Separate Bedrooms, Happy Marriage

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Making Two Bedrooms Work

A Surprising Perk

All that reading time was great, but I discovered another benefit I hadn't expected: I slept more soundly in my new bedroom than I have since, well, I met my husband. I'm a light sleeper, and if I'm awoken within the first or last two hours of sleep, it's hopeless -- I'm up. Now, two mornings a week, I wake up feeling truly refreshed.

Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist and clinical psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, oversees many sleep divorces. The biggest problem he sees that separates couples is snoring (45 to 50 percent of men snore versus 20 percent of women), followed by different wake-up times and light sleepers. Before suggesting a sleep divorce, he asks patients to try earplugs, white noise machines, and nasal decongestants (for people who snore due to allergies). But generally many of his patients wind up sleeping in separate bedrooms. "It works out dramatically better for them," he says. Breus saw nothing wrong with my two-bedroom setup, but he did have one warning. "It's okay as long as you're careful not to lose intimacy," he told me. "Studies show that when couples aren't in close proximity, their relationship can suffer."

That's where I faltered. I realized that I missed my husband, especially when he left early for work, meaning that I didn't see him for nearly 24 hours. And I missed our playful cuddling. The loss is, apparently, measurable. The average couple doesn't actually talk that much during a day -- research shows 15 minutes of conversation is pretty good, says Rosenblatt. "So if you're talking in bed for a few minutes when you fall asleep, that's a lot."

Making Two Bedrooms Work

Was it possible to keep my own room without hurting my marriage? I called a few experts for advice. "I try to encourage couples to sleep together as often as possible, even if it's not for the entire night," says relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD, a scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. "Touch, whether physical or sexual, is very important to emotional closeness." I took her advice, staying in our bedroom more often until I started to doze off, then shuffling across the hall as needed.

And I hadn't, perhaps, handled the sleep divorce diplomatically, which I realized when my husband announced, two months after my move, that he felt abandoned. You may recall that I'd simply left. Bad idea. So I told him that while I loved my space, I really missed him. He suggested we prioritize cuddle time (well, he calls it "hangout time"). Now we try to crawl in bed with each other in the morning. On weekends I bring him breakfast in bed.

The obvious question is the one my friends ask: "What about sex?" Well, we weren't having sex every night to begin with, so not much has changed. But I'm about to have my first baby, so I think it's going fine. "One of the myths is that couples who have separate bedrooms aren't having sex," says Orbuch. "It's quality of sex, not frequency, that's important. Having separate bedrooms doesn't mean that you can't touch."

And as it turns out, my husband likes having his own space, too. Last month he hired a painter and redecorated his room, Mediterranean-style: aqua blue windowsills, faux-limestone walls, and minimalist furniture. It's his room now. No compromising. I'll let you in on a secret: When I'm in there, I feel like I'm sleeping in a Mediterranean dungeon. But that's okay. He gets a room of his own, too -- with two guitars that I never have to hear.

 

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