WELLNESS
05/31/2016 04:42 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

Couple Disagreement Over What a Bed Is For

Some couples disagree about what a bed is for. For one partner the bed is only for sleeping at night and sex. From wake-up time in the morning to going-to-bed-time at night it should be carefully made and look visually appealing. For the other partner in couples that disagree about what a bed is for the bed is not just a place for sleeping at night and sex. It might also be a place for watching TV, eating, playing with the kids, reading, talking on the phone, sitting on while changing clothes, sorting laundry, doing e-mail, napping, and clipping one's toenails. This disagreement can be deep and quite challenging.

Family-of-Origin Differences

Often partner disagreement about what a bed is for is rooted in the different family-of-origin experiences of the two partners. One may have grown up in a middle class suburban household in which appearances were important and where there was enough space in the house so that a bed did not have to be used for more than sleeping at night and sex. The other may have grown up in a crowded urban apartment where beds had to have many uses and where sweet family togetherness was often achieved by using the bed for play, for all in the family to snuggle while watching television, or even for people to be doing separate things (for example, kids doing homework while adults chatted). Growing up with definite standards and definite ways of using beds can make it seem wrong to live with something different. To change means giving up on family ideals and somehow discounting what was and maybe still is important in the family-of-origin.

To What Social Class Do We Belong?

How one's house, including the adult bed, looks is in a sense a measure of social class. A couple makes claims about their social class by how their bed and everything else in the house looks. They establish their social class identity to themselves by how their bed looks and is used. From that perspective, the stakes can be high if one partner wants the bed to look like photographs in interior design magazines and other wants the bed to be a family meeting and play place, a place for watching television, and a work place. Then how the bed looks and what it is used for are about what social circles you belong in, who your peers will be, what neighborhood you belong in, where your kids should go to school, and how much money you should earn.

The Kids

For couples with children, disagreement over what a bed is for can also be disagreement about parenting. Should children be allowed to play in the parent bed? And what should children be taught about their own beds? In some ways, having children makes the stakes higher for couples that disagree about what their bed is for. If one parent's ways are taught to the children, the other parent gives up on standards and ways of being that are important and meaningful now and were important and meaningful growing up.

The Sleep Hygiene Perspective

Many experts on sleep recommend proper "sleep hygiene." They argue that one can most easily get to sleep and get a good night's sleep if there is a predictable pattern to the use of the bed such that one goes to bed in the same way at the same time every night, and that the bed is not a place for other activities that could distract one from going to sleep. From that perspective, reading, watching television, and doing things other than sleeping while in bed make it harder to fall asleep at night and get a good night's sleep. So the sleep hygiene people might be understood as taking sides with the partner who wants the bed to be used only for sleeping at night and sex. But that short changes the psychological resources people may have for getting themselves to sleep and staying asleep. For example, having grown up in a small apartment with a large family one may be expert at falling asleep and staying asleep while lights are on, the television is blaring, and people are in the bed and talking.

Resolving Disagreement About What a Bed Is for

One possibility, if a couple has the economic resources and a big enough place, is to have more than one bedroom. One bedroom can be magazine-perfect and the other, which might be called the "guest room," could have a bed that can be used for napping, kids playing, watching TV, sorting laundry, and so on. Another possibility is that the partner who makes the bed (which in the heterosexual couples I interviewed was usually the woman) could have her magazine-perfect bed in exchange for the other partner getting something he or she wants, for example, being able to read in bed for a while before going to sleep. Still another possibility is to have temporary compromises or truces. For example, both partners could agree that when members of the family-of-origin of one of them visit the bed will be used in a way that fits with the visiting family members' standards. Whatever way couples choose to deal with the disagreement, it seems that in some ways they must embrace and accept the disagreement in the sense that both partners realize that the difference in values and standards is not going to go away any more than differences in background, personality, culture, and needs can go away.