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Personal space, anyone?

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By Lubna Khalid
Tue, 05, 22

The concept of personal space is not something approved of in our society. In fact, people do not understand the need for privacy, and consider this a totally western thing. You! looks into the matter…

Personal space, anyone?

We were both in our mid-forties, going through mid-life crises. He started snoring loudly, and I had trouble sleeping. I was used to sleeping in pitch-black darkness and, almost overnight, he decided he had to have some illumination in the room. I started tahajud prayers around that time. Then, his sleep was being disturbed. After having a few shouting bouts, we decided that we both needed our space. I commandeered the spare bedroom and since then we have been living happily,” shares Mrs S.

Most people think that husband and wife should live and die in one room, come what may. As a result, those who opt for separate bedrooms, have to cope with the raised eyebrows and snide comments of their relatives. “I remember when my husband and I decided to have separate bedrooms because he used to work late, my own parents became worried. My husband was in high finance and stocks and could not maintain regular hours. We lived in a joint family at that time, and had a three-room portion for us and our twin daughters. My husband’s nocturnal hours were taking a toll on my health because with school going children, I couldn’t sleep late. The result was I started fighting with my husband and in-laws. Finally, one day my husband asked me why I had changed so much. He heard my reason and agreed that I needed a good night sleep to function. After discussing this problem, he decided to take the third room that we had been using as our living room. He has a single bed and works there. This arrangement created a lot of speculation among our relatives. They thought we were not on good terms. My mother even told me that he has another wife hidden away somewhere, and that is why he has lost interest in me and moved out of our bedroom. It took a couple of years for both our families to realise that we were as close as ever,” shares Mrs J. Conclusion: healthy sleep has the power to strengthen our relationships, while sleepless nights can lead to strained relationships.

Personal space, anyone?

So, is it necessary to live in one room if there are no problems? Does the love between spouses diminish if they have separate bedrooms? Some studies have shown that it can actually be a pretty healthy set-up. For example, one study in Chronobiology International showed that while co-sleeping with a partner can intensify feelings of attachment and love, it can also negatively impact sleep quality - and that can cause issues in the relationship.

In Europe, separate sleeping arrangement for husband and wife in the elite class was considered a norm. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Queen Elizabeth II, who were married for more than 70 years, had separate bedrooms. According to Lady Pamela Hicks, Prince Philip’s cousin, the aristocracy “always has separate bedrooms”. Lady Pamela explained further: “In England, the upper class have always had separate bedrooms.”

Solo sleeping may actually be a smart choice for some folks with different lifestyles and routines – provided one can afford it. One of the most famous celeb couples of the ’90s, David and Victoria Beckham, had divergent lifestyles which was causing problems for them. Becks liked to party, while Posh preferred to live a quiet life. Their solution: they sleep in separate beds. In fact, they invested in a new country home with ‘his and her’ wings. Each wing had its own kitchen, bedrooms, and courtyard - talk about privacy!

Most people think that husband and wife should live and die in one room, come what may. As a result, those who opt for separate bedrooms, have to cope with the raised eyebrows and snide comments of their relatives. But, solo sleeping may actually be a smart choice for some folks with different lifestyles and routines – provided one can afford it.

The trend has caught on in the U.S. as well. Donald and Melania Trump sleep in separate beds and different rooms. According to Mary Jordan, a Melania biographer, the Trumps sleep in separate bedrooms, regardless of which of their many homes they’re in. According to Jordan, “They're perfectly happy to be separated.”

Mega stars Angelia Jolie and Brad Pitt also started sleeping in separate bedrooms as the years went on. Kourtney Kardashian and her ex Scott Disick were another celeb couple who slept in separate beds because of their kids.

There is this famous Hollywood celeb couple Ryan O’Neal and Farah Fawcett that opted for separate sleeping arrangements because of their son. Their reason for having separate bedroom was quite cute, really. Ryan O’Neal revealed that they started sleeping in separate beds when their son was a toddler. The young boy would come into their room and kick one of them out of the bed! “Eventually he outgrew this, but by then, Farrah and I had grown used to our privacy and it stuck,” he continued. “Even when we travelled after that, we’d often get adjoining rooms.” He added that he found their arrangement “terribly mature.”

Personal space, anyone?

Is sleeping in separate beds a sign of a failing marriage? It depends on circumstances. Some people have the luxury of having separate rooms while others cannot do so despite actually needing to. This shows that having one’s own personal space, if one has the luxury to have it, is essential for having the ‘Me time’ that relaxes a personal after a hectic work day.

Since having separate bedrooms is still a fledgling concept, some parents have to think about the impact of their sleeping arrangements on their kids. The best way to tackle this problem is to treat your kid like an adult and explain your reasons to them. Children can understand the importance of a good night’s sleep because they get up cranky if they sleep less. In the same way, the older children will appreciate the concept of privacy as that is something even they require. It’s of course imperative that children should see their parents happy with each other.

When spouses are young, sleeping in the same bedroom is never a problem. Young people don’t snore – usually, and have similar timeframes for doing their stuff. The problem arises when the sleep-wake schedule suffers due to health, social or work related issues. In their late 30s to mid-40s, many people develop their particular habits that affect the sleep pattern of their partners. Some like to stay up late, while there are those that like to wake up at the crack of dawn for morning prayers.

Sleeping apart doesn’t mean the end of relationship at all. If a woman has the habit of going to bed early, she can spend some quality time with her husband when he wakes up. Having breakfast with each other in either of the partners’ room can be a good beginning for the day.

But, personal space is not limited to having separate bedrooms; it’s giving your spouse time to do things on their own during the day as well. “When I was in my twenties, my maternal aunt came to Pakistan after 15 years. I tried to spend time with her alone, but my uncle foiled my attempt. He used to follow my aunt like a puppy everywhere she went. It was irritating for her siblings as well, but my uncle would not leave her side for more than a few minutes. Fast-forward 25 years, I find myself in the same boat. I come back from work and my retired husband dogs my footsteps till he goes to sleep. I want to watch my favourite show alone, but I am seldom able to do that. Sometimes I like to visit my siblings without my husband because there are so many family issues that my husband doesn’t need to know, but it is not easy to do that. Personal space also means giving your spouse to go about on their own,” states Mrs D.

Amna Tariq
Amna Tariq

In this regard, this scribe talks to Amna Tariq, a clinical psychologist. She has done her Post-graduation in Child & Adolescent mental health is from Kings College, London. Amna also has British Psychological Society membership (MBPsS). At present, she is associated with South City Hospital, Karachi.

However, Amna has her own theory. She thinks a couple should sleep in the same room. “I believe if a husband or wife wants to watch TV, they should do so outside their bedroom, if both of them don’t wish to watch the same thing. Even if they have any other activity to indulge in, they should complete it outside their room and let their spouse sleep on time. I strongly recommend that husband and wife should sleep in this ‘me’ room; otherwise, their relationship will be badly impaired. If a husband snores, his wife can put a cotton bud in her ears. Similarly, if a wife wants some illumination in the room, the husband should use an eye mask. You see, space can create bad relationship.”

Faiza Aslam
Faiza Aslam

Faiza Aslam, a psychotherapist, hypnotist, guidance counsellor, and a motivational speaker, agrees with Amna. “Personal space is a basic need of everyone, but it doesn’t mean separate bedroom for spouses. What actually happens is that as we grow older, our habits become firm. And this makes adjustments to each other’s habits a bit difficult. My point is that in advanced years, husband and wife need each other more than ever and grow to depend on each other. So just because there is a problem, it is not advisable to separate bedrooms. The spouses should work at resolving their differences. If spouses cannot sleep because their partners snore very loudly, the solution is not a separate bedroom; it is to take care of this problem. A doctor should be consulted to sort out this issue,” she advises.

“Eastern and western cultures are different, so what is being practiced in the west is not necessarily workable for us. In Western cultures, people who can afford to have separate living spaces and it’s perfectly fine for the couples and their relatives. In eastern cultures, especially in our country, people generally criticise such arrangement. And, what they say affect us, but it is not anyone else’s business if the couples are happy with their living arrangements. In Pakistan, this concept is pretty common in the elite class,” she adds.

“In exceptional circumstances, of course sometimes it becomes necessary. If the couple has the wherewithal to have separate bedrooms, they can opt for it but first they should try to resolve their issues,” she shares.

So, while it is best to work out the kinks and stay together, it is not bad to opt for comfort, as long as it doesn’t affect the marital relationship.

The writer can be reached at lubnak23@gmail.com