Montclair Local Voices’ Ask Task: Is it Normal to Sleep Separately?

Dear Allison,

My husband and I have a healthy marriage. We go on date nights about three times a month. On the weekends, we are intimate. No matter how tired my husband is after work, he always spends quality time with our son. And before fully winding down for the evening, he makes sure bills are paid and family matters are discussed.

But once it’s 9 p.m., he wants to sit on the couch, have a drink and watch TV. We don’t enjoy the same shows so we prefer being in separate areas of the house. Inevitably my husband falls asleep on the couch and comes to our marital bed around 4 a.m.

When we are in bed together, we rarely touch or snuggle. We each desire being left alone. I do feel there is a societal expectation that married couples go to bed around the same time, lay together and should want be comforted by each other’s presence as they drift to sleep. I worry that our desire to be alone, not snuggle and sleep in different areas of the house might lead to marital issues in the future. What are healthy habits for couples on sharing a marital bed while maintaining a personal desire to unwind in different ways?

Thanks for your help.

Separate Together

Dear Separate,

So much good stuff here! Thank you. Here are the concerns I’m reading: 1) the societal expectation for how married couples interact “in bed”; 2) a general state of contentment with your current weekday bedtime routine; and 3) concern for what this “slippery slope” may lead to. Plus, a general curiosity as to general healthy sleep habits for couples.

Let’s start with healthy sleep habits for couples. As it’s said, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors.” Different cultures and different couples do things differently. In Norway, for example, couples sleep with separate comforters, two twin-sized comforters in a king- or queen-sized bed. This recognizes that each individual has different sleep needs. There are mattresses available that recognize the sleep needs of individuals, from sitting up to lying down to the strength of the coil. Hard to snuggle in those situations, too.

In some situations where there are sleep challenges, like different wake-up times due to work, heavy snoring or sleep apnea, the couples have made a move back to twin beds in the same room. Sometimes, when couples are managing the nighttime waking habits of young children, one member of the couple sleeps in the guest room (or on the couch) while the other sleeps in the marital bed, in hopes that someone may get a good night’s sleep.

There are cultural and situational precedents for sleeping separately. Everyone knows the importance of a good night’s sleep for health. So if sleeping separately offers that, it’s ultimately a good thing for you as individuals and for your partnership. Well-slept, happy partners can continue to foster a healthy marriage, and shag it up on the weekends.

Is the pre-bedtime routine really working for you? You say that your husband has a drink in front of the TV to wind down. How much is he drinking? Why is he falling asleep in front of the TV? That’s generally not a healthy sleep routine, as drinking even one drink per night will impact his sleep, and passing out on the couch instead of going to bed intentionally has an impact as well, especially if he’s coming to bed at 4 a.m. Also, does that 4 a.m. entry disturb your sleep?

Since you enjoy your date nights, I wonder if you could also do a weekly media date night at home where you watch something together. Find something you like in common, a good comedy, or some political satire? Watch it together outside the bedroom, then head to bed together. Sweet dreams.

Dear Allison,

My husband and I are almost too into our 1-year-old daughter. We’re older parents (I’m 40, he’s 45), and she was very much wanted after multiple rounds of assisted reproductive technology. We fight over who gets to hold her, feed her, bathe her. We sometimes do it together but that feels somehow less satisfying than doing it solo. How do learn how to share our baby?

Everyday I come home exhausted. I work all day, cook dinner, and take care of the baby. After I put her to bed, I slump on the sofa, catatonic, processing my crazy day. I know I should be doing yoga instead of surfing the web. Something energizing, not draining. But I can’t stop, even though my thumbs are sore from scrolling, and my eyes glazed over. How can I get the energy to get energized?

Baby Crazy

Dear Crazy,

Well look at that. Your first paragraph is about not wanting to share your delicious baby, and the second is about how exhausted you are. You’ve identified the solution yourself!

Since you say that taking care of the baby together is less satisfying than doing it alone, could you take turns? Monday and Tuesday you take the lead, Wednesday and Thursday he takes the lead? This could give you an opportunity to recharge, and have the “energy to get energized,” as you say. Instead of being at home, you can take that yoga class, or see a friend. Keeping your nondomestic social life active is important for your happiness, and can be energizing.

Perhaps you can split the chores so that on nights where he takes the lead with the baby, you cook dinner and vice versa. Everyone doing everything isn’t the best use of your time or energy. Splitting up responsibilities is more efficient so there is less energy leakage.

This parenting thing … it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Your daughter will be with you in your home for 18 more years, likely more. She’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You need your energy to parent, wife, and be your best self.

As for that phone — your eyes are glazing and yet you can’t look away. So let me ask you: If your daughter was doing what you’re doing, at 13, how would you handle it? I’m guessing the responsibility of the cell phone, which we know is addictive, would come with some ground rules, like … no cell phone in your bed at night, no cell phone after 9 p.m., etc.

So what are some healthy ground rules that you could set for yourself? Maybe use a timer, so that you’re not on Facebook for more than 10 minutes at a time? You’re a parent, decide what you think is appropriate and then follow the rules.

And establish consequences if the rules aren’t followed, like … maybe you lose baby privileges for the night. Mother the mother, mama.

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