“Baby’s crying,” I murmured, half-asleep.
My husband groaned. “Again?”
“Yup. You want to get her or me?” I asked.
“I will,” he said. He sighed and got up.
This is our 4th kid, and the getting up late in the night is still not any easier.
Despite the sleeplessness and caring for a new little life along with 3 other kids who are constantly vying for our attention, my husband and I are currently in another “Honeymoon” phase.
We all know that phase, and some of us would wish that we’d stay in this phase forever, but, as a Relationship Coach and a human, I know it’s just one of four phases that a couple may go through in a cyclical and recurring way.
Every long-term relationship experiences four distinct phases in a relationship, and each one has an important role in building a strong intimate relationship with your partner. The hope is that each phase will help you continue to return to one another, but these phases can also work to help you know whether this relationship is for you or not.
We all know the honeymoon phase, which can happen at the beginning of a relationship, but can also reoccur after other major life changes: getting married, buying a home, moving, new job, having children, children moving out of the home, etc.
In this phase, you’re banging as often as you can. You think your partner is perfect, and boundaries? What boundaries? If you could merge into one flesh, you would. Eagerly. This is the period when your relationship feels utterly delightful.
But this is also a time to not let your emotions carry you away. Whenever this phase happens, enjoy it, but try to avoid making any big decisions. If you’re at the beginning of a new relationship, it may also be helpful for you to get candid advice from those around you to make sure you’re not rushing headlong into something not in your best interest.
2. Doubt & Disillusionment
Unfortunately, the honeymoon phase can’t continue forever. Eventually, you’ll start to notice that your partner’s generosity seems irresponsible, or whenever they eat cereal, it’s like they’re chewing on glass. Or you may just simply find yourself more irritated and annoyed with your partner.
You may start fighting more and/or withdrawing. You might start drawing boundaries and focusing more on creating a space for yourself.
Couples who last through this do so by confronting their issues, making changes, and growing with each other instead of apart. During this phase, try to remember that your partner isn’t only an irresponsible glass-chewer, or that your irritations might be because you didn’t have boundaries before and you need them now. You used to think they were pretty great before, so it may be time to address what issues this phase has brought up and make a…
Do you stay or go? Now’s the time to decide whether you’re going to stick it out with your glass-chewer and work on fixing the relationship, staying and doing nothing, or hightailing it out.
Prepare for emotional breakdowns, indifference, contemplations of getting your own place, or re-downloading Tinder.
While it’s always easier to leave in the short-term, healthy relating skills and healthy relationships get built in this stage. This is where you learn or relearn conflict management skills with your partner. You’ll need to improve how you communicate, understand your role in what’s going on, and commit to really change. If you do this, you can guarantee that things will improve.
If not, then at least you can part ways knowing you tried all you could.
If couples skip the “resolution” portion of this phase and choose to stay together, they may bounce back to the “Honeymoon” phase. They may continually cycle through the first three phases without ever progressing to the fourth phase. These couples may need outside help to reach…
4. Real Love
After going through the whole rollercoaster of the preceding phases, you and your partner will find yourself on the other side of the rainbow in the “Real Love” phase.
To get to this phase, you’ve done some self-discovery, individuated, accepted your own and your partner’s imperfections, and are working well together. You lean into each other. You play. You bang. You enjoy this awesome person you get to share your life with.
Couples that are in the “Real Love” phase are composed of two whole people that walk beside one another along the journey of their relationship.
Be generous, practice self-care, and know that whatever phase you’re in, it won’t last forever, so enjoy it while you can. If you find yourself stuck in the first three phases and unable to get to the “Real Love” phase, then you and your partner may want to reach out to a couples therapist/coach to get help on communication and conflict-management skills.
Every relationship is its own journey, and you’ll experience troubles along the way. You might jump from “Real Love” all the way back to “Doubt & Disillusionment,” but if you stick it out and keep working with each other, you can build a satisfying long-term relationship that can weather even the toughest situations.
Every night there are three in my bed. I guess I am in a throuple of sorts.
There is my partner, obviously myself, and there is also my dog. On cold nights he lies between us in an attempt to spoon. Soon he drifts off to sleep and starts snoring. My partner then joins in performing what I call her ‘Darth Vader’ impersonation of deep heaving breathing. It's a bittersweet symphony of sounds.
I lie frustrated, tossing and turning. I think about articles I can write. I count sheep. I count snores. Eventually, I grab my pillow and move to the couch. There I have a spare blanket ready to go. For most nights of the week, I retire here to get a good night's sleep.
And it seems I am not the only one.
The sleep divorce
This week, a British doctor Dr. Karan Raj, went viral on TikTok when a video he posted suggested that it may be better not to share a bed with your partner. Raj has a big following on TikTok with almost 3.5 million followers, but this video captured global attention.
In the video, he said, “You should always sleep alone if the other person moves in their sleep or snores, that will stop you getting into the deep stages of sleep your body needs to recharge, affecting sleep quality.”
Dr. Raj explained that couples usually had different sleep cycles and that “forcing two people to share a bedtime” could lead to severe sleep deprivation.
He advocated for a sleep divorce. This is an arrangement where couples undertake individual sleeping arrangements — this can be separate beds, different sleep times, or sleeping in a different room.
Judging from the comments in the video, there are lots of couples that have filed for a sleep divorce.
For every person advocating for a ‘sleep divorce,’ there was one defending the traditional method of sharing a bed with your partner. It became a heated debate.
Are you better off alone?
A survey conducted by Sleep Cycle found that 41 percent of Americans prefer sleeping solo to sleeping with a partner. The most common factor was snoring. 52 percent of people said their partners’ snoring is loud enough to wake them up, while 30 percent say it’s loud enough to drive them onto the couch or into another room.
People who sleep with snoring partners have a lower quality of sleep. Imagine if they had a snoring partner and a snoring dog!
It isn’t just snoring that can distract from a good sleep. Dr. Raj suggests temperature has a big part to play. In his video, he says, “One of the triggers you need to fall asleep is a drop in core body temperature. Sharing a bed with someone increases body heat, so it’s going to take longer to fall asleep.”
That is one problem I seem to face. I seem to overheat in bed and find moving to the couch allows me to cool down.
There is no doubt that sleep is important. It helps our brain process new information and form memories. It is also crucial for your metabolism and immune system. And as anyone who has had a poor night's sleep can attest to, it can have a large impact on your mood.
So there is a lot of sense in moving to a different room and sleeping solo.
Before you buy a second bed, consider this
Before you call the Sandman and enter into a sleep divorce, it is worth looking at the benefits of staying in the same bed.
The University of British Columbia in Canada published a study that suggested that your partner’s scent could help you sleep. They studied 155 people and tracked their sleep quality over four days. They were given a shirt worn by their partner for two nights and a new, unworn shirt for the other two nights. Even though they were unaware they were wearing their partner's shirt, they all reported a better night's sleep for the nights it was worn.
Researchers found that “The scent of another person is emotionally evocative. We found that the exposure to the scent of a romantic partner overnight leads to improved sleep efficiency. Participants in our study experienced an average of more than nine minutes of additional sleep per night when exposed to the scent of their partner.”
Nine minutes a night adds up to 52 hours over a year — a substantial amount of extra sleep. Perhaps instead of expensive fragrances, we just need Eau d’Partner.
Of course, wearing a t-shirt isn't the same as having our partner lie (and snore) next to us.
Henning Johannes Drews, a researcher at the Center for Integrative Psychiatry, studied 12 couples who spent 4 nights in a sleep lab. His research measured how sleep differed depending on whether the participants slept alone or together with their partner.
The study found that couples who slept side-by-side had increased and less disrupted rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep as opposed to when they slept solo. REM, aside from being a great band, is the most important part of the sleep cycle. It is when the brain “replenishes neurotransmitters that organize neural networks essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem-solving,” according to James B. Maas, PhD, a professor and former chairman of the psychology department at Cornell University.
Additionally, during the study by Drew, the couples completed surveys on their relationship. It was found they ranked their relationships higher after they had slept in the same bed. It seemed by sleeping together; they felt their relationship was better.
When two beds are better than one
It’s important to understand sleep-related issues have nothing to do with the strength of the relationship itself. Emily Jamea, Ph.D., suggests discussing the issue with your partner honestly if you feel the need to sleep apart. “In most cases, it’s going to be painful for both people that, for whatever reason, you can’t share a bed at night. When we communicate a change in behavior with empathy … that softens the blow.”
Even if you don’t sleep together, you can engage in a pre-sleep routine. “If I have couples who don’t typically sleep in the same bed, I encourage them to spend some time snuggling in one of the beds, so they have that intimate moment before splitting off,” says Jamea. And, of course, there is time for lovemaking. That last comment is mine, not hers…but I’m sure she would agree.
Final bedtime thoughts
There may be a stigma attached to couples who don’t share the same bed, but it isn’t uncommon. Sleep is important, and if your partner has a sleep disorder or does shift work, it may be better for the relationship to file for a sleep divorce.
My in-laws have slept in separate beds for over 20 years due to the loud snoring of my father-in-law. To be frank, and I hope he doesn't read this, his snoring is so loud moving to the next room doesn't solve much! Despite this, they have the most loving relationship I have seen.
As for me, I am sleep separated. Sometimes I spend the whole night in the bed with my partner — and dog. On some nights, I retire to the couch, and all three of us sleep much better.
If you are in a relationship where one person is having a night of poor sleep, consider a sleep divorce. In this case,
a divorce may be the best thing for your relationship.