Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Sleeping in the same bed with her partner Damien at night could be ‘heavenly’ or ‘beastly’ for thirty-seven-year-old florist, Annabel. Sometimes she wanted to mold her body around his, but at other times she felt suffocated by his very presence in the bed. At those times turning her back on him was the only way she could doze off.
Weeks would go by when Annabel couldn’t wait to jump into bed with her forty-year-old art curator husband. She would look forward to him warming up her toes and rubbing that special knot in the small of her back until she fell asleep. She wanted to absorb his smell and feel his stubble on her face when she nuzzled in. Everything about him including his gentle snoring habit made her feel as if she was snug in a safe nest with her faithful partner.
Then, Damien would inevitably disappoint her. Like the time he was absent for long hours the week before a new show opened, and barely touched bases with her. It was as if he neither wanted nor needed her because his art show filled him up completely. Annabel felt stressed and insecure. When Damien crashed into bed in the early hours of the morning she tensed up and flinched when he touched her. She turned away and went to the furthest edge of the bed, making it plain that she didn’t want to make nice.
After the show was up and running Damien got back into his normal routine and was home by 7:00 pm, ready for dinner with his wife. But she was still sore at him for focusing so much on his work and leaving her out in the process. Annabel found it hard to slip back into an easy affectionate way of relating. She wanted him to know that she had suffered when he was caught up with his show, and that she wasn’t just going to forgive and forget. She also wanted him to suffer too.
For the next month Annabel wore long sleeve tops with her pajama bottoms to reduce the amount of skin contact she and Damien had in bed. She moved her feet away when he tried to warm them up, and turned her body away from him when he tried to kiss and fondle her. In fact she put a bolster between them as if disgusted by him, and complained about his snoring that only a few weeks ago had been endearing to her.
As reported by recent studies conducted at Hertfordshire University in the UK, in April 2014, the further apart a couple sleeps, and the less they touch, the worse their relationship. About 94% of couples who have physical contact with one another while asleep are happy in their relationship. The closer to one another they slept the more likely they were to indicate relationship satisfaction.
The study fails however to take into account couples like Annabel and Damien who alter their sleeping positions according to the emotional climate of the relationship and it’s temporary influence on the choice of sleeping positions. While couples may have preferred ways of sleeping in the same bed, those preferences may drastically change if they are protesting against some unresolved feelings in the relationship like rejection, or, if they are holding anger and have a need to punish. Sleeping positions may be a powerful way of communicating their feelings in the moment without actually having to live through the pain of talking about it. But if one or other partner doesn’t get the message, then it can signify a more permanent shift in the emotional intimacy in that relationship.
If Annabel shared her displeasure with Damien when she was feeling left out, perhaps they could still have enjoyed closeness and intimacy for the few hours they shared in bed during his busy time.
If Damien had predicted his wife’s sensitivity to his busy time he could have reassured her and made sure that they had chances to be affectionate even though Annabel wasn’t happy with his schedule. It’s these little tweaks to ease communication problems that can make or break an otherwise happy relationship that inevitably meets road bumps along its path
A shift in sleep positions that doesn’t revert back to normal can signify a rift that couples therapy may help nip in the bud before things get worse.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.