For many of us, sharing a bed with our partner is a wonderful thing. Alongside an array of physiological benefits, it can also improve communication and intimacy while allowing us time together alone.
Sounds dreamy, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case everyone.
For some couples, sleep (or sometimes, the lack of it) can trigger tension in their relationship. Things like clashing body clocks, mismatched bedtime routines, snoring and differing sleep needs are often a source of conflict, undermining any efforts they make as individuals to get quality shut-eye.
The good news is that this needn’t be a dealbreaker - even for those most loyal to their slumbers. We caught up with senior relationship therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, who’s been working with couples for 20 years to help them get the best from their relationship. Here are her top six tips for creating a positive sleep relationship with your partner:
1. Be mindful of your habits
We often exaggerate our habits when we feel triggered, distanced or when we want to avoid challenging conversations. This is not necessarily a conscious action and in most cases we are not really aware of it. But at times of tension or distance between couples, or when they don’t know how to talk about their feelings and issues, they devote time and energy outside of the relationship. This might be in the form of reading, computers, work, going to sleep with the TV on or at different times to our partner.
First of all, check in with yourself if you find that bedtime is causing an issue with your partner.
If you’re going to bed at a different time to them, is it, at times, a way to avoid conversations or intimacy? Perhaps there is an underlying issue that you don’t want to discuss or perhaps you are trying to avoid intimacy.
With your hand on your heart ask yourself if there might be another reason for this habit.
It’s important to have an open conversation about any differences with your partner, whether that’s sleep or otherwise. Communication is key for all couples.
There is no one-size-fits-all relationship, so try to be aware of what’s going on inside for you. You might find that you feel connected to your partner during the day and that a mismatched bedtime isn’t a problem for you. On the other hand, you might find that you’re going to bed alone and feeling lonely or resentful as a result. Perhaps you find yourself lying awake at night, frustrated by your partner’s snoring.
Whatever it is, I always recommend that you communicate these feelings to your partner. Create space for a safe conversation, and tell them what you’re experiencing. Start a conversation around solutions and possibilities. Together you can identify solutions before the problem escalates.
3. Initiate a physical connection before and after sleep
Signify separation (going to sleep) and your reunion (waking up) with a physical touch. It might be a kiss, a hug or simply a stroke. These are small moments, but significant in creating a connection between the two of you.
4. Stretch for opportunities of connection
Everyone’s sleep preferences and requirements vary. Not only do we have early birds and night owls, but some people require more sleep than others.
If you find that you have opposing preferences, perhaps try to stretch to each other’s time zones once or twice a week. An early bird might allow themselves to go to bed a little bit later at the weekend, or a night owl might join their partner for an early bedtime now and again.
Allowing yourselves to meet in the middle can be a gesture of your appreciation and offers more opportunities for moments of connection.
5. If you need to make changes, make conscious decisions and keep reviewing them
If you find that you are experiencing an issue where a change is required, make conscious decisions around it. Simply falling into habits can be detrimental to your relationship over time.
If, for example, you feel that your partner’s snoring is overwhelming and you’d like to consider sleeping in a separate room, put thought into this together and recognise the implications. Perhaps you could decide on ways to compensate for the missing connection or find other solutions for the snoring issue.
After a week of a change being implemented, check in with each other. Whether it’s sleeping in separate rooms, changing your bedtime, or introducing a new ritual, discuss your feelings on it. Be open and tell your partner how you are finding the change. Make an effort to really listen to their point of view as well.
You can then make adjustments if needed or celebrate the success of it together. Remember, it is a process of learning and growing, not a one-off event.
6. Try swapping sides of the bed
This is a very simple change, but one that can have surprising effects. It is very common for couples to stick to their ‘side of the bed’, but have you ever tried swapping sides?
I recommend it after every couple of months. Its promotes physical balance in our posture, it brings a bit of novelty to the everyday and might even bring you comfort and connection to feel ‘their side’.
Give it a go and let us know how you get on!
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari is senior relationship therapist. With a doctorate in Psychology, she has worked in the field for over 20 years and runs a private clinic in Hampstead, London. She is also an author, speaker, therapist supervisor and has been the Chair of Imago UK, an internationally-recognised approach to relationship therapy, since 2013. Visit @Dr_Kalanit on Instagram.