Divorce where your sleep, not each other

We would like to start by saying that we're not fans of the term Sleep Divorce. Neil and I think it's terribly misleading and paints a negative picture of a sensible and practical decision that can be made by couples. The word divorce is inexorably linked to the end of a marriage and sleeping separately from your spouse simply isn't. However... the phrase has caught on so we are learning to live with it. We'll never like it, but appreciate that accuracy has never been something that gets in the way of a catchy, click-bait headline, so what are separate sleeping advocates to do, except jump on board.

Happy couple

The best thing about YOUR relationship is exactly that... it's YOURS. You get to choose what works for you and your partner and it's probably not going to look like other people's relationships, and that's okay.

However, navigating bumps in a romantic relationship can be tricky. When issues arise, it's important that both people can talk about what they need from their partner, so they are happy and healthy. It's important to be able to establish boundaries and negotiate what might need to change.

When it comes to talking about managing who is going to sleep where at night, some couples just ease on through and find a solution in no time at all - but it's not that easy for everyone.

Many people we spoke to when writing the book were not separate sleepers, but some of them wanted to be. We had a lot of people jokingly spar with their partners about moving to separate rooms, but we also had many, many people talk to us seriously about:

  1. how much they wanted to have their own room because they weren't getting enough sleep each night
  2. how much they wanted to have their own room because they wanted some space in their life
  3. how much they wanted their own room, but didn't want their partner to feel rejected, or feel as though they were making a statement that there was something wrong with the relationship

So how can you sleep apart and not fall apart?

In our book we provide a framework for having the conversation with your partner. There is no 'one size fits all' solution to the problem because every couple is different. We all know that. We have used a simple 'How, why, when, where and what' framework that will help you gather your thoughts about the topic in a clear and coherent way and then plan a strategy about how to raise the subject with your partner.

Here are some excerpts from A Sleep Divorce, about each aspect of the framework.

HOW can you best talk about the issue?
As a starting point you need to consider how you and your partner communicate. The world of couple’s therapy theory leads us to believe that a working relationship is based on couples effectively communicating all the time. But are you and your partner great communicators? And to be honest, how do you know if you are? The way you and your partner communicate is going to be unique to you. One thing we know from years of personal experience though is that sleeping separately requires vast amounts of communication.

When sharing a confined space with another person, resentment can build for all sorts of reasons. A common example is the friction that arises from differing approaches to routine domestic behaviours. Who hasn’t experienced, or caused, some frustration with their partner for not taking out the garbage, not renewing the toilet roll, stacking or unstacking the dishwasher, not hanging towels up after use, leaving tissues in bed, etc., etc.,…

While these areas of potential conflict can be viewed as trivial, when silently fumed over and then bundled with other disparate, yet annoying behaviours, and a bad day at work, we may find ourselves exploding in volcano-like proportions to the smallest of irritations because the emotional pressure that has built up is akin to Mt Etna after a fifty-year dormancy, On the receiving end of this volcanic explosion might be an innocent, unsuspecting partner who, while possibly aware of their behaviour, is unaware of the geophysical changes that you have been experiencing because of their behaviour.

So if your partner keeps you awake, or regularly disturbs your sleep, or interferes with how you want your bedroom’s environment to be, and you don’t tell them – how are they supposed to know?

WHY do you want to sleep separately?
For example, in the 'Why' section, we talk about clearly explaining to your partner why their bed behaviour/s are keeping you awake. It is really important that when you do this, you don't make them feel bad or become defensive about their behaviour, what is important is that they really understand why you are having trouble sleeping. Here are some suggestions about how to 're-frame' some common complaints so your partner might be a little more receptive to your concerns:

What you might feel like saying to your partner What you might choose to say instead
Honey… your snoring is driving me insane! I can’t get any sleep! I’m such a light sleeper that your snoring keeps waking me during the night and I’m not getting enough quality sleep to function properly.
Why should I have to wear ear plugs every night so you can lie there and snore like a rhino? Even though I can sleep through your snoring when I wear ear plugs, I can do it for a while but after about three days they irritate my ears and then I can’t sleep because of the irritation.
If you steal the covers off me one more time I swear I’m going to kill you! When you toss and turn in bed you often move the covers so much that I don’t have any, and then I get cold and wake up. Because it happens a few times each night, my sleep is broken and this makes it hard for me to keep up with the kids the next day. It makes me grumpy and resentful. I don’t want to feel like that, but it’s what happens when I can’t sleep.
Stop getting up SO many times during the night, it’s really, really annoying. Why can’t you just go to bed and stay in bed? I can. When you get up during the night, you disturb my sleep. I find it hard to fall back to sleep because I lie awake thinking about when you will get out of bed again.
How about you just marry your laptop/smartphone so you never have to be apart? When you use your laptop in bed at night, the movement from you typing and the noise, even though it’s not really loud, keeps me awake. I really need to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep every night so that I can think clearly at work.
WOULD YOU JUST STOP FARTING WHEN YOU ARE ASLEEP!!! DO YOU HAVE DEAD ANIMALS IN YOUR BODY? Were you aware that the smell from your farts is so strong that it wakes me up? I get really upset and I find it hard to get back to sleep because I am so angry that I’m awake and you’re still asleep.

Can you see the difference? The first statement will make your partner defensive and might hurt their feelings, whereas the second statement will help you partner understand the issues you are having trying to get enough sleep each night. The second statement will then help you to move into a conversation with your partner about how you can both work to start solving the problem of your lack of sleep.

WHEN AND WHERE should you talk about the issue?
Realistically, this issue is unlikely to be solved with one conversation. But consciously choosing when and where you will raise the topic is a wise move. As illustrated above, raising the topic when either of you is tired and not thinking rationally is not a recommended approach if success is what you are seeking.

When buying a house your focus should be location, location, location. When raising a tricky topic with your partner you should focus on timing, timing, timing – and location. Be sensible about when you bring up the topic. For example, don’t try and strike up a conversation with them when they are heading out or in the door to or from work, they have just sat down to watch their favourite sport or weekly show on television, or they have scheduled something that you know about, and the talk will keep them from getting there or being there. Simply – use some logic when it comes to choosing the when.You will know the times when your partner is at their best and at their worst, so for all good sense and reason, pick a time when the chances of them being at their best is maximised.

Depending on their temperament, you may even choose to warn your partner that you want to have a chat about something. It may prevent them feeling ambushed, or because they weren’t aware you wanted to talk, arrange to be out somewhere or doing something else. And as for the where…. this will certainly take your ‘local’ knowledge. If you are thinking that a public place, for example a restaurant, or out walking in a public place, is a good idea, do consider your partner’s needs. If their emotional response is strong, being in a public place may make them feel defenceless and detract from the chance of a positive outcome from the conversation

Of all the questions to prepare for, we think the most important is:

WHAT do you want?
Do you even know what you want? Are your thoughts limited to “I just need to get some sleep every night” or have you spent a lot of time thinking about how you might re-engineer your current sleeping arrangements to make everyone’s life better?

As the person raising the issue, you do have a responsibility to take the lead on what the ‘new world’ is going to look like. Simply saying “I can’t sleep with you” is probably going to limit the scope of your partner’s response options and may also limit your opportunity to manoeuvre the conversation towards the outstanding plan you have devised to solve your sleeping troubles.

In planning to raise this issue with your partner, be very clear about what you are trying to achieve. Do you just want to open the discussion on the problems you have when you sleep with your partner? Or are you seeking to find and put in place a solution that involves changing the current sleeping arrangements? In being honest with yourself, do you just want the problem as you see it acknowledged, or are you well past that and pining for your own space every night?

In A Sleep Divorce we offer a range of suggestions that will help you clarify exactly what it is that you want from alternative sleeping arrangements. Being clear with your partner will help you give them the assurance that moving to another bed (sometimes, or every night) does NOT mean that you don't love or desire them still - and this is such an important part for successful separate sleeping.






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