The vows are spoken. The rings are exchanged. The birdseed is flung, usually with enough force to raise welts on the bride’s neck. The newlywed couple climbs into their oh-so-tastefully decorated car and drives away into Happily Ever After. They make a quick stop in an exotic vacation spot, get matching sunburns, and finally return home to real life and a whole world of new adjustments.
Who handles the bills? Where will we spend holidays? How do we split up the housework? What do we do when we fight? Premarital counseling and couples classes abound to help the newly married navigate their way through these changes and decisions.
Sadly, however, most of these classes fail to address the one question that comes up each and every night of married life: how do we sleep together?
I’m not talking about s-e-x (or, as one of Paul’s more archaic college professors famously called it, “sexmaking.”) No, it’s way more pressing than that. I’m talking about the down-and-dirty logistics of two different people finding a comfortable way to catch their Zs night after night in the same bed.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. Maybe it was easy for you. You and your spouse collapsed into bed together on that very first night and woke up eight hours later with your hair attractively tousled and a goofy, well-rested smile on your face. But for countless others, the day after the wedding started with a bleary glance at the clock, a sleep deprived shudder, and a semi-hostile glance at the object of their recently-pledged affections to check and see if he or she had actually grown extra elbows and knees during the night.
I remember running into one such soul in the Student Center one day. Paul and I had just gotten engaged, and we were devoting this particular morning to gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes over cokes and a shared croissant. Suddenly, along came our friend Barry*, who ignored the stars in our eyes and plopped haphazardly down in the chair next to us. Barry and June had recently been married themselves, and we could not imagine how this wobbling, glazy-eyed creature could be the product of what was surely a blissful married life.
“What’s up?” Paul asked.
Barry raised his eyes to us and confessed, “I haven’t slept at all since the wedding.”
Paul and I cast arch grins at each other.
“No, no—it’s not what you think,” said Barry. We waited, nonplussed, for the explanation.
“It just that…well, June likes to cuddle. And I need my space, you know? I’m not used to sleeping with someone else. And…well…I-can’t-sleep-because-June’s-butt-is-always-touching-me!” he ended in a rush.
Paul and I very supportively burst into laughter. We continued to fail at suppressing our giggles while Barry described long nights of frustration wherein the sleeping June snuggled closer and closer to the desperate Barry until he was nearly falling on the floor in his constant quest for room to spread out.
We never heard anything more on that front, and, since the two are still happily married, I can only assume that they worked out some sort of mutually agreeable arrangement. A table tennis net down the center of the bed, perhaps?
This issue of space comes up a lot among married couples. Sometimes even the most loving and affectionate pair needs room to spread out before they can achieve peaceful slumber. Many of our friends and family members have ended up buying a king-size bed to accommodate these individual real estate requirements.
Paul and I are an anomaly among the people we know in that we’ve eschewed the king-size bed in favor of first a full-size and now a queen-size bed, which we love. We’ve slept on king-size mattresses before on vacations and while visiting people, but to a couple of cuddlers like us, it feels akin to sleeping in the vast emptiness of the Sahara desert, where the two of us crawl around all night like thirsty pilgrims looking for water that’s always just out of reach.
We’ve gone through many incarnations of our sleep positions, but somehow we always wind up touching, from me carelessly tossing my leg across both of his to him falling asleep with his hand resting on my pregnant belly. Currently we’re doing a classic spoon, flipping back and forth to take turns throughout the night at being the “big spoon.” (Although, personally, I like being the little spoon. I’ve never quite figured out what the big spoon is supposed to do with her arms.)
Anyway, with all the potential for hidden resentments and mounting health problems that accompany poor marital sleep habits, I think this is an issue that bears discussing in all those marriage preparation courses. It’s at least as important as who balances the checkbook. Or how holidays are celebrated. Or whether the husband rinses out his milk glass when he puts it in the sink instead of making his wife chip dried up milk particles out of the bottom of the glass with a wire brush.
You know, stuff like that.
*Names changed to protect those who would like to remain married.