Sleeping apart to stay together

Growing up having sleepovers with my best friend, I often noticed her parents fighting. They would often refuse to sleep in the same bed together, seemingly to punish each other. Several years later, this couple ended up divorcing. While I did not ever discover the actual reason for their divorce, I remember my father condescendingly saying, “those that sleep together, stay together,” as if the sum of all marital problems comes down to one’s sleeping arrangements. 


As my view of the world has expanded, I started to question the notion that couples should and must sleep in the same room for a relationship to be healthy. The expectation that couples sleep in the same room is a social norm, an unspoken rule of relationships. If you sleep in a different room, the norm states, then your relationship must be broken to the point that seeing your partner causes distress. Maybe they cheated or racked up a bunch of debt behind their partner’s back; whatever the reason, it is usually not a good thing that causes couples to sleep in separate spaces. 


What if there is a better way to look at it? What if instead of couples sleeping separately because their relationship has reached a breaking point, they take that space so they don’t reach that breaking point as intensely or at all?


Sleeping in separate bedrooms has been a great thing for my relationship, and I firmly believe it should become less stigmatized. There are many benefits to separate rooms. While it might be considered by society as the kiss of death to a relationship for partners to sleep in different spaces, if it’s done in a way that fulfills the needs of those in the relationship it can protect a relationship from failure. 


My partner and I sleep better when we sleep alone or apart. I remember my mother talking about the many hours she spent lying awake because my father snored like a locomotive; I got this wonderful genetic gift of snoring loudly and would no doubt also keep my partner from sleeping. Furthermore, my current partner has this almost creepy habit of bolting straight up in bed and screaming in her sleep, and I, as a light sleeper, would never be able to sleep through something like that on a nightly basis. Both my partner and I are insomniacs, so sleeping is already hard. Why make it harder by attempting to sleep in the same room?


A lack of sleep can cause relationship problems all by itself. I am sure everyone has experienced irritability that comes from a lack of sleep. When one knows that the cause of this is someone else, it makes it that much harder to not lash out at that person. The Cleveland Clinic even recognizes how a lack of sleep can lead to relationship problems, saying that it can lead to conflict due to the moodiness that comes from a lack of sleep. 


Sleeping in separate rooms allows each individual in the relationship to have their own space. Not every minute of a healthy relationship should be spent with a partner. With COVID-19 forcing us to be inside and at home for a majority of the past year, being able to just go to my room and be alone has been incredibly beneficial for my sanity. Some couples have had to find places to hide to be alone; I can’t imagine that has been the best thing for any relationship. Having your own space has to be incredibly alluring, considering that many of us have only left the house for essentials for the past year, and going to a bar to unwind is no longer an option.


Communication is vital in any relationship. If one can not effectively communicate, it will destroy a relationship. Ineffective communication is the key factor in many divorces. A study led by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver reported the “most often cited reasons for divorce at the individual level were lack of commitment (75.0%), infidelity (59.6%), and too much conflict and arguing (57.7%).” A lack of good communication is the common thread in all these difficulties. 


When we have a separate room from our partners, it can help create better communication habits. If my girlfriend and I get into an argument, we can go to our perspective rooms to calm down and think before we speak. We can write out our thoughts, scream into a pillow or do whatever it takes to regain our composure and then communicate without taking those extreme emotions out on each other. As relationship expert Sarah Jones says, “remember that when you take the time you need, you are happier, less stressed and more engaged with your partner.” 


In the end, every relationship is different and how you choose to navigate that relationship is entirely up to you. However, recognizing that you don’t have to conform to societal norms provides you with the ability to explore options that you might not have identified as a possibility. Normalizing the things we do in our relationships that make them stronger might help others to find the same power in their own relationships. Sleeping in separate spaces should not be viewed negatively; instead, we should recognize, for some people, sleeping apart makes their relationship stronger for the times they’re together. ‌