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Safety (and Sometimes Danger) in the Couple Bed

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"I Feel Safer When You Are in Bed with Me"

It is hard to sleep or to get good, restorative sleep if one doesn't feel safe. When I interviewed couples for my book, Two in a Bed, many people said they felt safer sharing a bed.

Some talked about the partner being there to help in a medical emergency. And in fact a few couples thought that one of the partners was alive only because the other was there to help in a nighttime medical crisis. For example, one woman had seizures as she slept, and her husband who was sleeping next to her woke up immediately, realized she was in trouble, and called 9-1-1. In another couple, the man went into diabetic shock, and the woman woke up, realized what was going on, and knew what to do. In some couples, particularly older ones, one or both partners said it could save a life to have a partner there to call for help if one was having a heart attack or a stroke.

A majority of the women I interviewed said they felt safer sharing a bed. The creaking floor in the hallway or the sound of someone walking outside the window was not nearly as alarming when someone else was there in bed.

With the majority of women feeling safer when sharing a bed, what did they do when their partner was out of town, working the night shift, or otherwise unavailable during the night? Some brought a child or a sister into their bed to sleep with them or went to sleep at the house of relatives or friends. One woman slept with her glasses on and many lights on in the house. Another woman brought the couple's very large dog to sleep in the bedroom when her husband was away. Some said that they just slept very poorly.

Some men were proud to be seen as protectors. Others scoffed at the idea that they could do anything if there house was invaded. But probably both partners are safer when there are two people present to deal with potential danger. Even some of the men who were proud to be seen as protectors were glad to have a partner as a backup. For example, one couple talked about the time they heard someone breaking into their garage. He went out to investigate while she called the police.

"I Don't Always Feel Safe When My Partner Is in Bed with Me"

Sharing a bed does not always mean that one feels safer. Some bed partners can be dangerous. Sometimes the danger is unintentional, for example, the danger of being slashed by sharp toenails or having a muscular arm of a dreaming partner swing during the night into one's face. Some bed partners may be intentionally dangerous.

What can people do if their bed sharing partner is potentially a danger? A woman whose husband had sharp toenails often urged him to trim his nails. Plus she had learned to keep her legs distant from his when they slept together. One woman said most of the danger from her male partner when they were in bed was when he had been drinking alcohol and had violent nightmares. So she slept in the living room on nights when he had been drinking. They both were glad that she did that.

A military veteran had violent night terrors, often set off by thunder, an airplane flying overhead, or loud car or trucks in the nearby street. His women friend found it too frightening to sleep with him on a regular basis, so she spent most nights safe in bed in her apartment that was several miles away.

Most of the stories people told me about one partner being dangerous to the other were about the man being dangerous. But there was one lesbian couple in which one partner might have been at times dangerous to the other. And there was one heterosexual couple in which the woman had been so furious about her husband's snoring that she once tried to strangle him, but they both laughed about it during the interview, and he agreed he had to do something about his snoring.

One woman's husband had once tried to strangle her while they were in bed and she was asleep. He claimed that he was asleep while doing it. But she divorced him within a year after our interview. I don't know if they had tried to get couple counseling or if the man had entered a program for men who batter. I don't even know if the reason their relationship ended was related to his violence or potential for violence. But I thought it would be hard for her to continue to sleep with him if something had not been done to make their shared bed safe for her. People need to feel safe in bed.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.