Sleeping In Separate Bedrooms Is Not A Relationship Death Sentence

But there are things to consider first.

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Recently, actor Cameron Diaz set social media aflame with her very candid opinion about couples sleeping in separate bedrooms. On a Dec. 19 episode of the Lipstick on the Rim podcast, she stated: “We should normalize separate bedrooms. I would literally, like, I have my house, you have yours, we have the family house in the middle. I will go and sleep in my room, you go sleep in your room. I’m fine. And we have the bedroom in the middle that we can convene in for, you know, our relations.”

Shortly after the comment, within hours actually, the interwebs came alive with both support and criticism. “I’ve been sleeping in a separate bedroom for 2 years and it’s life-changing,” read one Instagram comment. Another IG user protested: “No thanks. I want to sleep next to the person I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to. Otherwise there’s no point.” How did one rogue statement spark such a debate? And, more importantly, why is the concept of sleeping in separate bedrooms (often called sleep divorce) such a taboo topic?

Lee Phillips, psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, explains that this could be due to the fact that “sleep divorce” is commonly seen as a sign that there are problems in the marriage or that physical intimacy has stopped. “It implies the couple is not close and is no longer in love.”

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The controversial move can also be traced back to the tradition of sharing a bed, which Lee says is rooted in marriage. “When we think of the word marriage, we think of union,” he says. “In other words, two people join to become one. The purpose and importance of sleeping in one bed is because of intimacy and not necessarily sexual intimacy, but being together and sharing one intimate private space.”

Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of matchmaking technique Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, takes this further, noting that sleeping together can provide safety, intimacy, and closeness to a relationship, and “can resemble the bond experienced in the womb.”

Even if decided on for practical and health-driven reasons like sleep disruption, Silva says sleeping separately from your partner is still often seen as a relationship red flag. “It carries this stigma that you won’t be close to your partner when in fact it has the opposite effect,” she says. “It helps strengthen the bond between both partners by improving communication. If you are sleep deprived, you most likely will be short with your partner, co-workers, children, etc.”

Another common myth, she explains, is that sex frequency diminishes. But this also boils down to communication. “Desire for your partner doesn't diminish because you are sleep-deprived,” Silva says. “Nor does approaching sex as a task that needs to be check-marked off before you can roll off to sleep.”

Ahead, we break down sleep divorce and how it can be a positive move for your relationship as well as a few examples of when it might be an actual sign of trouble. Spoiler: Cameron Diaz might be on to something.

When Sleeping Separately Is Good

More often than not, sleep divorce typically comes as a solution to better sleep for one or more partners. “Consequently, over time, the sleep-deprived partner had to choose this method for their own self and relationship preservation,” explains Silva. “As some of us may know, sometimes being patient and nice gets eclipsed by irritability and that causes relationship conflict.”

The relationship expert explains that the decision is actually more common than you might think, as roughly 20% of her couple clients agree to sleep separately for the sake of their relationship. “Some of the key reasons many opted for sleep divorces were sleep deprivation, lowered mental health, increased brain fog, decreased concentration, and lowered relationship satisfaction,” she says. “After instituting their sleep divorces, many couples reported being less irritable, not as easily triggered, and not being short with their partners.”

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Phillips is also an advocate for normalizing sleep divorce, especially if there is a health issue involved. “I see couples where one partner may have a medical condition such as restless leg syndrome or one partner may have a snoring issue or chronic back pain,” he says. “They report better sleep hygiene because they are not waking each other up [...] One partner may be going through a period of insomnia, so they sleep better when they are alone. If one partner is pregnant, they may also need their own space.”

When It Can Be A Negative

The instance where sleep divorce may signal bad weather is when it is tied to more emotional or personal issues in a relationship. Phillips claims that sleep divorce should not be instated when a couple is in the process of repairing or improving their dynamic. “This may be post-infidelity, where they are in a new-normal stage of the relationship trying to connect or if they are trying to improve their sexual intimacy due to the lack of sex,” he explains. “The goal is for them to connect as much as possible, and you cannot always do that by sleeping in separate beds. Couples spend one-third of their lives sleeping together, so it is great when the relationship is healthy, and they can sleep in the same bed.”

Using sleep divorce as punishment is also a no-no. “Sleeping separately as punishment for disagreement is dealing with conflict like a Band-Aid,” says Silva. “It’s a temporary solution but can cause resentment in the long run. You run the risk of your partner feeling isolated and not reflecting on solutions, but focusing on ways they have been disrespected in the past.”

Things To Consider

All that is to say, when considering separate bedrooms, it goes without saying that communication is of utmost importance here. Silva advises discussing it honestly and arriving at an agreed-upon system that makes both parties feel secure and connected. “I usually recommend mutually agreeing on a sleep schedule, discussing how long the sleep divorce should last, sex frequency and spontaneity, date nights, and morning or nightly rituals that can help reduce conflict in the future.”

Checking in with each other regularly is also crucial, and updating each other on how the new sleeping system is working. “Also, if they are not going to sleep with each other overnight, it is essential to show affection outside of the bedroom (like cuddling, handholding, or having sex in one bed, then separate for the night for better sleep),” says Phillips.

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