Why Sleeping in Separate Beds After a Fight Is Actually a Good Thing

Sleeping in two separate beds used to only be visible on retro TV shows when the husband and wife couldn’t be seen in bed together. Looking back, we culturally considered that passé, but what if the 1950’s sitcom stars were onto something? Sleep divorce is actually a thing now, and it might not be such a bad idea. 

When you have a long-term partner, the general assumption is that you’re supposed to sleep in the same bed with your significant other every single night. But what if that’s not the case? What if it’s actually better for the health of your relationship if you take a bed-break from each other every once in a while, especially if you’ve had a disagreement?

Sometimes sleeping in separate beds after a fight can help you both get some space and feel clarity and a sense of calm (I can speak from experience). Going to bed a little bit angry and then waking up in separate beds or even on the couch, if that’s an option for one night, and working it out can be useful in diffusing that tension and looking at the other person’s perspective with fresh eyes. 

Are there relationship benefits to sleeping in separate beds?

If you temporarily split from your partner during the night after arguing, you’re not alone. In a survey by The Sleep Foundation, 52.9% of adults who slept separately from their partners for a variety of reasons reported better sleep quality, and tend to get about 37 more minutes of sleep per night. Some people only slept in separate beds temporarily, improved their sleep, but returned to bed with their significant other because they missed them.

it’s interesting that so many couples admit to doing something that’s long been considered a big relationship no-no. Susan Heitler, PhD, author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong and Loving Marriage and founder of poweroftwomarriage.com, says that she sees “lots of clients who sleep in separate bedrooms and have better marriages as a result.”

However, the downside to sleeping apart during a fight is that it could be an indicator that you and your partner aren’t communicating well, or dealing with conflict in a healthy way. Dr. Sarah Schewitz, a love and relationship psychologist in Los Angeles, says she wouldn’t “encourage sleeping apart when fighting, especially long-term.” She continues, “Sleeping apart does not foster staying connected even through conflict and only reinforces the attitude that one cannot or should not be loving to the partner when angry.”

Not that it means you should never sleep apart if you’re fighting, or that it’ll be the death of your relationship if you do. “The only time I think it’s appropriate to sleep apart when fighting is for one, maybe two nights if a fight is really fresh and being in the same bed with your partner triggers you to the point where you can’t sleep.” If you find yourself sleeping in the guest bedroom more often than not, Dr. Schewitz suggests seeking help from a couples therapist, who can help you work out the tension or arguments causing the sleep separation.

When is it okay to sleep apart, and when should you work to stay together in bed?

Every couple is different, but I knew that for me, if I went to bed with my partner after having a huge fight, neither of us would sleep well or feel refreshed enough in the morning to go into patch-up mode with a clear head. Feeling well-rested is instrumental for me to think more positively and be more open to communicating in a way that’s less defensive and more collaborative.

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And the research shows that not getting enough sleep could lead to more arguing. In a 2017 study from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, 43 couples did two study visits. Each visit, the couples gave researches blood samples and the numbers of hours they’d slept the last two nights. Researchers then instructed the couples to try to resolve a hot button issue. Afterward, blood samples were taken again. “We found that people who slept less in the past few nights didn’t wake up with higher inflammation, but they have a greater inflammatory response to conflict. So that tells us less sleep increased vulnerability to a stressor,” Stephanie Wilson, lead researcher in the study, concluded. Couples who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to bicker or be mean to each other. In fact, for every hour of sleep the couple didn’t get, inflammatory markers rose 6 percent.

A lot of couples don’t even have the opportunity to rely on a second bed, and I realize I’ve lucky enough to have eventually have that option in my home to take some nights away from my husband. However, I stand by our decision to create space when we need it. There’s something very restorative in a bed that you get all to yourself. It calms you, and in the morning, it makes you appreciate all the things you have, even if they’re not perfect and need work and call for endless patience. Every relationship is different, and if a different setting at night is what yours needs to hit that reset button, then you do you.

A version of this story was published May 2019.

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