Just over 30% — that’s how many married couples in the U.S. prefer to sleep in separate beds or bedrooms. It’s a new trend called “sleep divorce.” But is it really “divorce” or are there legitimate reasons for couples to sleep separately?
According to Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, the answer depends on the couple. “It’s important to look at the motivation. If this is because the couple is disconnected, they’ve had a lot of conflict or they prefer that one of them sleeps with the kids … that’s only masking deeper issues that they need to go to counseling to address,” Dr. Smalley says.
Of course, there are legitimate reasons couples choose to sleep separately. One spouse may snore like a bear, another spouse may be an early bird while their better half is a night owl, a couple’s combined body heat may be uncomfortable… the list can go on.
If work schedules and life events have forced you and your spouse into a sleep divorce, there are ways to stay intimately connected even when you have to sleep apart. One way to connect is to take advantage of “sacred moments.”
In Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley’s book Reconnected, Erin discusses the meaning and significance of sacred moments. “A sacred moment is a specific experience that facilitates connection between you and your spouse,” she writes. “We have 1,440 minutes per day. Most of your minutes each day contain very few sacred relational moments. Recognize your sacred connection moments and protect them.”
The importance of sacred moments
In a world of work deadlines, endless media distractions, and errands to run, finding time to stop and connect with your spouse emotionally and physically can be a challenge. The bedroom is a vital place for that connection to happen. “The master bedroom should be a sacred place because of its ability to have that inner life conversation, to be physically intimate and to laugh and be playful,” Dr. Smalley says. And as long as intimacy takes place within those four walls, not actually sleeping next to each other is not necessarily wrong. When a couple is sleeping, that’s a time there’s a “very low sacred connection opportunity,” Dr. Smalley notes.
For those wanting a sleep divorce, start off in bed together
Dr. Smalley provides a healthy option for spouses who want a sleep divorce. “Start off together and then one spouse can move to a different bed if it’s a snoring issue or a temperature issue,” Dr. Smalley says. “Then you’ve had a connection. Ten minutes a day of that connection makes such a difference.”
In certain seasons of life, children may interrupt a couple’s alone time in the bedroom. “We’re really good about telling our kids, ‘We can bring you into our bed if you’re sick or you’re telling us you really need to, but we’re going to start off alone,’ ” Dr. Smalley says.
Research has found couples sleeping closer are happier
Though snoring or body temperatures may disrupt a couple’s sleep process, research has shown that the closer a married couple sleeps together, the happier they are in their relationship. A 2014 survey asked people to describe their go-to sleeping position and to rank the quality of their relationship. Results showed 86% of those who slept less than an inch apart from their partner were happier in their relationship than those who slept more than 30 inches apart.