This past summer, me and my partner moved into a new home, in a small town. We left our bottom-floor apartment in the noisy and crowded big city for our most spacious home yet, with an extra bedroom and all.
Since I’m self-employed and work from home, naturally 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.
You see, me and my partner have lived together for over 5 years, and have always shared a bed. As you usually do when you’re in a long-term romantic relationship.
Over the years, our apartments have grown bigger and our beds wider. As a result, I have grown more and more pleasant to share a home with. This wasn’t always so.
What it's like to live with a highly sensitive introvert
As a highly sensitive introvert, my needs are quite the tall order for any partner to meet. I crave a lot of personal space and alone time. I’m extremely private with my belongings and my everyday habits. As soon as I feel imposed on, I become grumpy and often lash out.
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 actually did move 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 better I would cope.
In time, he got used to me cruelly 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 due to a cold, my skin would start crawling and my eyes glazed over. 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
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we recently moved out of a small apartment in a big city and into a big apartment in a small city. This, it turned out, was our most brilliant decision ever. I turned everything around for me.
No longer dreading to walk outside, and face loud traffic and crowds, I can now escape into nature when I need to. I no longer feel trapped.
And having a room of my own, with a door to close and space to furnish and decorate as I please, I am never bothered by him being at home. In fact, I enjoy his company more.
Since we both get our alone time on a daily basis, and don’t get on each others nerves, we can better appreciate having each other close by. We can choose to spend time together, rather than being forced to due to lack of space. This has made our relationship a lot stronger and more affectionate.
There is one aspect of living together that I’ve never managed to get around. And that is 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 others arms like in the movies. I need at least half a meter 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 where 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.
Then came the guilt
Going to sleep is now my favorite part of the day. I long for the moment when I can kiss my partner goodnight, retire to my chamber and lull myself to sleep with an audiobook. I wake up from my undisturbed rest feeling refreshed, ready to emerge and meet the world. Like a Disney Princess.
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 back stroking we used to do before.
The shame of not measuring up. Not being present enough, loving enough.
I’m so ashamed of this that even writing this post embarrasses me.
Sleeping together is a symbolic act of vulnerability and partnership. It is the bedrock (literally) 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, where they lived in this 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.
Separate bedrooms - the best thing to happen to our relationship
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.
To me, this feels like having the cake and eating it. It almost feels like cheating. 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.
Maybe that’s what my shame is: a kind of phantom limb pain.
After all, 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.
Remember this if you’re struggling with your relationship and getting alone time at home. There is hope and there are solutions. 😊
I'm curious: How do you manage living together with someone while also getting space and solitude?
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