“My husband and I genuinely care about having a great relationship. But if we are tired, our relationship just suffers,” says Jennifer Adams, who has been in a relationship with her husband for 12 years and spent the last eleven of those sleeping in a separate bed to him.
For many couples sleeping away from your partner is synonymous with relationship woes, matrimonial discord and as a result of arguments: you only have to look at celebrities being described as ‘kicked out’ of bed by their partner when they say they are no longer bed-sharing. Even if it is due to children, hectic schedules or other plausible factors.
But as more people in the UK are choosing to sleep alone – a survey last year of 1500 Britons found one quarter (24%) of couples were regularly sleeping away from their other half (more than three times a week) – is it time to reconsider the potential benefits rather than just seeing it as the beginning of the end?
“There are lots of reasons why a couple may choose to sleep in separate beds or rooms,” says Martin Burrow, Relate counsellor and sex therapist, saying that the majority of reasons he hears are practical ones, things that interrupt sleep patterns – like working different shifts or being a loud sleeper. For example, Adams says her husband snores and has to wake up early for work, whereas she sleeps lightly and doesn’t need to get up until much later for her job. They worked this out in the first month of living together and never looked back.
Another reason for lots of couples, says Burrow, is having children. Couples might want to sleep separately to facilitate co-sleeping with young family members, in fact one sixth (16%) of those asked in the survey attributed their arrangement to the presence of a child in the main bed.
Although many couples might be able to see they would be less argumentative or short-tempered if they had eight hours rest every night – and weren’t constantly being kicked by a toddler – you’ve got to ask the question: how does this affect your closeness both emotionally and physically?
Sarah Ryan, a relationship expert, tells HuffPost UK that she, like many people, is suspicious about couples taking this road. “I am all for absence makes the heart grow fonder but I do not believe in the bedroom it is the case.” In fact, she says sleeping together makes couples more connected. “It also creates a sense of closeness emotionally due to physical proximity. We let our guards down and have full disclosure of our vulnerability,” she adds.
“I am all for absence makes the heart grow fonder but I do not believe in the bedroom it is the case…”
When asked about intimacy Adams says, matter-of-factly: “We still have sex.” In fact, she says they make an effort to spend bedtime together. It’s just the sleeping that is done separately. “We spend time lying next to each other in bed, chatting, catching up on the day’s events, lying next to each other in silence, and all the other ‘normal’ bed-related activities,” she explains.
But what about the spontaneity? “In reality, sex is rarely truly spontaneous and most couples (even those sharing a bed full-time) would benefit from scheduling in time for intimacy,” says Burrow. “It removes the predictability of lying next to each other every night,” agrees family counsellor Armele Philpotts. “And means couples might have to make more effort to connect.”
While being either side of a wall might require you to make a bit more proactive, it’s not impossible to see how this would work. Afterall couples who live in separate houses and infrequently share a bed, don’t just not have sex. And perhaps if you’re better rested it could be a positive step for your sex life.
Indeed Adams says that being able to get a good night’s rest enables them to be better spouses to each other during the day. “When we were in the early throes of romance, the last thing either of us thought would be a distinctive feature of our relationship was heading to separate rooms each night. But it is.”
For many couples this might raise the (not easily-dismissed) point that this is only really going to work if you have another bedroom to go to. A spare room rather than a sofa, which inevitably will lessen the quality of sleep and comfort for the party drawing the short straw.
So do you need to sleep in the same bed to have a good quality of relationship? It depends. Ask yourself: is sleeping separately is down to a conscious or proactive choice or a habit you’ve passively adopted over time? Also was it a decision made between you or enforced by one?
“If it’s a habit that you’ve fallen into but not happy about, talk about this with your partner and see whether there are any solutions such as ear plugs for snoring or getting into the habit of going to bed at the same time,“says Burrow.
“The main thing is that fears and ‘unsaid’ worries are rarely helpful, if one partner doesn’t want to move back to the same room, it should be explored to see why,” says a spokesperson for Tavistock counselling services. “But as an agreed joint decision it could spark something fresh in both partners’ lives.”