They work crazy schedules and sleep at odd times.
But one routine never changes: Michael (“Matt”) and Maureen Mathews of Davenport always curl up together on their queen-size mattress, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time.
After 19 years of marriage, 60-year-old Matt jokes that nothing is more important than holding each other through the good and bad (and the drooling and the snoring).
But the marital bed, a traditional symbol of matrimony, is slowly disappearing from American culture. Fewer and fewer couples actually sleep in the same bed — or even in the same bedroom, for that matter, a recent article in the New York Times states.
Nearly one in four American couples sleep in separate bedrooms or beds, according to a 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation. That same study, which can be found online at www.sleepfoundation.org, also reported the one-fourth of its respondents with partners experienced less intimacy and sexual relations because of sleep problems.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Home Builders says it expects 60 percent of custom homes to have dual master bedrooms by 2015.
Even Hollywood couples such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, apparently choose to slumber apart.
Many such couples cite reasons related to their quality of sleep (or lack thereof). Maybe they can’t sleep well because their partner has apnea, restless leg syndrome or chronic gas. They might hog the covers or toss and turn too much for the other’s liking.
Then the children come along. Maybe one of the adults thinks it’s OK to let the kids crawl in bed with Mommy and Daddy, and suddenly it becomes a habit impacting sleep — and intimacy.
It’s common, too. Dr. William Sears, a leader in the “attachment parenting” movement, reports in the 2005 “Baby Sleep Book” that two-thirds of American families say they “sometimes” or “always” sleep with a child in their bed.
Technology is another intrusion. While some couples still bicker about whether or not to allow TV in the bedroom, others are dealing with the habits of a partner who checks, ad nauseum, their cell phone text messages as well as their Facebook and Twitter accounts from bed.
So, a lot is happening in the bedroom, but it might not be the kind of action some couples want. Unfortunately, today’s run-run-run lifestyle sometimes means a couple’s best chance to spend time together is when they crawl between the sheets.
For some, it’s difficult enough to squeeze in time — or the energy — for intimacy when they’re in the same bed. What happens when they sleep apart? How does that impact relationships?
Sleeping apart hasn’t bothered newlyweds Mark and Matthew Mann of Davenport. In the hot summer months, they sleep on separate couches in their living room because the bedroom is way too warm. But they’re both OK with that, Mark Mann said.
“During the winter, we’ll sleep in the same bed,” he said. “We prefer to sleep in the same bed.”
The key to making a separate sleeping arrangement work is ensuring that both people agree to it, said relationship therapist Sarah Beck with the Family Counseling and Psychology Center in Bettendorf.
“I think all couples long for love and safety and connection,” she said. “I think the greater thing is they’re not choosing to have separate bedrooms or sleep in separate beds for the intention of creating more aloneness.”
If they hope sleeping apart will take away feelings of resentment (and exhaustion) at not being able to sleep well and to improve their relationship, they should explain that to each other, she said.
They also need to carve out special times for intimacy, and “they have to be very intentional” about it, she said. This could prove challenging, but it’s crucial to staying connected, she added.
“The biggest problem in every couple is disconnection,” Beck said. “That’s what leads us all into these destructive dances.”
Other experts aren’t as open to the idea of couples sleeping apart. A strong warning against it comes from Derek Ball, a senior marriage and family therapist at the Marriage and Family Counseling Service in Rock Island.
Everyone who sleeps apart seems to have a good reason: Their partner snores and keeps them awake. The mattress is too firm or too soft. But Ball said a physical distance can create emotional distance in couples, too.
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“It’s little changes like whether they’re sleeping in the same bed or ‘I’m going to take the one kid here, you’re going to take the one kid there,’” he said. “It decreases intimacy. Then you’ve got other problems with the sexual relationship that can occur when people are sleeping in separate rooms.”
The power of “an intimate space” together no longer exists. That means couples have to work harder to create that in their marriage, and quite often they don’t.
“If couples are tired and stressed-out and over-committed, how much extra time and energy do they have to commit to that work? It’s hard to compensate for it,” he added.
Ball said he can’t stress this enough: “A logical decision in one area has consequences in other areas. There are consequences.”
Choosing to accept each other just as they are — even when they toss and turn in their sleep — has kept Matt and Maureen Mathews happy together, he said. That was true, even after they sold all of their belongings and traveled across the United States and into Canada and Mexico together.
It was just the two of them and a tent from 1992 until 1998, he said.
“The one thing that really cemented the relationship was not the light, sunny breeze. Those days count for nothing,” he said. “It was the days when a thunderstorm came across the Black Hills with 80-mph winds and wiped out the entire campground area, and we’re still together and going, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’”
They moved to the Quad-Cities five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina trampled the area they were staying in at the time. After everything they’ve gone through, they’re still going strong, he said.
His favorite part of lying down beside his 53-year-old wife? Hearing her giggle and mumble his name as she sleeps.
“It’s great to know I make her laugh,” he said, “even in her dreams.”