Sleeping Single in a Double Bed
If snoring or disruptive sleep is the problem, sleeping apart could save your marriage.
Staying Close While You're Apart
All couples sleep apart sometimes, says Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, a marriage and family therapist in Illinois. "People may be embarrassed to talk about it, but it's rampant."
The impact on their relationship, she explains, is determined by the meaning they give it -- and how they do it. "If they're sleeping apart all the time, it can create problems. If one person thinks that isn't how marriage should be, it's a problem," says Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage.
"As long as couples continue to connect physically, sleeping apart can be OK," she tells WebMD. "But when people stop touching each other regularly -- when they stop being physically intimate, stop cuddling, stop laughing at each other's jokes, stop spending time together -- that puts them at risk for infidelity and divorce. Many couples say they feel like brother and sister, like roommates. That's a big danger sign."
Sleeping apart requires a conscious effort to keep the fires burning. "If you're sleeping in separate beds, there has to be an effort to maintain emotional and physical intimacy," says Weiner-Davis, whose private practice is called The Divorce Busting Center. "If one person is withholding or playing games, that won't happen. If one person interprets sleeping apart as abandonment, the ultimate rejection -- yet the other person grew up in a family where his parents slept apart, and doesn't see it as a problem -- there will be problems."
Compromise is critical, she explains. "Healthy marriages are built on mutual caretaking. Sometimes the night owl needs to go to bed with the early bird -- watch TV, be romantic. If she falls asleep and he still needs to get up, that's OK. As long as intimacy is addressed, their relationship can be OK."
If snoring is the issue, the mid-night move is usually the answer. "They may start out in the same bed, but during the course of the evening, someone moves to the guest bedroom," Weiner-Davis suggests. "There's a lot of social acceptance about that. People joke about it socially, that it's like sleeping beside a bear -- you've got to move into the other room. It doesn't have to be a problem, as long as they make a conscious effort to keep their connection."
Masking Marital Problems?
At times, however, a problem like snoring is a convenient excuse to bail out of the bedroom. "It's not always as simple as a deviated septum or differences in circadian patterns," says David Schnarch, MD, a Colorado psychologist, certified sex therapist for over 30 years, and author of Passionate Marriage: Sex, Love, and Intimacy in Committed Relationships.
"The issue is, is the couple paying attention to what's happening in the relationship," Schnarch tells WebMD. "The truth is, for a lot of people, having a good reason to sleep separately -- like snoring -- allows them to ignore what they don't want to pay attention to. It's not a loss for them to sleep separately. The sex may be so mediocre that sleeping apart is not a loss. It may not be a sexual issue per se -- but the couple has become so emotionally alienated that snoring is the ticket out."