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Marriage: In Defense of Separate Bedrooms

My husband has a dream: Separate bedrooms. It's a dream he's had for a while. It's a simple dream, yet one that can create serious complications in a marriage.
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My husband has a dream: separate bedrooms. It's a dream he's had for a while. It's a simple dream, yet one that can create serious complications in a marriage. And two single beds in the same room (a la Lucy and Ricky) won't do. In his dreamland, my husband requires his own bedroom with his own bed and a door that closes. But the reality is that we live in New York City, where having an apartment with an extra room is as likely as winning a $300 million Powerball lottery.

Don't get me wrong: My marriage isn't in trouble (that I know of). We're not separating or getting divorced. My husband doesn't want his own bedroom because we fight and slam doors and need to spend time apart. He dreams of separate bedrooms because he finds that he gets a better night's sleep when he's alone.

I suppose the cat and I should be offended, insulted and hurt by my husband's dream. But the truth is, I kind of understand it, and, weirdly, even sort of support it.

Let me back up. Why can't my husband sleep well through the night with me in the same bed? Well, for starters, our full-size bed feels small, and is getting smaller all the time: I'm 19 weeks pregnant. So take my expanding self and add my husband, our 14-pound cat and my giant, snake-like pregnancy pillow; basically, we're all sleeping on the equivalent of a cot (or not sleeping, as the case may be).

The obvious question: Why not just save up and buy a bigger bed? Well, our bedroom is small-ish and oddly configured, so a queen-size mattress is as large as the room will accommodate. But believe me, we discuss making this investment.

And then there are the external, ambient factors. I like a dark room, whereas my husband isn't bothered by light from street lamps. I can't live without my Sleepmate white noise machine; he prefers complete quiet as he falls asleep. I'd prefer the bedroom to be a little warm and cozy; dear one would be happy bunking in a walk-in freezer. He likes to retire early; I'm a night owl. I'm a comforter person; he's a scratchy Hudson Bay blanket kind of guy.

Okay, I lied. Sometimes we fight.

There are plenty of nights when my husband retreats to the comfy couch in our "second bedroom" (the office) and crawls into a sleeping bag he's had since college. These days he claims this is all for my comfort and well-being. "You and your pregnancy pillow need your space," he'll say. "You have a bad cold and need to get better," "You have an early doctor's appointment," and so forth. But I'm pretty sure the fact that I'm knocked up is just a convenient excuse for my husband to temporarily act out his longtime domestic fantasy of separate bedrooms.

Thing is, now that I'm getting bigger by the day, I'm beginning to share my husband's pipe dream. My pregnancy pillow and I do require a fair amount of space, and as far as our cat goes, forget it. Every night he sprawls out on my side of the bed, and the vast space he takes up has always been non-negotiable. In sleep space battles between my husband and the cat, the animal with more legs always wins.

Then there's the inevitable question of sex. Not to get too graphic, but my husband and I have always managed to make time and space for it regardless of our geographical location or the time of day, so I'm not too worried that having separate bedrooms would negatively impact us in this capacity.

Still, I wondered how abnormal my husband and I would be or seem if we actually had separate bedrooms. So I asked Dr. Deirdre Barrett -- a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist with many couples clients -- for her take on the subject:

What is "normal" and healthy is when both partners in a couple can negotiate a mutually-agreed-upon way to live together, whether that means separate bedrooms, separate vacations, etc. What this requires is a partner who knows his or her own mind, is able to ask for what he/she needs and is willing to be moved by the mind and needs of the other partner.

A benefit would be that the partners have gotten what they ostensibly wanted: Separate bedrooms. This is good as long as both partners were truly comfortable with the decision in the first place. It's possible that it could be detrimental if one partner went along with the idea, but didn't really want it. That's why it might be a good idea to give separate bedrooms a trial run before the couple makes a major commitment to it -- renovation or furniture-wise.

Also, if the couple tends to initiate sex only when they're already in bed together, they'll have to develop alternative methods for sexual intimacy.

So, according to Dr. Barrett, if my husband and I ever do mutually decide to have separate bedrooms (and have the real estate luxury to do so), our relationship would most likely be okay. Hell, maybe it would even improve!

But I realize that I haven't given my husband a chance to express the reasons behind his cherished separate bedrooms dream in his own words. So, for better or worse, he's what he has to say:

  • "I am neater than my wife. I like my side of the room to be very orderly, with no clothes on the floor or bureau. She is less interested in that."

  • "My wife needs white noise (loud white noise) in order to sleep. This bums me out. I have to hear the drone of the air conditioner (on fan setting -- she's not that wasteful) even during the winter. She also has to have the door closed a certain way. In fact, every environmental condition in the room has to be to her specifications, not mine. And that bums me out."
  • "We're on different sleep schedules most of the time. Often I like to go to bed first, and there's always the anxiety that if I fall asleep, I'll just end up awake when she finally comes into the room and gets into bed. On the flip side, occasionally, I like to read in bed for a while. But I can't do that if my wife wants to sleep."
  • "As far as actually sleeping goes, sure, it's nice to feel my wife next to me. But more often than not, she's hogging the covers and blasting out body heat. (Did I mention that we like very different types of bedding?)"
  • "I am a morning person. My wife is not."
  • "In our house these days, most sex does not occur at bedtime. We're simply too old and tired. Things tend to happen in the morning (after i've been up for a while), or during a weekend afternoon "nap" (which, by the way, I love taking with my wife). So that's not really an issue."
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