Sharing sleep – can a relationship survive in separate beds?

Do you like waking in the night to find a snoring walrus sprawled diagonally across the bed, leaving you curled up in a ball on the edge?


Surely everyone likes being woken by a swift kick in the shin?

Really not?

In that case, you probably want to make a mental note never to share a bed with me.

When I was younger, I was a ridiculously deep sleeper, to the point that I would often seriously worry my mum and my sister, who could shout in my face and forcefully shake me and I wouldn’t wake. When you become a mother though, deep sleep goes out the window and you’re resigned instead to nights spent with one ear open, just in case.

I know I fidget in bed, but knowing it only makes it worse. So conscious am I of not wanting to disturb the other person, that I try to be as still as possible, but this only serves to make me increasingly desperate to move my legs. Just once, just twice maybe. And perhaps just once more.

I’ve always been intrigued then by couples who maintain separate beds, separate rooms even, and who claim it has no negative impact on their relationship. Is it really possible to keep the passion and intimacy alive without sharing a bed?

Yesterday in the Guardian, Jenni Murray put forward the case in favour of separate bedrooms. It’s a compelling argument. Although hurt at first that her husband would want to sleep apart from her, Murray soon began to question why exactly there is such a taboo around the notion of separate beds, and why we feel a pressure to share. “Why do we enter a lifetime’s commitment to another person,” she asks, “and willingly surrender one of the most precious things we’ve enjoyed – a room of one’s own, decorated in one’s own taste, tidy or untidy as suits you. When did it become a romantic imperative to sacrifice the right to private, exclusive space for the notion of togetherness?”

When indeed. I began planning my dream bedroom…

And then I read Lionel Shriver’s defence of bed sharing.

Lionel Shriver is a brilliantly evocative writer, and within minutes Murray’s quite reasonable argument was pushed roughly to the edge of the bed by Shriver’s portrayal of the marital bed as a haven of contentment and safety – “you pressed against his back. It is glorious, and you hate the waking world. You never want to do anything again. This is the point of existence. Everything else is extra and stupid.”

Her descriptions are beautiful and so true. I wondered how I could ever consider sleeping apart, missing those precious moments before sleep, when “the wrapping begins. One knee nestles behind yours. One fine, high arch rests on the round of your calf. He clasps your hand. His cheek lies on your shoulder. The fit is exact…You are each other’s geometric destiny. You feel at once protected and protecting. It is like holding yourself.”

Of course it’s easy for me, I’m not the one getting kicked in the shins every night…



  1. Vicky Nunes
    17 April, 2011 / 11:49 am

    This post could not be more up my street. During the day my husband is funny, considerate, helpful, attractive, and just down right lovely, albeit a bit clumsy at times. At night he is a snoring (louder than anyone I have ever heard), sprawling, dribbling mess. Come 3am when I am still trying to get to sleep with my ear plugs in and my pillow wrapped around my head I absolutely yearn for having the bed to myself. So much so that it could be said that I love him by day and hate him by night. BUT all that said, it would probably feel very strange to actually have separate rooms. I think it’d feel all too distant for me, so I will make do with giving him a kick now and then and occasionally evicting him to the sofa/spare room for the night.

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:41 am

      See I worry that I might be like your husband – all my efforts at being charming and thoughtful during the day being completely negated by my hopeless inability to sleep sensibly. Good to hear you are prepared to tolerate it at least!

  2. Beth
    17 April, 2011 / 5:23 pm

    The actual bed sharing hasn’t been an issue really (drunken nights and therefore LOUD snoring aside), but the need to have a room of my own is important. It doesn’t matter how besotted I am with someone or how considerate that person is, I need to be on my own sometimes. This seems to be a taboo also – admitting you want to be on your own despite having a lovely partner and son. I’m with Jenni Murray with not wanting to give up ‘my room’ but also agree with Shriver’s argument in regards intimacy. Sitting on the fence or what???

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:44 am

      You’re quite right Beth, and I don’t think there is anything wrong in admitting you want your own space sometimes, that’s normal surely? It’s one of the things that is worrying me about our impending house move – we’re going to have to be somewhere smaller, and at the moment we are really spoilt for space, so there is plenty of room for us to all be in the same house and still feel like we can maintain privacy and escape sometimes. It’s going to take some getting used to I think if we end up anywhere too much smaller.

      • Beth
        18 April, 2011 / 3:30 pm

        I get by now having a dvd player and a digital radio in a room I have made quaint (my house is mini) and I just chill out for a bit if I need to. I went through a stage after I moved of not having this and my wine consumption went sky high!

        • 19 April, 2011 / 7:17 am

          I bet it did! I would say your mini-room sounds like a much healthier form of escapism. (And not as fattening).

  3. 17 April, 2011 / 7:39 pm

    Great post and I can understand both sides. I’m desperately missing hubbie at the moment as children keep getting in the way of our bed sharing!

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:45 am

      Kids have a habit of doing that! Belle’s poor old dad was relegated to a matress on the floor for a good three months when she was little. It doesn’t last forever though, it just feels like it…

  4. 17 April, 2011 / 8:16 pm

    Actually, after the first decade or so of marriage many couples realize you can have the best of both worlds. You and he share a bed – whether yours or his – for those special intimate moments and remain together that entire night. Those nights when a busy day at work or childrens’ demands leave both of you drained and craving nothing more than a full night’s sleep – it’s nice to know there is a cozy, spacious bed where a good night’s rest awaits.

    Of course, depending on the size of your family, this happy circumstance might not be possible until your oldest child leaves home and their empty room seems to whisper to you “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:47 am

      It’s a good point about family circumstances, and I guess is where the whole notion of bed sharing comes from originally – it’s not really a romance thing is it, just a poverty thing? I think it would be perfect to have a lovely extra room you knew one of you could escape to if you needed too. It’s always good to keep your options open.

  5. 17 April, 2011 / 9:49 pm

    Thank God someone thinks this is ok! My husband started sleeping in the spare room on ‘early start’ days so as not to disturb me on his way to work at 5am. It has become a habit which both of us tacitly love. The kids now call it Daddy’s room and expect to find him in there, along with the chaotic jumble of clothing and newspapers which he seems to find relaxing. I get to keep my sleeping space neat and tidy without the need to pick up said clothing and newspapers. He is happy playing on his Ipad (which would no way be allowed in a room I was planning to sleep in!) and I am free to sleep without dreaming of an earthquake. We both worry that we’re doing the wrong thing, but we’re both happy so why rock the boat? At last I can relax. Thank you for this post!

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:50 am

      No problem Helen and thanks for commenting!

      It’s interesting isn’t it how much of a taboo this really is, and how you both feel bad about it, even though you’re both happy. I think we feel like it must signify somehow that there are problems in the relationship, that it means you’re drifting apart maybe, but I’m sure it doesn’t have to mean that at all. Like you say, you’re both happy, you both get to sleep exactly how you like, so why do you feel guilty, like you need your choices validating?

  6. 18 April, 2011 / 7:07 am

    I would miss my husband I think and *slaps her wrists* our baby comes in as well however my Mum and Dad slept in single beds in the same room for over 20 years and they had a great marriage that lasted over 40 years so it just goes to show….

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:52 am

      Unslap those wrists Louise – there’s nothing wrong with having your baby in bed with you. This is just another of those things society has forced upon us as what is ‘right’ – mum and dad in one bed, baby in their own room – but it doesn’t have to be like that!

      I think I’d probably have a separate room entirely rather than just separate beds, otherwise you still have to put up with things like snoring and mess, you just don’t get the cuddles…

  7. 18 April, 2011 / 8:28 am

    Not long after the little one was born we started sleeping in seperate beds. The theory was one of us got sleep and looked after her through the day and the other one didn’t but could catch up in the day if necessary. This works well. The hubby also goes to bed later and has restless nights. This works well. Now we have started sleeping in the same bed at the weekends but seperate beds works for us through the week. I feel guilty admitting it though. It’s like a shameful secret!

    • 18 April, 2011 / 8:54 am

      I’m finding this whole subject fascinating, and am intrigued by the idea that there are actually loads of couples sleeping apart, who are too ashamed to admit it! It’s weird isn’t it that there is so much guilt attached. Do you friends and family know about your sleeping arrangments?

  8. 18 April, 2011 / 10:19 am

    There’s no answer to the question …. You just have to see who is and isn’t compatible in this area. Myself, I am perfect (and no I really am not bragging), I don’t snore, kick, sprawl or fidget in bed, period. You might get the occasional snore if I have a cold, but other than that no problems. The missus on the other hand …. snores like a demented warthog at times, but she doesn’t thrash/kick or sprawl at least.

    • 19 April, 2011 / 7:18 am

      Steve, if there was ever any doubt in my mind that you were in every way the perfect partner, this has confirmed it. I’m sure you are a joy to share a bed with.

      • 20 April, 2011 / 5:06 pm

        I’m sure there’s plenty “wrong” with me as partner material, but snoring and being a pain in bed is not one of those things. Hey, I have to have some pros !

    • 19 April, 2011 / 7:16 am

      *snort at the t-shirt from the dog food convention*

      Emma, when I grow up I want to be like you. I love the flights analogy, you make separate beds sound so terribly glam. I’d be disappointed when a dashing waiter didn’t bring me champagne on a silver tray.

  9. Laura
    18 March, 2016 / 10:37 pm

    Some nights we used to let the little one stay in bed and sleep with us. There is really nothing like staring at your other half across your sleeping baby! So much love. Then from around six weeks baby went into the other bedroom as he was sleeping through and we didn’t want to disturb him. Once in a while is lovely I think

  10. 16 March, 2018 / 3:04 pm

    My husband and I often end up sleeping in different rooms so that we can get a bit mor erestful sleep. We’re both chronically ill and sometimes we just need some space. Sometimes that’s because we’re in pain and need to be able to move without disturbing the other and sometimes it’s because we simply cannot sleep and need to be able to keep the light on and read.

    I’m not that worried about it to be honest. My mum and dad have slept in separate rooms since I was a teenager. It hasn’t affected their relationship in any way, if anything it has stopped them getting grumpy with each other over lack of sleep!

    I’m not at the stage where I want my own room, as I still love sharing a bed (and bedroom) with my husband. But I do love being able to sleep on my own sometimes.

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