too. He realizes I’m a much nicer person if I get enough sleep.”

In the past, a separate sleeping arrangement like theirs may have been seen as a sign of strife in a marriage (and fears of a lingering stigma still keep many couples quiet about it). But it's increasingly being seen as a solution to a potential source of marital conflict: sleep deprivation.

One in three Americans surveyed by the Better Sleep Council in 2007 reported that a partner’s sleep habits was affecting his or her sleep. That might help explain why a National Sleep Foundation survey found nearly one in four American couples now sleep in separate bedrooms or beds--a number that's expected to keep growing.  (The National Association of Home Builders has said it expects 60 percent of custom homes to have two master bedrooms by 2015.)

Jim Maas and Rebecca Robbins, sleep experts and authors of Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask, say snoring (often caused by sleep apnea, which is becoming more common), restless leg syndrome and couples working different shifts help explain the growing number of separate bed marriages. But biology also plays a part -- women are naturally lighter sleepers than men, says Maas, a professor of psychology at Cornell University.

Still, even if such arrangements are becoming more common, they do raise questions like, well, how much are these couples doing something besides sleeping in bed?

Lisa, and others, insist that having a healthy sex life has nothing to do with sharing a bed. “I don’t know who rolls over at 2 a.m. and decides that’s the time to have sex,” she says. “If you want to have sex you do it and then boot him out. Single people do it all the time.’”

Success stories like hers also bring up a more provocative question: Could sleeping in separate beds actually improve a relationship?

Experts seem divided on this one.

“In all of my years as a marriage therapist there have been maybe two or three cases of happily married couples sleeping in separate bedrooms,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage. Marriage is hard enough these days, she says, given all the other demands on our attention like work, kids, and technology. Sharing a bed forces people to reconnect at the end of a long day.

“When couples discuss having another bedroom it’s because there’s something they don’t want to deal with in the relationship,” says O’Neill, who lists sharing a bed as one of her secrets to a happy marriage. “It’s the beginning of what becomes a disconnected relationship.”

But relationship expert Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., isn’t  convinced that having separate bedrooms is the harbinger of marital woes. “It can be a great solution for people with sleep problems,” says Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.

Still, she warns that it does mean couples have to work harder at staying connected. Lisa and her husband have found that’s true. Their solution: Each evening, after the kids are sleep, they meet up in the master bedroom’s king-sized bed. They cuddle. They talk. They watch TV. And if her husband nods off, she gently wakes him and tells him to mosey along.

Can marriages thrive in seperate beds, or is sleeping together the key to staying together? Chime in below!

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