bed rules

Are Separate Bedrooms The Kiss Of Death For My Marriage?

Your partner sleeps separately. When might that become an actual separation?

by Penelope

Welcome to Ask A MWLTF (Yes, that’s Mother Who Likes to F*ck.), a new monthly anonymous advice column from Scary Mommy. Here we’ll dissect all your burning questions about motherhood, sex, romance, intimacy, and friendship with the help of our columnist, Penelope, a writer and mental health practitioner in training. She’ll dish out her most sound advice for parents on the delicate dance of raising kids without sacrificing other important relationships. Email her at

Dear Penelope,

Around the time I entered my second trimester of pregnancy, my husband stopped sleeping with me. To be clear, I don’t mean that we stopped having sex. Our sex life is fine. I mean that he literally stopped wanting to sleep in our bed with me, or anywhere in the marital bedroom that we’ve shared for almost seven years. Instead, he lays beside me each night, reading a book or sometimes rubbing my back until I nod off, but when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, as I inevitably do, I find him sound asleep on the futon in our guest room, sometimes surrounded by a stash of books, magazines, his laptop and headphones, an empty package of Oreo cookies, as though he’s building a little nest for himself, away from our bed.

On the one hand, I get it. In the best of times I’m only a mediocre sleeper. Now, six months pregnant, I toss, turn, snore, and grunt. I’ve also grown very attached to a body pillow roughly the size of a grown man that lays in the bed between us. It’s not a comfortable situation for anyone. On the other hand, it makes me sad to think of us as sleeping in separate beds. What if he gets so used to his man-nest that he decides he doesn’t want to come back? I always thought of sleeping in separate beds as a thing couples do after a fight or before a divorce. Should I give up my body-pillow to lure him back? Or am I wrong to worry?


Between the Sheets

Dear Between,

Let me tell you a story: A few years ago, I was introduced by a mutual acquaintance to a woman who lives on a commune. I was researching unconventional living arrangements at the time, and at the woman’s invitation, went to visit her there for a day to see what communal life was like. This woman had moved to the commune with her husband and they had raised children there. For fifteen years, she’d lived a life devoid of the kind of privacy most of us take for granted. She learned to share resources, chores, food, responsibilities, even clothes with people to whom she was not related, and her husband had done the same. So when she took me on a tour of her sleeping quarters, I was surprised when she said, “Here’s my bedroom. My husband’s bedroom is at the other end of the building.” When I asked her if that was strange to not share a bedroom with her husband, she laughed and said, “Oh, we wouldn’t still be married if we had to share a bedroom.”

I didn’t pry into the reasons, but they’re not hard to imagine. Maybe one or both of them snored. Maybe one hogged the blankets, or sweat in the sheets, or left their dirty laundry in a pile on the floor, or maybe even flossed in bed and sometimes left a strand of used dental floss festering on the nightstand. Or maybe, at the end of a day of communal living, they simply enjoyed retreating to a small space that belonged solely to them where they could rest in their own fashion. She went on to say that they certainly visited each other frequently in their rooms and sometimes slept over, but a sleepover is a different thing than a permanent and inescapable situation.

In our culture, sharing a bedroom with one’s romantic partner has somehow become not just the norm but the expectation. If people sleep in separate beds, we assume it must mean their relationship is strained or sexless, and surely, in some situations, this may be the case. Falling asleep beside someone, cuddling in the night, waking up in a lover’s arms, can certainly foster intimacy and feelings of tenderness and love. For some people, it can strengthen a relationship. But getting adequate sleep can also strengthen a relationship. Being well-rested can strengthen it. Knowing that you can sleep beside a partner some nights when closeness is what you’re both craving, and go to bed solo other nights when you feel like finishing a good book or when your partner insists on eating that really intense Indian food.

All this is to say, it’s never wrong to worry — worrying is a part of being human — but it’s often not necessary. Instead of worrying, I suggest you curl up with that handsome body pillow and enjoy your uninterrupted slumber until the time feels right for your husband to return from his temporary nest.