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In a world of relationship pressures, the ability to sleep soundly next to your partner is one of many expectations.
It’s an expectation that is rarely challenged, but deserves to be.
An expectation that doesn’t always allow for a deeper understanding of one’s needs.
In decades past, couples lived in a world where sleeping in twin beds next to one another was seen as both practical and fashionable. Sleeping separately allowed for cleanliness, comfort, and ease. It wasn’t until more recently that this began to change.
Sleeping separately became taboo—a sign of a struggling relationship. The expectation became: if you truly love your partner you share a resting place, you share a bed.
This norm doesn’t always account for the stresses of daily life: juggling work schedules, extracurricular commitments, and for many couples, children. When you combine these stresses with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, or insomnia, you’ve created a deadly cocktail of stress inducers.
When my partner and I moved in together, I was worried about our sleeping situation. For years, I was accustomed to sleeping alone in my own bed, with only an occasional sleepless night at my partner’s apartment. I could stomach one or two bad nights of sleep a week, but a lifetime wasn’t something I wanted.
I’ve suffered from insomnia for the past nine years, and while my sleeping has improved, insomnia still haunts me. My anxieties remind me of a time when nights of one or two hours of sleep were normal. A time when I struggled to know if my emotions were real or due to sleep deprivation. A time when my brain struggled to communicate effectively, resulting in mental lapses and altered emotions. The insomnia I’ve experienced often feels like a battle waged and only slightly won.
My partner is what my mother calls a “nomadic sleeper.” He falls asleep in bed, wakes up, goes to the couch, and falls asleep again, eventually making his way back to the bed at some point in the night. He snores loudly and suffers from mild sleep apnea.
I, on the other hand, struggle to fall asleep and the slightest movement or sound will jolt me awake. For the first few months, we tried sleeping together each night.
We tried, to no avail, to make sleeping side-by-side work.
Conversations determined that something needed to change. We discussed how forcing ourselves to abide by a norm society had placed upon us was frustrating.
We felt shame for wanting to sleep in our own spaces; shame, because we both believed that sleeping separate meant trouble in paradise.
To an outsider, sleeping separately usually spells trouble in the relationship. For us, though, it came to reflect trust and communication. I was initially worried that sleeping separately would affect our intimacy, and that other people would think we had given up.
But through our conversations, our (mostly) restful nights, and our cuddle sessions, we’ve learned so much about ourselves and each other. We’ve learned what a true partnership means for us. I’ve learned what a true partnership means to me.
Our intimacy has grown and so has our communication.
I’ve realized that a true partnership means communicating your needs and coming up with a solution that works for both of you. It means going against the norm at times and accepting your differences.
I love that, each night, I get to spend quality time with my partner cuddling in bed, but then, am able to fall asleep on my own. I wake without anxieties. I wake from a restful night of sleep.
I hope that couples who are out there struggling to define their normal can find peace knowing their normal does not need to be defined by others.
We are all unique. And through patience, communication, and some initial awkwardness we can all define our own normal.