Hidden Yet Common: Many couples spend their nights in separate bedrooms. Most often this begins when raising young children and in many cases, ends when that acute phase is over.
Musical beds: This refers to the night time movement from bed to bed of parent or child, that begins, not with music, but with a sound like no other, the cry of the infant or young toddler. As in the game, once the music starts, everyone moves. When it stops, you grab your spot or in this case, a few moments sleep on the nearest surface. Rather than it being the Goldilocks syndrome of finding the best fit, at that moment of exhaustion, any bed fits.
Survival Mode: There are many factors at play when couples find themselves bedding down in different rooms, or spending much of the night with a child between them. Most common is “survival”. Exhausted and having tried several methods to put the child to sleep or keep them asleep, parents just fall prey to the “family bed” even when they don’t believe in it. Concerns about other children being awakened by cries, or worries that buses will be missed or preschool behaviors will be reported as “bad”, can cause any parent to reread the favorite book and just collapse in a pile of fatigue next to the thankfully dozing youngster, often remaining there until morning.
Complicating Factors: When the acute phase of bedtime challenges ebbs, other factors can contribute to a couple spending their sleeping hours apart. Arrival home from work can be midnight and someone doesn’t want to wake their spouse or partner. She or he may need wind down time, perhaps falling asleep on the living room couch in front of the T.V. Snoring or insomnia can disrupt a partner, and someone nudges the other out the door to the guest room or living room couch. Clashing sexual appetites can create avoidance or strain that makes falling asleep in the same bed at the same time a challenge. Parents of children with special needs can face bedtime challenges many years beyond the average. And adolescent age children introduce a whole new set of bedtime hurdles for parents: the worries of missed curfews, new drivers, and questionable peer groups.
Speak the Unspoken: What started as a temporary measure can become a way of life. Couples become hurt and angry, feeling rejected by their partner or convinced that their partner is not working hard enough to overcome the problems that lead to nights apart. Sharing a bed night after night is not easy. Americans tend to be horrified in hearing that other cultures historically or even currently may consider separate bedrooms routine. But practically speaking, this occurs frequently and needs to be talked about and brainstormed togther.
A Shared Life Is Not Easy: Discussing together the practical and emotional aspects of what causes the nightly separation can help to neutralize some of the tension, and start the movement towards a “good enough” solution. A shared life is not easy. At best it requires a lot of accommodation and some keen problem solving and restraint. Story book concepts of the “happy” relationship, or “happy” marriage, with the marital bed sacrosanct and steady, are just that, stories.
Wrestling With The Real: That is the “how to” of life. With a dash of forgiveness, and a bit of tolerance for bringing up the embarrassing, sprinkled with a willingness to be honest/vulnerable, even this conversation can take place. If you get stuck, then the next option is to bring in a professional who can brainstorm with you to solve the pragmatics and work on the emotional sticking points.
A Relationship is a Process Over Time: A relationship can last decades and what is difficult at one stage can become far easier at another. The message here is not to panic: concluding that the relationship is fatally flawed if the “bedroom ritual” is interrupted or different, prevents the conversation, and can block taking a look at options, hearing feelings and thinking out of the box about what might work best for your Coupledom.
What To Say: Words are needed but often seem awkward and embarrassing. “Let’s take some time to talk about the pattern we have gotten into at night”. “I think that we can brainstorm something together, rather than just avoid talking about it, or getting mad and hurt”. “Let’s try”. Start with a conversation, if it falters, try again. Sometimes articulating the difficult can result in an initial awkwardness. But don’t let that frighten you. A few days later, begin again. It is worth it.
©jill edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.