Poet Rainer Maria Rilke protested that marriage has to be more than four legs in a bed, but, in modern marriages, even the marital bed is called into question. Whether you call it separate bedrooms or sleeping apart, the rate of spouses having separate nighttime arrangements is on the rise. The verdict is out on whether sleeping apart strengthens or threatens a marriage.
Some couples swear that spending nights in separate bedrooms saves their marriages. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist in Denver, Colorado, says she's seen many clients whose marriages are stronger because of the practice. If spouses have completely different sleep habits, or if one spouse snores or has restless leg syndrome, one or both of them may be sleep-deprived on a regular basis. The big danger with this, according to Heitler, is the resentment it can cause in the marriage.
When spouses each sleep in separate rooms, nighttime romance -- and even cuddling and pillow talk -- flies out the window. Sometimes, separate beds results in less love-making and intimacy. A study in the UK, where one of every six couples sleep apart, two-thirds of those polled said that the practice had negatively affected their relationship. With fewer nighttime chats and no snuggling, couples felt that they were slowly drifting away from each other.
The intimacy established by sleeping together is, for many, a cherished and valuable aspect of being a couple, according to Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist. If one spouse insists on separate bedrooms while the other opposes it, friction naturally arises between them. Deprived of the joys of the deep closeness and intimacy that sleeping with a spouse can bring, some partners may begin to look for that closeness outside of the marriage. This is especially true where that spouse believes that the actual intent of the forced nighttime separation is not a good night's sleep, but less frequent sex.
Couples who actually want to sleep together should take a few steps before they move into separate rooms at night. If you both are truly concerned about getting a good night's sleep, the one with sleep issues should consult a doctor. Effective treatments are available for many sleep disorders. Then make the bedroom as user-friendly as possible. Invest in a customized king-size bed, and be sure that the room is dark enough and the optimal temperature for sleep. Look for middle ground in your differences rather than rushing off to do your own thing, like a night-owl agreeing to go to bed a little earlier, while an early-to-bed spouse agrees to stay up a little longer.