Dilemma: I'd prefer sleeping in separate beds

Katharine Whitehorn / 20 January 2016

A reader questions how she can convince her husband that sleeping in separate beds can be good for their marriage.



Dilemma: I would prefer to sleep alone

Before my husband retired he travelled widely on business, and as I am a poor sleeper I would catch up on my sleep – and my temper! – while he was away. 

Now he no longer travels, I have less time on my own and still sleep badly. 

I’ve suggested moving into a spare room but my husband won’t hear of it. 

I find myself increasingly irritable, almost badtempered; I don’t like the sort of person I seem to be becoming and believe that sleeping in separate beds is the only thing that can help.

Katharine Whitehorn's advice

The problems of a retired man being around all the time are common enough and insomnia can make anyone frazzled, but to your husband, your wish to sleep separately may seem like another loss, a rejection.

You don’t say whether there is a sexual side to this; if your husband fears that you don’t want to share his bed for other reasons than getting a decent night’s sleep, there are surely ways of reassuring him on that front.

Sex, after all, can take place at any time of day and not necessarily in the marital bed. In Paul Bowles’s book The Sheltering Sky, someone asks the obviously devoted couple why they always hire two rooms on their travels, and gets the answer: “The first rule of marriage is not to confuse sleep with sex”.

I suggest you make up the spare bed, and push off to it now and then when you simply can’t get to sleep; with any luck your husband will get used to it and realise – and this is important – that it isn’t him you are rejecting, and that sleeping in separate beds does not mean you are no longer interested in him or considering a divorce.

Read our tips on retirement-proofing your relationship.

Our readers say...

We also asked our Facebook followers for their advice...

"Haven't slept in same bed as hubby for donkeys years. He snores. I have a chronic illness which keeps me and sometimes him awake. Separate rooms and we can get a decent sleep so wake up happier! Win-win."

"Of course it won't spoil a marriage or any relationship! Get real folks! Life's too short! Snoring, farting, talking in sleep – so what if you like , love and have fun and laughs with that person! Keep them close to you."

"Utterly normal a generation back after a certain age. And absolutely normal further back - if you had enough rooms. Only the poor had to share beds without choice once upon a time. And in an informal survey of my fellow 60-somethings, it's pretty normal to sleep separately now too! But most people still feel they cannot "admit" it due to current perceptions. I think it is utterly ridiculous that people now feel it is a "threat to the marriage". What nonsense and how unkind it is that the current media promote such thinking! If you can sleep well and happily together through the night that's great. If not - due to snoring, wakefulness, tossing and turning, etc - then good sleep is vital to wellbeing and happiness and health. And those are vital to a happy marriage."

"How about two single beds pushed together with super king duvet. That's what we have, problem solved. If one turns over the other is not disturbed."

"If your relationship is healthy, does it matter whether or not you share a bed with your other half? Marriage is not about bed sharing, but about life sharing, caring for each other, and being supportive of each other. The more intimate side of the relationship should be about spontaneity."

"Haven't shared a room for 30+ years, I had to be awake for the kids, he had to be up at the crack of dawn for his physically demanding job. These habits have stayed with us, doesn't mean we don't love each other, we just like our personal space."

"Austrians all have double bed frames with two single mattresses in and use single size duvets. Perfect! So much so, that my husband built a 6' wide bedframe into which we put two 3' single mattresses from IKEA and voila, we have a typical Austrian bed! Plenty of space, one's own duvet (no cold spots) and not disturbed by each other moving about. When I look at standard double beds, 4'6" wide, I'm horrified and not surprised people sleep badly."

"More damaging to a relationship for it to be spoiled by the devastating effects of poor sleep."

"Having separate duvet works."

"Sounds a good idea."

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