‘My boyfriend wants separate bedrooms so he can sleep well but I miss him’ – The Irish Times

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Dear Roe,

My partner and I have been in a relationship for two years and have lived together for six months. Since we moved into a two-bedroom place he’s wanted separate rooms as he snores and thought it would be best during the week for us to sleep separately so we’re rested for work.

But we no longer seem to spend any time in the bedroom together, even at weekends. It’s not even about sex – I miss the intimacy of sleeping next to him. I’ve mentioned this and he becomes defensive so I’m not sure what else to do.

It’s like sometimes he’s a stranger in the halls and other times I see glimpses of the man I love. I’ve tried suggesting one night a week for date night and one weekend a month. I don’t want to change him at all – I love him for who he is, but I miss spending time with him.

Let’s address the issue of sleeping separately first. There can be a lot of unfair cultural stigma around the idea of ​​a couple sleeping separately, as many people have internalized the idea that sleeping together is a necessary part of a healthy romantic relationship. This idea is not without merit – sleeping together can have physical and emotional benefits. When a couple can sleep together, they often fall asleep quicker, they can experience lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the physical proximity can help release hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which promote feelings of happiness and pleasure.

Having sex before bed also produces increased levels of oxytocin, which promotes emotional bonding. Writer Shawn Stevenson also claims in his book Sleep Smarter that orgasms can promote a good night’s sleep for women thanks to the release of norepinephrine, vasopressin and prolactin, all of which help regulate and improve the quality of sleep.

All of this may sound like I’m making an inarguable defence of always sleeping together, but I’m actually not. Because all these physical and emotional benefits can only be enjoyed if and only if both of you do actually sleep well together. And a lot of couples do not. Many couples struggle with snoring or light sleeping or different sleep schedules or temperature preferences, or a myriad of other reasons that mean they end up keeping each other awake, to the detriment of them both. Sleep deprivation is no joke – it causes stress, irritability, difficulty focusing and concentrating and, when prolonged, can lead to physical and mental health issues.

It’s no wonder then that a huge number of couples decide to sleep separately. One 2015 survey from the National Sleep Foundation in the United States found that one in four married couples sleep separately, while another study from Ryerson University had the number closer to 40 per cent. The majority of reasons cited for sleeping separately had nothing to do with a lack of love or affection within the relationship, and everything to do with the basic human function of needing a good night’s sleep.

Bearing all of this in mind, I fully support your boyfriend’s desire to get some sleep – but sleep isn’t the only issue here. There has clearly been a breakdown in open and empathetic communication that is leaving you feeling anxious and emotionally disconnected from your boyfriend, and that’s what needs to be addressed.

Sleeping separately can of course have some knock-on effects on time together, physical intimacy and a sense of closeness, as you are experiencing. It’s important that couples who decide to sleep separately acknowledge this, talk about their individual and shared needs, and work together to come up with a solution that works for you both.

You have expressed that you miss the intimacy of sleeping together, which is a valid perfectly sentiment, and your solutions of sleeping together one night a week or one weekend a month seem reasonable like requests. I wonder how your boyfriend has responded to these suggestions – does he shut down completely, express his need for sleep, or do the conversations devolve into something else entirely? When you say, “It’s like sometimes he’s a stranger in the halls”, this feels like the disconnection might be bigger than simply not sleeping together at night, and it’s important to dig into what that sentence means.

Is he loving and attentive when you are around each other? How is your relationship on a day-to-day basis? If it’s generally good effort and your boyfriend is making an, it might be frustrating to hear that he must sacrifice sleep in order for you to feel loved. But if there’s an emotional disconnect during the day, too, this needs to be addressed. I also wonder how your sex life has been affected, and whether you have spoken about that openly.

Starting a very open, empathetic conversation feels necessary. Try to approach the conversation not as you versus your boyfriend, but you and your boyfriend versus the problem: how do we remain emotionally and physically connected while also making sure we’re each getting enough sleep?

A possible compromise would be to stop thinking of your options simply as sleeping together with intimacy or sleeping separately with a loss of intimacy. There are middle grounds you can try. At the moment, it seems like you are treating your separate bedrooms as completely individual spaces. Can you pick one room that is your shared bedroom, and one room that is the extra bed where your boyfriend then sleeps? This may sound like a semantic difference, but it’s not. Having a shared bedroom where you both relax, store your things, get ready for the morning then wind down for bed will add hugely to your sense of time and intimacy together.

I would also try literally getting into bed together in your shared room for 20 or 30 minutes in the evening, so that you can be in bed together cuddling, reading, watching television, talking, having sex – whatever you like. Your boyfriend can then go to his separate bed to sleep, so you enjoy the best of both worlds – some quiet, intimate, physically-connected time together and a good night’s rest.

He could even come back into bed with you for 10 minutes in the morning so that you can both enjoy the physical intimacy of cuddling and then starting your morning routines together in that room. This will again emphasize that you have one shared bedroom where you’re enjoying all the small, quiet intimacy of a shared space, and only using the extra room for sleeping. On weekends, you could spend even longer in bed together in the mornings.

These are some solutions to the practical issue at hand, but this is also an issue of connection and communication. Try to start an open, honest and curious conversation without blame, tackling this issue together. Good luck and good rest to you both.

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