Society

Sleeping in separate beds by couples is not always a sign of marriage on rocks

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Summary

  • Traditionally, sleeping in separate beds has been associated with stigma and is often perceived as a sign of breakdown in relationships between couples.
  • According to researchers, different sleeping quarters are pretty common for couples and do not necessarily reflect a relationship on the rocks.
  • This can happen for a variety of reasons such as snoring, restless children, sleep disorders such as insomnia, frequent trips to the bathroom at night, or physical illness.

As I approach my 65th birthday next month, the subject of growing old gracefully is becoming more and more appealing. This week I revisited one of my favourite Hollywood actors, the cantankerous and idiosyncratic Michael Douglas in the movie And So It Goes where he plays Oren, a grumpy old man who gets into a geriatric romance with his tenant and next door neighbour Leah (Diane Keaton). More on that later.

Traditionally, sleeping in separate beds has been associated with stigma and is often perceived as a sign of breakdown in relationships between couples.

At the height of the pandemic, couples in China and Britain were advised to sleep in separate beds to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Couples who have practiced this form of “social distancing” have faired no worse than those who continued to share a bed and in fact they have experienced a rejuvenation of their relationships following the old adage absence makes the heart fonder.

According to researchers, different sleeping quarters are pretty common for couples and do not necessarily reflect a relationship on the rocks.

This can happen for a variety of reasons such as snoring (I am guilty as charged), restless children, sleep disorders such as insomnia, frequent trips to the bathroom at night, or physical illness.

In order to deal with their partners’ undesirable bedtime behaviour some had resulted to using ear plugs or eye masks while others had changed their sleep schedules, going to bed earlier or later, or staggering their sleep times. As a result, their sleep and mental state has improved.

Meanwhile, those living in cramped quarters, with ongoing conflict, or with worries about losing their jobs and getting sick during the coronavirus pandemic, are not doing so well.

Previous studies have identified that poor sleep predicates a range of negative outcomes, including reduced physical and mental health, increased likelihood of accidents and greater marital grief.

Dr Alix Mellor, a postdoctoral research fellow in sleep circadian medicine recommends that those who are not compatible bedfellows simply separate at night.

“Resentment can build up when couples are not sleeping well together. There is a social expectation that if you’re in a romantic relationship you should sleep in the same bed, but, for many couples, this isn’t right for them”, Mellor says.

Mellor points out that couples can “bond” outside the bedroom for instance by going out for a walk, sharing a drink, or simply chatting on the couch. Introducing “visiting nights” during which couples invite each other to their respective bedrooms for intimacy can help to spice up the relationship. “It’s also important to remember that sexual intimacy does not always have to occur in bed”, Mellor adds.

I remember the American sitcom I Love Lucy where we regularly saw Lucy and her husband Rick in separate beds which at the time looked odd. Perhaps they had already discovered the benefits of sleeping separately.

The need to accommodate each other’s changing habits and desires becomes more pronounced as we grow older, but this should not be a source of shame or stigma.

Focus on making these your best years by doing what you enjoy and giving freely of your wealth of experience. Build meaningful relationships within and outside of your family. Do not be afraid to explore and try new ways of doing things that suit your circumstances.

Returning to Michael Douglas, in the movie he has a dysfunctional relationship with his son who had a drug-use problem (which he has since kicked), and he feels that he failed as a father.

Willfully obnoxious to anyone he deems to have crossed his path, Oren wants nothing but to sell one last house and retire in peace and quiet until his estranged son drops off a granddaughter he never knew existed, so that he can go and serve a jail sentence.

Clueless and not willing to take care of a sweet nine-year old, he pawns her off to his determined and lovable neighbour Leah and tries to resume his life uninterrupted.

In the fulness of time, Oren stubbornly learns to open his heart to his family, to Leah and to life itself, and they all live happily ever after.

The most touching moment to me is right at the end where Oren goes to get his son out of prison. As they are driving out of the prison gate his son, Luke, asks, “Why did you do this dad?” and he replies, “Because you are my son”. With those five words a lifetime of hurting and sense of failure is wiped out and they can now make a new beginning as father and son.

Growing old gives us a chance to make things right and to give those behind us a new beginning in life. But it takes courage, humility, and sacrifice for the better good of those that we are to leave behind.