By JENNIFER ADAMS
I’m going to lay my cards on the table straight away. My husband and I sleep in separate rooms and have done so since he moved into my house eight years ago.
If I was going to describe our ability to share a bed in contemporary parlance, I would have to say we are an ‘epic fail’.
When Fraser moved into my house, we had only been seeing each other for five months. But the lease on his apartment was ending and we both felt as though our relationship was ‘the real thing’.
So even though we didn’t think we would be making this decision so early, we dived on in and decided to cohabitate.
Even though we had already experienced a few sleepless nights when sharing a bed at each other’s place, we still trotted off down that well-worn path of all couples, and hopped into the same bed on the first night of our new domestic arrangements. Seven nights later we were bleary eyed, unable to function properly at work and re-thinking our decision to live together.
The immediate action needed was separate beds. Fraser’s bedroom furniture had been put to good use in the spare room, so he happily returned to his familiar sheets, pillows and bed. At that point we agreed we would need separate beds during the week, but on weekends we would share.
That decision lasted for two weeks. We simply could not sleep in the same bed and actually sleep and so had to face that fact that separate rooms every night was the only way we were both going to get a good night’s sleep and stay in the same house.
The main cause of our problem was Fraser’s snoring. (There were other factors such as disparate bed times, room and bed temperature differences, fan on/fan off etc) As a light sleeper, the noise from Fraser’s snoring kept me awake and made me anxious. I felt bad. He felt bad. We despaired together.
Although the decision was swift, making it was not easy, and was accompanied by a myriad of questions and fears. What did this mean? Was there something wrong with us? Was the relationship doomed? What would other people say? But more importantly, was it ok to prioritise getting a good night’s sleep over sleeping next to each other?
After a few tears from me during the first nights apart, but mentally fortified by a few nights of good sleep, we began to talk. And nine years on we’re still talking about what sleeping in separate rooms means for us. Over time the conversations have changed.
In the beginning they were fervoured talks about how much we loved each other and how separate rooms ABSOLUTELY did not mean we didn’t desire each other or want to be together.
After about six months, our comfort levels increased and we then talked about what we needed from each other to maintain intimacy in our relationship.
The conversations continued when one of us wasn’t maintaining their role in keeping the intimacy at a level we had agreed to, and continue today as we age, change our lifestyle, deal with the joy that is emotions, and accept from time to time, we need to tweak the arrangements that define how WE do sleep.
I have capitalised WE because I believe that is the crucial bit. How Fraser and I do sleep is different to every other couple. Compared to some, the differences might be minor, but against most mainstream Western couples, our arrangements are significantly different. And that has been a whole other bunch of conversations that we have had with many people. The main focus of those conversations has been convincing others that there was, and still is, nothing wrong with our relationship.
Unfortunately the default position from which separate sleepers often have to justify their decision is that “there must be something wrong”. And yes, there is something wrong – we can’t lie next to each other in the same bed and get enough sleep to function. But there’s nothing wrong with the relationship. We still love each other, want to be together and some of us separate sleepers even manage to fit in some procreating. (It’s true – people who sleep in separate beds still have sex. I promise. We do.)
Nine years on, Fraser and I have found that people are mostly convinced our relationship is not doomed for failure. As a couple we still argue and get cranky with each other over a whole range of issues – but I figure at least we are well rested and thinking clearly when we are trying to resolve those issues.
I’m often asked if I actually want to share a bed with Fraser. My answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The thought of snuggling and all that bed stuff sounds really good, but I just cannot see how it could happen with our different sleep needs and his snoring. We are genuinely happy with our arrangements and I don’t feel estranged from Fraser in any way due to our sleeping arrangements.
One thing I know is that we will need to keep talking about this part of our relationship because we are committed to each other and know that the ‘separate room’ thing requires work.
I also know that I will keep talking about our sleep arrangements to other people in the hope that separate sleepers everywhere can hold up their heads with pride, know they are not alone, and be congratulated for recognising the value and importance of a good night’s sleep and doing something about it.
And that is my bedtime story. Is it yours too?
Jennifer is a mid-40s, married woman, who is very open about the fact that she sleeps in a separate room to her husband. After discussing the topic with hundreds of people over the last three years she has written a book about the topic. The book is called “Sleeping apart – not falling apart: How to get a good night’s sleep and keep your relationship alive”, released in April 2013. Jennifer works in communications in the education sector and is always well rested, and ready to take on life’s daily challenges. She has a blog where she shares her thoughts and interesting titbits about sleeping – www.sleepingapartnotfallingapart.com
Does your partner have sleep behaviour that drives you nuts?