Separate Bedrooms: Friend or Foe?


Sometimes a couples retreat is better spent alone.

Separate bedrooms are becoming an oasis for co-habitators, and not in the way you'd expect. More and more couples are hitting the hay alone, not because of a bad relationship but for the chance to get some shut-eye without snoring spouses or a significant other who watches TV until they fall asleep.

Nearly one in four American couples sleep solo, according to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey. The National Association of Home Builders predicts some 60 percent of custom homes will have dual master bedrooms come 2015.

"We call it the Ricky and Lucy treatment,'' said Ken Dietz of Dietz & Associates, an interior design firm in Jamaica Plain. "It usually starts out with the client requesting that we redesign the guest room and eventually admitting that one of them use it more often,'' he said.

Why the secrecy?

"People feel funny about it,'' Dietz said.

They shouldn't. Sleeping in separate bedrooms doesn't mean a relationship is on the rocks. Dietz said master bedrooms are becoming like hotel suites. With TVs, couches, computers and more, they're no longer just a place to sleep and snuggle.

"Someone's up and someone's trying to sleep,'' he said. "That's not good.''

Lauren Mackler, psychotherapist and best-selling author of  "Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness and Transform Your Life,'' agrees.

"Separate bedrooms alone can't make or break a marriage, but the underlying issues can,'' she said. "If a person has difficulty sleeping and sleeps in another room so as not to disturb their partner or spouse, that can actually preserve the relationship. If a couple is going through a crisis and are fighting, temporarily sleeping in separate bedrooms can be beneficial in defusing emotions and having more productive and respectful communication.''

But Mackler warned that separate bedrooms shouldn't be used as a weapon.

"If issues such as emotional alienation, infidelity, or avoidance of sexual intimacy are driving the need for separate bedrooms, then sleeping separately can exacerbate alienation and the deterioration of the relationship,'' she said.

Susan Schenck, author of  "The Live Food Factor,'' has no qualms about sleeping in separate quarters.

"My husband and I have been together for 16 years, and 15 of those years we have slept in separate bedrooms,'' she said. "One night I was tossing and turning, and since he had to get up early for work, he told me to go to the next room. I slept so much better that I stayed there! We continue to have separate bedrooms, even when traveling if possible, for three reasons: He snores, I toss and turn and we go to bed at vastly different times. I go to bed around 10 and he goes to bed around 2. If he came into bed late, he would wake me up.''

Another woman, who asked not to be named, isn't quite as upfront.

"We sleep in separate bedrooms and we have kept it a secret from our friends and family,'' she said. "Because when you mention it to anyone, they automatically sense `trouble.'  We have been happily married for 34 years, and took to separate bedrooms four years ago. He snores and wakes me up and he says I snore and wake him up. Within a year of sleeping in separate rooms we have come up with more romantic dates than you can imagine. For us, separate rooms has led us to a better relationship and a very happy marriage.''