Sleep Divorce: The pros and cons for your relationship

Here at Estes Therapy, we work with a variety of relationship issues and sleep (or lack thereof) is a topic that can impact couples in a negative way. Sleep divorce, a term that doesn’t sound so nice, is an option for couples who struggle to sleep in the same bed together. In this article, we will go over what sleep divorce is, how it can help improve your relationship and the pros and cons of trying sleep divorce.

What is sleep divorce?

Frequently couples have difficulty sleeping together for a variety of reasons – snoring, tossing and turning, sleep terrors, different sleep schedules, insomnia due to anxiety, and more. Couples attempt to resolve the problem, but continue to struggle sleeping together. When they cannot resolve the issue, they make a joint decision to sleep separately to improve their sleep quality, called sleep divorce. Although the term sounds harsh, it simply means sleeping in two different locations. This has been around for years, but the term is new in social media. The main agenda of sleep divorce is prioritizing the quality of sleep.

Sleep divorce is not after one of those nasty nighttime arguments and one person grabs their pillow and heads to the guest bedroom. It is not a wall built from disconnection and the marriage coming to a halt. It is a clear decision made by both people with the goal to have healthy sleep.

With clear communication and a secure relationship, sleep divorce can be extremely healthy. The more secure a couple is in the relationship, the easier it is for the couple to feel connected when in separate rooms. 

Can a sleep divorce improve your relationship?

Yes. Sleep divorce can improve relationships drastically. Sleep is an essential part of our overall well-being, especially with mental health. When people struggle with their sleep, they are unable to regulate emotionally, they have difficulty having patience with one another, resentment builds, and arguments increase, all of which cause a wedge in the relationship. The more rested the body is, the better people can regulate their emotions, have empathy toward others, and communicate more effectively. 

What are the pros and cons of trying a sleep divorce?

Pros: 

  • Improve the relationship: Quality of life and the relationship will improve with a sufficient amount of sleep. Being well-rested helps increase the ability to emotionally regulate, decrease irritability, improve mood, have patience with others, and problem-solve better.
  • Intentional intimacy: Some couples have spontaneous intimacy in the bedroom, whereas sleep divorce forces couples to make emotional and sexual intimacy a priority. Couples create intentional intimacy moments, such as drinking coffee in the morning together, and create intentional rituals for nighttime connection talks.
  • Overall better sleep quality: When sleeping separately, individuals can create their own tranquility and bedtime routine without disruption from their partner. They can have quiet, create their rituals, and get sound sleep.
  • Prevents resentment: When sleep is disrupted by a partner’s insomnia, snoring, or different sleep schedules, resentment builds quickly. Sleep divorce prevents resentment from growing. 
  • Awareness of bigger issues: When sleep health is being addressed in relationships, one or both people may become aware of a bigger issue that impacts their sleep. By sleeping in separate rooms, individuals can actively work on their insomnia, seek counseling for anxiety, get medical aid for sleep apnea, and get to the root of the issue with insomnia. 

Cons:

  • Shame: There is some shame around sleep divorce and often couples hide the fact that they sleep separately. Shame will continue to grow. It is important to talk about it and acknowledge the sleeping dynamic as a normal part of their life. The more you talk about it, the more power you take away from the shame. 
  • Judgment: There is still a cultural expectation in the U.S. that if people sleep separately, there must be a problem in the relationship or an end is in sight. Be confident in your decision to sleep separately and educate your friends and family about the positive outcomes.
  • Lack of connection: Starting and ending the day with your partner is extremely bonding. Sleeping in the same bed allows room for closeness, intimacy, spontaneous conversations, and connection. Couples have more opportunities to talk  It is a vulnerability that we share and sleep divorce removes this element. 
  • Used for armor: Sleep is a vulnerable space for people and when in distress, sleeping separately is often one of the quickest reactions people do in conflict;  they storm out of the room to sleep in the guest bedroom as a statement of frustration or to put a stop to fighting. Sleep divorce can gradually or abruptly come about as a result of hurt feelings and the goal is to create a barrier due to emotional pain. If a couple uses sleep divorce as armor from conflict and disconnection, it will only make things worse. It erodes the relationship connection quickly. Relationship insecurities will increase and conflict will get worse.

When handled properly, sleep divorce can be extremely healthy for couples. If you or your partner are considering sleep divorce, reach out to one of our therapists to help navigate through it. 

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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

I’ve seen these techniques consistently get results and I truly believe they are the most effective at creating positive, long-term change.

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