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The Weirdly Surprising Thing That Spiced Up My Long Marriage

And, no, it definitely isn't more time in bed together.

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illustration of couple holding up matches in flames, spice up marriage
Vivian Shih
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One of the most blissful aspects of marriage (other than great sex!) is waking up every morning next to the person you love. During our early years together, I relished intimate moments cuddling and kissing my husband under the sheets as dawn's pink and yellow ribbons streamed through our bedroom window.

However, after having several children, our sleep patterns changed drastically. They were often disrupted, leaving us irritable and argumentative during the day. Yet somehow, we survived those sleep-deprived years without kicking each other out of bed. I'll admit, though, that I considered banishing my husband to the couch after enduring his snoring — which sounds like he’s using a weed whacker in the bedroom.

We also spent plenty of sleepless nights worrying about our teenagers and looked forward to the day when we would be empty nesters and could sleep again. When it finally arrived, I thought we'd resume our blissful sleep patterns and wake up well-rested and happy. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Little did I know that our bodies had changed unpredictably over the years and that uninterrupted sleep was nothing more than a fantasy. In addition to his loud snoring, my husband developed Restless Leg Syndrome and twitched on the mattress like a fish out of water. The constant jerking motion of his limbs startled me out of a deep sleep so often that we'd argue in the middle of the night until neither of us could sleep.

Of course, I was not blameless in our disruptive nocturnal cycle. Menopause played an inconsistent game of bladder roulette — some nights, I'd wake three or more times to use the bathroom. Despite carefully tiptoeing across creaky wood floors, my husband, a light sleeper, would always wake.

Menopausal night sweats also wreaked havoc. My husband claimed that lying next to me was like sleeping with a supernova radiating heat across the damp bed sheets. This led to battles over the thermostat, where one became a human popsicle each night and the other a sweat-soaked ragdoll.

After two years of playing mattress musical chairs, it was evident that sleeping together was no longer beneficial to our health (or our marriage). However, when I suggested adding a second bed to the room, my husband balked, saying we weren't living in an “I Love Lucy” episode where Desi and Lucy slept in separate twin beds. He was also concerned that our kids would think we had relationship problems. But after too many heated arguments and months of sleep deprivation, he finally caved, making the excuse that our old mattress was no longer comfortable for his back, and started sleeping in the spare bedroom.

We were in the midst of a "sleep divorce," and we couldn’t have been happier! For the first time since being single, I experienced the joyful independence of sleeping alone. I could stretch, snore, roll over or sprawl across the sheets and make "mattress snow angels." My husband also felt liberated — he could stay up late to watch sports, read or play his favorite iPad game with the volume up and lights on.

Some couples keep up the pretense of sleeping in the same bed when it is anything BUT restful or beneficial to the relationship. They’re willing to sacrifice a good night's rest out of fear of losing the emotional connection to their partner. However, according to CBS News, sleeping apart is neither detrimental nor unusual. More than a third of Americans claim to occasionally or consistently sleep in separate rooms from their partner. CBS quoted Dr. Seema Khosla, a pulmonologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep, saying insufficient sleep can increase moodiness and cause more arguments between couples.

Additionally, different sleep styles can create resentment toward the person causing the interruptions.

Despite the stigma surrounding "sleep divorce" (which many still view as an indication of relationship problems), my husband and I are closer than ever. Undisturbed sleep has removed the stress, irritability, anxiety, resentment and constant fatigue we once felt from being over-tired.

My friend Martha, a retired therapist, and her husband started sleeping separately two years ago to avoid waking one another with frequent snoring, leg twitches, bathroom visits and late-night reading.

"Even though we sleep in separate rooms, we still talk, cuddle and tell each other 'I love you' before leaving the house — that's important to us," says Martha. Her suggestion for maintaining intimacy is to schedule weekly sex dates and to connect by doing things together that both partners enjoy, such as a date night dinner. "Remember that you aren't sleeping apart because you're angry at each other or because of a lack of communication skills,” she adds. “That's a different problem, and in that case, I'd recommend couples therapy if you have trouble with your arrangements."

Of course, nothing is better than sharing the same bed with your partner as long as you get quality sleep. That didn't happen for my husband and me, and I regret that we lived so long without prioritizing it. Giving ourselves personal space in separate bedrooms has transformed our relationship.

The benefits? More energy, more positivity, an increased longing for intimacy and sex, and fewer arguments. We awake each morning refreshed and enjoy a relaxed conversation over coffee (compared to our previous a.m. grumblings).

Additionally, we're making more of an effort to stay connected throughout the day, reminiscent of the early years of our marriage — including the same level of desire for physical closeness. Spending our evenings snuggling on the couch while watching television also sparks feelings of closeness that often lead to more sexual encounters. In the morning, we share a tradition — whoever wakes first sneaks into the other's bed for hugs and a kiss to start the day.

Although some refuse to normalize separate sleeping arrangements in a marriage, it has improved our physical and mental health. A "sleep divorce" has been a game changer for us, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

How many of you in a relationship sleep in separate beds? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships