Feature writing


Is Sleeping Apart Good for Your Relationship?

The Daily Beast

August 20, 2014

Ricky and Lucy did it. Bert and Ernie, too. And for Jennifer Adams, sleeping apart from her husband, Fraser Mackay, is also the key to their happy marriage. Together for 10 years and married for seven, the couple—she is 48, he 46—sleep in neighboring rooms in their Brisbane, Australia, home. Mackay’s snoring is simply too loud, she says, and she is a light sleeper. He gets up early, she goes to bed later.

Sleeping apart seems the most sensible thing to do, and—Adams insists on the phone—many other couples do it, although many are too shy to admit it, fearing the judgment of those who think not sleeping together surely indicates something wrong in a couple’s marriage.

Adams has even created a blog, Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart and book around her experience and those of other couples who prefer the delights of separate berths at bedtime.

Adams welcomed the film director Baz Luhrmann’s revelation that he sleeps separately, from his wife, Catherine Martin, six days of the week. The couple, who have been married for 17 years, also work together.

“We worked out a long time ago that we both need space,” Luhrmann told the Daily Mail. “We are surrounded by our teams of staff all day every day, whether traveling, at work and at our homes. I was finding I was saying things in passing that weren’t properly thought through, things would become fraught. We both needed time to ourselves.”

At home, the Mail reported, the two sleep on separate floors but spend every Saturday night together in a hotel. “We always do our Saturday night date,” Luhrmann said. “We dress up and go to a restaurant or maybe see a show, but mostly we just talk and catch up. It’s very much our escape, our quality time together. It’s very romantic and keeps us grounded and connected. Then we head back to the hotel and the next day is important too as we relax, watch TV and don’t head home until after lunch.”

For Jennifer Adams, too, if you do sleep separately, it’s important to mark out the times, “explicitly,” when you and your loved one have sex and share intimacy. “We go to one another’s room, and the bed is not the only place we have sex,” she says.

Of course you miss falling asleep in each other’s arms, Adams says, “but there is more to intimacy than that, and we have great intimacy.” The couple snooze together, hug, and cuddle, but never ever spend the night in each other’s arms or in the same bed. If that sounds sad, far worse was when—six months into the relationship, with the horny first few months of lots of wine and sex now past—the couple started to sleep together in a more sober, regular pattern and realized it was disastrous.

The glow and passion of first meeting now receded, Mackay’s snoring was unbearable for Adams. Both partners’ sleeping patterns were shattered. “We were exhausted, and I was so upset and wondered what I would do,” says Adams. “When I started telling people about it, they asked, ‘How will your relationship survive without sleeping together?’” But it has—and very happily.

Adams, preparing her book, discovered couples slept separately for a number of reasons. Snoring was at the top of the list, followed by one partner watching television and the other not, the interfering illuminating presences of iPhones and iPads, the temperature of the bedroom, the flushes and splashes coming from en-suite bathrooms, and the different timetables of a couple if one goes to bed early or late, or one gets up early or late.

Adams spoke to a woman designing a new house with separate bedrooms in mind. “You’d be surprised how many couples sleep separately and are not embarrassed about it,” she told Adams. “Intimacy is what you make it,” says Adams. “I wouldn’t say actually sleeping with your partner is vital to intimacy.” Some couples love the “space and freedom” separate bedrooms affords, she adds. “Fraser and I talk to each other across the hall from our beds,” she says. “I FaceTime him from my bed.”

Couples’ experts dissent from Adams’s rosy view. Dr. Jenn Berman, psychotherapist and host of VH1’s Couples Therapy with Dr. Jenn (a new season starts on September 10), recommends couples do everything they can to sleep together. “It’s very intimate, the act of being in the same bed, and not just about sex. It’s the point where you connect about what has happened to you that day. It’s about other physical intimacy. Not sleeping together is often a symptom or symbol of something deeper that is wrong with the relationship. Instead of addressing the problem, you retreat to separate bedrooms.

“That isn’t to say snoring and other things aren’t legitimate reasons you wouldn’t want to sleep with someone. But you should address them: There are things you can do to help with snoring. And yes, sharing a space like a bed can be uncomfortable, but these are challenges you should face, especially if this is a long-term relationship.”

For Dr. Berman, sleeping apart is acceptable once, maybe twice a month, “but it should be the exception, not the rule. Not sleeping together, building houses with separate ‘snoring rooms,’ which has become fashionable, are bad news for any relationship.”

Amy Laurent, relationship expert and professional matchmaker, says Luhrmann’s situation is “very specific, and generally when you start sleeping separately and enjoying that, so it becomes very easy to start leading separate lives as a couple. Like Baz Luhrmann, if you do it, you need a conscious plan to make time to sleep and spend intimate time together, especially if you have children.”

Relationships can become monotonous, sexually and in other ways, says Laurent, co-author of 8 Ways to Everlasting. “And you age, of course, so it’s important to keep things fresh.” Is sex really that important? “It is, it really is,” says Laurent. As for snoring, find treatments, she recommends, and even if it’s bad, make sure you have at least one “date night” a week that ends up with you sleeping together. “And drink lots of wine.”

Doesn’t that make snoring worse? I ask, aghast.

“Not for the snorer, for the person who needs to sleep through the snoring,” says Laurent, laughing.

Every relationship runs to its own groove. A male friend in his 30s told me: “I don’t sleep apart from my wife—well, I do around twice a fortnight thanks to children. Kids change the dynamic in that department from the outset.”

My friend says: “Last night my son came in and started screaming and woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I went into his bedroom that he’d vacated to come into ours to sleep, and my wife came in a few minutes later, unhappy that I had absconded, leaving her to deal with him.

“I went back to sleep and this morning she accused me of cowardly behavior, leaving her to deal with him. My excuses ranged from the tablet I’d taken to deal with my allergies to the fact my son would have gone ballistic if I had intervened. They didn’t wash and she is absolutely right. I shirked duty in pursuit of a good sleep, incurring her wrath this morning. Such are the tensions and challenges of sleeping when you have kids.”

Another friend, female and 29, has been with her partner for five years. They lived together for two of them and now have two separate apartments. She says sleeping separately, as she and her partner do most nights of the week, “increases the passion and anticipation of seeing each other when we do. It keeps things fresh. The logistics are a pain in the ass, packing stuff for two days spending time at his place—will it rain, should I take boots?—but it keeps things lively if we don’t sleep together every night of the week.”

Now Jennifer Adams and Fraser Mackay face a challenge: a two-week holiday in Cambodia and Vietnam. “The problem is, a lot of the places we’re staying in only have one bedroom, so we’re going to be forced to sleep in the same bed,” says Adams, laughing. “I’ve bought these earplugs which are the bees’ knees.” She hopes the ear-plugs will be enough. If they aren’t, the couple have found one hotel with two separate rooms: peace and a harmonious night’s sleep for both guaranteed, momentarily at least.