By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Many married American couples envision their marriage bed as a sacred space. It is a place where you can dependably reconnect at the end of the day.
If it’s not with some conversation, it is just by being snuggled up in the same cozy space as you both drift off to sleep. It’s a place you commit to returning to together no matter how the day went.
For many, leaving the bed to sleep elsewhere can be a sign of anger, separation, and can undermine your feeling of connectivity in your relationship. Sleeping apart from one another can be seen as the first step taken away from one another when your marriage is facing tension.
But sometimes, couples just have to because of their life situations.
Why do we see a growing number of couples opting to sleep in separate beds and sometimes also opting to sleep in separate rooms? According to a 2017 survey from the National Sleep Foundation, almost one in four married couples sleep in separate beds.
Is sleeping in separate spaces a sign of a relational break or just a pragmatic decision for more individual comfort? Let’s explore the potential consequences of this growing trend.
What Is Sleep Divorce?
While the term sleep divorce sounds a little dramatic, the reality is that the term is just referring to a decision some couples make to sleep in separate spaces for the sake of better rest.
While the trend is growing in popularity now, it is not a new idea. As recent as the 1960’s couples sleeping in separate beds or places was fairly common.
Over the past 50 plus years sleeping in the same bed became the norm for married couples but researchers are finding that up to 25% of married couples are choosing different arrangements.
Why Do Couples Choose to Sleep Divorce?
Sleep divorce may be prompted due to a couple's differering schedule or inability to rest well in the same bed with your spouse.
I know firsthand that there are seasons where separated sleep is necessary due to circumstances outside potential marital conflict.
When we brought each of our babies home there were times when we had to sleep separately in order to facilitate better sleep for each other. I would take the first part of the night with the baby and then sometime in the early hours, my husband would come back upstairs to our room to take the baby downstairs to rest so I had at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
That was a gracious gift as my Momma body could not fully rest with our loud grunting little nuggets right beside me.
Some couples may be in a situation where they work opposite schedules. This can make sleeping at the same time in the same bed impossible.
Many others report factors such as loud snoring, disagreements about lighting, temperature preferences, and other disagreements about comfortable sleeping preferences have led them to opt for separate beds and/or separate rooms.
Couples select to separate at night for a variety of reasons ranging from practical concerns such as opposite schedules; to those who separate because they cannot agree to be in the same space together any longer.
Is Sleep Divorce Biblical?
Sleeping arrangements are mostly a cultural construct and the ways we have chosen to sleep in our homes have changed tremendously over the years due to a necessity or cultural norms of the time.
The Bible doesn’t offer specific instructions on things like where we should sleep when we are married but it does give us a lot of other advice for our marriages that we can draw on to help us navigate these sorts of decisions.
Ephesians 5 outlines many principles that can guide us in our marriages. It advises that we keep away from any sexual immorality, that we show each other love and respect, that we cherish one another, and that we serve each other. Let these be the standards that you judge your decisions by.
All of our decisions should be born of a desire to love one another as Christ would.
That means if sleeping together, even if it means less than stellar sleep, can be important to showing one another love. On the other hand, giving each other the freedom to rest without interruption can be an amazing gift of service and love to your spouse (particularly if you have a newborn).
Let love and open communication guide you and you can’t go wrong.
Before You Decide, Check Your Motives
Is choosing to opt for a so-called “sleep divorce” bad for your marriage?
Honestly, this is a hard question to answer because relationship and family circumstances vary so greatly!
Many couples are making these kinds of choices for purely practical reasons such as taking turns tending to a newborn or working opposite shifts, while for others the decision to separate at night may be a worrisome signal that things are decaying in your relationship.
Determining the line between “I need to sleep alone for the sake of getting better rest” and “I don’t want to be in the same space as you” can get fuzzy.
When dealing with circumstances that lead to the need to rest separately, clear communication and intentional times of connection have to be even more of a priority because you are missing out on a built-in time of shared space that a common bed allows for.
Sophie Jacobi-Parisi, a New York attorney at Warshaw Burstein, who practices matrimonial and family law, said that “couples that choose to sleep separately but don't have a conversation around why they are making the change, it can be another step in the path toward divorce.”
She makes the point that there can be many practical reasons as to why separate sleeping arrangements may be beneficial but if we are not clear in our communication with one another as to why we are making these types of decisions this can be one step closer to separation or divorce.
The bottom line is that the decision to sleep separately is one that should not be taken lightly.
If there is a real need for this arrangement, communication with one another surrounding this decision is very important to make sure that it is not a choice to step away from your commitment to your marriage.
Every step we take away from our spouses, be it physically or emotionally, has the potential for negative long-term consequences. Wisdom invites us to weigh these types of decisions carefully.
How to Keep a Healthy Marriage While Sleeping Separately
If you are in a season of life where it feels impossible or disruptive to each other’s rest to sleep in the same bed there are a few ways to make sure you get through this season well.
1. Identify the sleep issue and determine the best way to remedy it.
For example, if opposite schedules mean you can’t go to bed together, then identify ways you are going to take time to rest together. There is something special about spending time resting together.
While many think best sleep comes alone, there is research that shows that sharing a bed actually leads to better sleep. Potential benefits include falling to sleep faster, lowered blood pressure, a boosted immune system, helps curb anxiety, and even can slow down aging!
If you are trading off dealing with children, one suggestion would be to do this switch during the week but reserve the weekends to still sleep in the same bed together. Another idea is to spend time together in bed catching up and snuggling before separating to your posts to get some rest.
If separating is due to snoring, a health concern, or another issue, make sure you are thorough in discussing how to make sure you both know that the decision to sleep separately is not a decision to live separately.
While it is easy to see the practical need for rest it is important to care and nurture each other's feelings.
Find ways to express your desire to remain near one another in life even if your circumstances prohibit being together in the night hours.
2. Revisit your sleep arrangements frequently.
No decision like this should be permanent. Just because something works well or is necessary for one season does not mean it is good for all seasons.
Choosing to come back together to the same bed, even if it means lost sleep, is 100% worth it if it is going to bring your marriage closer together again.
We sacrifice sleep for so many other causes: our children, video games, binge-watching TV, and even work. It is reasonable to expect to have to sacrifice some sleep for the sake of your marriage.
Be wary of a temporary season of sleep separation becoming permanent. This could be a sign of a growing disconnect in your relationship.
Once that baby is sleeping then you should return to sleeping in your same bed or at least should be talking about what new arrangement would work best for both of you.
When your situation changes, it is important not to ignore the conversation around sleep arrangements. This can lead to resentment and false assumptions being made by each of you.
3. Be mindful of how your sex life is affected by your sleep arrangements.
One very practical reason to sleep in the same bed is that you are in the same place at the same time alone, giving you the chance to be intimate with one another.
If I just fall asleep on the couch before going to bed, there is a much lower chance I am going to be up for getting intimate with my husband. If you are parents, practically you need the late hours of the night to be able to have the privacy required to have intercourse.
Separate beds or separate rooms can become barriers to having access to one another sexually.
This of course does not have to be the case. If you are mindful of each other’s needs and make it a point to be available to one another at other times of the day or are willing to travel across beds or even rooms to be intimate, then it is possible to keep a thriving sex life under this arrangement.
Nonetheless, we know that a sexless marriage can be one factor that leads to divorce. Keep tabs on if your sleeping arrangement is affecting your sex life is a good way to determine if something is amiss in your relationship.
Loving your spouse well often means sacrifice.
Depending on your circumstances that sacrifice may look like buying ear plugs so you can remain close in the night to your chainsaw snoring spouse. It can also look like giving up your side of the bed so your baby and Momma have a safe space to rest together during those harrowing early months of life.
If we want our marriages to thrive we have to be careful to be taking steps closer to one another, showing each other love and consideration in our every decision.
Let that be your guide on how you navigate rest as you share your lives with one another.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.