Couples discover joys of seperate beds Sound marriages can give both wife and husband sound sleep

August 19, 1993|By Cynthia Hanson | Cynthia Hanson,Contributing Writer

Whenever her sons invite friends to stay over, Theresa knows she's destined for a sleepless night. It's not because the kids make so much noise. It's because on those occasions, Theresa has to sacrifice the relative comfort of her couch for the chaos of her bed.

"My husband sleeps like a puppet," says Theresa, 42, a working mother of three who asked that her last name not be used in this story. "He twirls, twists and flails his arms. Normally, he wakes up with the mattress bare and the covers on the floor."

Fourteen years into their marriage, Theresa decided the only path to peaceful slumber rested with the family-room sofa, where she has slept since the birth of their youngest child, now age 7.

"I never discuss it, so I guess I am ashamed of it," she muses. "But it's just the way things are."

Indeed, it's the same for Bill and Hillary Clinton, who reportedly maintain separate bedrooms in the White House.

There's lots of gossipy conjecture about why they do this. But what if it's something simple?

What if the president has a snore that rivals a foghorn, and the first lady is a light sleeper?

What if he prefers a toasty boudoir, while she favors one that's 65 degrees cool?

What if his early-bird habits interrupt her sleep?

our society, despite plenty of compelling reasons why happily married couples might choose separate beds or bedrooms, sleeping sans spouse -- or even hinting that the arrangement can be healthy for a relationship -- is tantamount to admitting that your sex life is in shambles.

Mention you want Rob-and-Laura-Petrie beds, and watch eyebrows arch, as if implying, "Oh, poor dear. There must be a problem."

Although we live in an age where it's widely accepted for married folks to have separate finances and different last names, it's still assumed that we'll share the same sheets.

Without flinching, we cling to the cultural myth that tussling over blankets is as much a part of marriage as the annual debate of whether to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family or yours.

You just do it -- and you never, never talk about it, which makes the case for separate beds America's dirty little domestic secret.

The fact that people who sleep solo don't want their real names used in this story proves the topic is taboo.

"The bed is a dramatic symbol of your marriage," says Judith Sills, author of "Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way" (Viking, $21). "Sharing a life and sharing a bed really are about the same thing -- enormous accommodation. So it's not just about 'What will other people think of my relationship if I sleep alone?' It's also about 'What will I think?' Sleeping apart is so different from our image of true love."

Jennifer Knopf, a Chicago sex and marital therapist, says that "what people do with each other when they're awake is far more pertinent to their relationship than how close their bodies are while they're sleeping." But she suspects that society causes "a lot of people to sleep together, when, realistically, it's an uncomfortable situation."

Twin beds less rare

Still, Scott Michaelson, a bed salesman, says twin beds aren't a rarity among Baby Boomers anymore.

"Ten years ago, people in their 30s and 40s never bought twin beds," says Mr. Michaelson of the Bedding Experts in Chicago. "Today, about 10 per cent do."

In Europe, sleeping apart is common. Because European aristocrats historically married for lineage and money -- not for love -- it's "not at all surprising that married couples led totally separate lives and slept apart," says Robert A. Gross, director of the American Studies Program at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

In Chicago, Bobbie, 70, recalls being "all shook up" when she stumbled upon the European custom in the United States.

Ironically, Bobbie, twice married, now endorses twin beds because "you can say good night, kiss the person you love and then roll over into your own space."

It's a matter of comfort for Bobbie, whose late husband suggested twin beds as a remedy for his disruptive sleep habits. At age 53, she married a 63-year-old bachelor who also had them. "We never even discussed getting a queen-size bed," she says.

Marriage counselors say more couples would sleep separately if lTC it weren't for the stigma.

"It's OK to have some pretty profound differences in a relationship, including sleep patterns," says Evan Imber-Black, professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"The question is, can you build a marriage that has room for differences without hurting each other? Injecting some humor into the situation can help."

For 12 years, Jean "felt very guilty about sleeping in the bedroom while her husband slept on the pull-out sofa in the den."

Shift change

"I didn't think that was the way it should be between husbands and wives," says Jean, 49, a department-store clerk. "My husband worked the second shift, and he didn't want to wake me when he came home at 4 a.m. He was very sensitive to my sleep needs."

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