couples

'My fiancé and I moved into a new house. And we're sleeping in separate rooms.'

A few years ago, my partner and I moved into a new home. We left our crammed bottom-floor apartment for our most spacious home yet, with an extra bedroom and all.

Since I’m self-employed and work from home, I was excited beyond containment. I was to have a room of my own. One with a window, and space to turn around. (My previous home office was a tiny closet with no air circulation.) I could even fit my piano in there.

But best of all: my new room had space for a bed of my own.

My partner and I had lived together for over five years, and had always shared a bed. As you usually do when you’re in a long-term romantic relationship. Over the years, our apartments had grown bigger and our beds wider. As a result, I had become increasingly more pleasant to share a home with. This wasn’t always so.

As a highly sensitive introvert, I crave a lot of personal space and alone time. I’m extremely private, and when I feel imposed on, I get grumpy and lash out.

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Many times, I’ve wondered if I’m at all capable of living that close to anyone, even someone I love so much. To constantly be around one another drained me and it hurt our relationship. We moved apart several times.

The key to making it work has always been space. The bigger our apartment, the more space I would have to retire to when I needed. And the more he could stay away from home and give me a few hours or days to myself, the happier I would be.

He got used to me bluntly ordering him out of his home to “do something, anything, with friends” and “if he wanted to sleep over, that would be great”.

I felt nasty. Really really horrible. But I was desperate. Whenever he stayed home from work too many days in a row, during summer vacation or due to a cold, my skin would start crawling. I literally transformed before his eyes into something more resembling a trapped animal than a person. And he knew that the only way to reverse my lycanthropy was to leave the house and give me my solitude.

A room, a bed, a sanctuary.

Our move from a small apartment in the big city to a bigger apartment in a small town turned everything around for me.

No longer dreading to walk outside, and face loud traffic and crowds, I could now escape into nature when I need to. I no longer felt trapped. And having a room of my own, with a door to close and space to furnish and decorate as I please, I was never bothered by him being at home.

In fact, I enjoyed his company more. Since we both got our alone time on a daily basis and didn’t get on each other’s nerves, we could better appreciate having each other close by. We could choose to spend time together, rather than being forced to due to lack of space. This made our relationship a lot stronger and more affectionate.

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However…

There was one aspect of living together that I never managed to get around. And that was the bed-sharing.

Sleeping in the same bed has always been a challenge for me. I’m sensitive to heat and friction and couldn’t imagine anything more torturous than sleeping wrapped in each other’s arms like in rom-coms. I need at least two feet between me and another body, and god help him if he so much as brushes against me during the night.

Not to mention the snoring. No earplugs, mouthpieces, nasal sprays or other anti-snoring paraphernalia ever managed to keep him quiet. I would lie awake at night, anxiously waiting for him to start, and when he did, I would need to poke at him all night.

In the morning, we were both pissed at each other. Sometimes, he would sleep on the couch for weeks just to avoid being poked and prodded. And I felt guilty for putting him through that.

So naturally, when the opportunity arose for a bed of my own, I was going to take it. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle that would make our domestic life harmonious.

And I was right. Almost.

Going to sleep is now my favourite part of the day. I long for the moment when I can kiss my partner goodnight, retire to my chamber like some medieval maiden and lull myself to sleep with an audiobook. I wake up from my undisturbed rest feeling refreshed, ready to emerge and meet the world.

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But something else is troubling me and that is the guilt and the shame. The guilt of robbing him of the spooning and cuddling and backstroking we used to do before. The shame of not measuring up. Not being present enough, loving enough. Not being like almost all other loving couples.

Sleeping together is a symbolic act of vulnerability and partnership. It’s considered the bedrock of a romantic relationship. “Of course you share a bed! If you don’t, something’s clearly wrong and you should go to couples’ therapy.”

My thoughts involuntarily go to Niles and his wife Maris, from the sitcom Frasier, in their big mansion, barely seeing each other and sleeping in separate bedrooms. The audience laughing at the cold practicality of their “marriage”. The depressing lack of love and romance.

And yet, sleeping in separate rooms have clearly improved mine and my partner’s life and our relationship. We both sleep better. We are happier, more affectionate, more relaxed around each other. We do still share the big bed sometimes, but when he falls asleep I tip-toe back to my own bed.

It feels like having the cake and eating it. Having access to both my partner and my own private sanctuary. A little too good to be true when you’ve spent your entire relationship life having to choose between your partner’s needs and your own.

Now I know that I can live in harmony with someone else even as a highly sensitive introvert. It required an understanding partner and a quite spacious apartment. Something I know not everybody has. But it is possible. Something to strive for.

And nothing to be ashamed of.

This article originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

Louise Stigell is an indie author and freelance writer. For more from Louise, find her website here.

Do you and your partner have separate beds? If so, let us know in the comments below.

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