Sleeping in separate bedrooms: Marriage saver or intimacy killer?

Many couples choose to sleep alone.

Sharing a bed with your partner is a tradition that has been upheld by couples for centuries, and one many people believe is a huge part of marriage.

But more and more couples are now going their separate ways at night time

Celebrities including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have previously spoken about keeping some physical distance in their relationships, with separate bathrooms and areas in the house, and it’s a choice many people are making right around the world, for any number of reasons.

In fact, in December Prince Charles and Camilla were claimed to have three separate bedrooms, one for her, one for him and one to share – although this wasn’t officially confirmed at the time. But does it affect intimacy? Or could it actually benefit your marriage? 

Why do couples choose to sleep apart?

Relationships Australia CEO Elisabeth Shaw told Starts at 60 that it’s a lot more common to sleep separately than people think. She explained the reason was most often a health concern, or one person being a restless sleeper. Other possible reasons include snoring, sleep apnea, different schedules, a young child sleeping in the bed, or simply one person in the relationship needing more sleep.

“It can happen ad hoc (giving it less meaning and less impact) or more permanently, say in the case of sleep apnea or snoring,” she said. 

Is it a common choice?

According to a 2015 survey by the US-based National Sleep Foundation, an estimated one in four couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds, The Australian has reported previously.

Can it have a positive impact?

A previous study by EurekAlert found disrupted sleep can trigger health problem, and also have a negative effect on relationships. Ensuring each of you have a good night’s sleep reduces the chance of being tired and grumpy and thus arguments being sparked the next day. Lead investigator and psychologist Amie Gordon said: “Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritise our own needs over our partner’s.”

In fact, regularly sleeping apart can make you more than just nicer to your partner. Shaw has met several couples who choose to sleep separately, and when they do invite their other half to join them in bed, it can reignite a lot of excitement in their relationship, leading to greater intimacy.

“Some couples who have always slept separately because of restlessness for example, have told me they find the need to invite the other into bed can be playful and erotic –  it makes intimacy at bedtime a deliberate invitation rather than something that can become quite domestic and not very exciting,” she explained.

Shaw insisted that sleeping in the same bed was not the only way to keep intimacy in your relationship. “The couples that find [sleeping apart] has little impact on intimacy are those where of course intimacy was always strong, and where they don’t have to be in the same bed at bedtime to still have sex, affection or a sense of couple closeness,” she said.

What about the downsides?

On the flip side, clinical psychologist Michael J Breus believes sleeping apart can have a negative affect on many relationships. Writing for Psychology Today, he urged couples to attempt to address their sleep problems first using other methods.

“For couples who sleep together, this time can be one of deep closeness and intimacy, sexual and emotional,” he said. “The intimacy established by sleeping together is for many a cherished and valuable aspect of being a couple. The challenge is to create and maintain strong, healthy, and compatible sleep habits for a shared sleeping space.”

Shaw also pointed out if there were underlying issues in a relationship, then moving to separate beds could be a “convenient out” that meant problems were buried rather than addressed, at least in the short-term. She explained it’s the “story” behind the move to sleep separately that can determine if a couple suffers problems afterwards.

Do you and your partner sleep in separate bedrooms? Do you think it has a negative impact on intimacy? Or do you feel much better about each other after a good night’s sleep?

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