Life with your significant other has never been better. You love spending free time together, your differences are few and far between, the sex has been great, there's nothing to complain about--except around 11 p.m.
Perhaps you're perpetually miffed about the way he pulls all the covers to his side as soon as he drifts off, or maybe she gets up and turns on the light to go to the bathroom, shaking you out of REM. This is the realm of bed-iquette, the unwritten manners by which two people form a sleeping relationship. And when one partner begins to tread on the other's sleeping patterns, problems develop.
"Going to bed makes a lot of people recall their childhood," says Theresa Lavenau, a marriage, family and child counselor in Huntington Beach. "It's hard to let go of your consciousness; it's your most vulnerable time, and people can be very picky about what they need to go to sleep."
Art and Brenda Perry of Mission Viejo have a classic bed-iquette dispute. He likes to sleep in a warm room with a top sheet and a light blanket. She prefers a cool environment with two blankets and a comforter.
"I'm from Michigan; I have a permanent aversion to being cold," says Art, 41. "For years I went to bed in cold rooms and shivered all night. Now that I'm in California, I don't want to shiver anymore."
Brenda, 39, a California native, wouldn't mind a little of those Michigan winters. "I love being under covers and breathing in the cool air. There's nothing worse than waking up hot in the middle of the night and finding that Art has turned the furnace on."
When they began sharing a bed six years ago, the Perrys didn't realize that their temperature differences would lead to arguments later. "When we started living together, there were priorities other than sleeping in bed," Art says.
"When a relationship is still in its early stages, there's usually more of a congruence with sleeping," says psychologist Karyn Sandburg of Santa Ana. "The behavior and habits of each partner is tolerated. But at some point, as the relationship continues, that capacity for making compromises about bed habits can be lost."
After many arguments that turned sleep time into a nightmare, the Perrys worked out a compromise. Art would wear pajamas to bed to keep from being chilled and he wouldn't insist on turning the heater on. Brenda, in turn, promised to keep the window closed. "Once in a while we might have a temperature problem, but most of the time our compromise works," Brenda says.
Sometimes it's not the climate outside of bed, it's the temperature under the covers that causes controversy. "My hands and feet are always cold, which is a problem for my husband," says Sandy Miller, 44, of Newport Beach. "I'm the only woman I know who's been told to wear socks to bed."
Her husband, John J. Miller, 47, a physician, says, "We spend a little time cuddling before going to sleep, which helps Sandy warm up. And I'm usually very warm, so I'll let her touch me so she won't freeze."
Besides temperature (which can be regulated by dual-control electric blankets), another touchy point in bed is space. There appear to be people who sleep comfortably on their half of the bed without veering over into their partner's territory, while others consider the entire bed shared space.
"We lucked out," says Sandy Miller. "My husband and I talked about sleeping preferences during one of our first dates, and we both agreed that when it's time to sleep, we rolled over to our separate spaces. We knew we were compatible from that moment on."
For the Drews of Huntington Beach, however, the issue of separate space was one of many bedtime problems. "We had a large king-size bed, and Ed just liked to sprawl all over it," says Caroline, 58.
"I'd always start out in one place, but in my sleep I'd just move around a lot; it was never intentional, but I just got in her way," says Ed, 60.
Besides a nightly battle for territory, the Drews have had arguments during their 28 years of marriage over Ed's desire to stay up and watch the 11 o'clock news and Caroline's passion for a "neat" bed, even while asleep. "I have to be fully tucked in at all times," she says.
Since August, their nighttime relationship has never been so great. There are no arguments and no hard feelings in the morning. Around 10:30 p.m., both get ready for bed, they kiss good night, then Ed walks down the hall to their son's old room and sleeps there.
"When our son moved out, I said jokingly that one of us should try sleeping in his room," Ed says. "I gave it a shot, and it's worked out fine; our relationship hasn't lost anything. You don't have conversations when you're asleep."
Says Lavenau, the marriage, family and child counselor: "If the relationship is truly good, then maybe they've made it better by sleeping in separate rooms. They can relate and enjoy each other at different times, and the bedroom's not important to them.
"But there's a stigma in our culture about the bed. If you can't sleep together, people assume there's something wrong," she says.
It's not uncommon to see older couples sleep in different bedrooms, says psychologist Sandburg. "Their differences at night become so great, they can't be bridged, so they work out a different solution."
As in most relationship issues, the key to sleeping in harmony is meeting each other half way.
"There's usually lots of room for compromise in bedroom disputes," Sandburg says. "If one partner likes to watch TV late, maybe they can get earphones. If another likes to read, they can get a small book light. One person likes a lot of covers? What about putting more covers on one side of the bed. It just takes a little thought and consideration to work out solutions like these.
"Both sides have to have an attitude that they're going to solve a dispute over this," she says. "They both have to bend, but not too far. Too much bending by one person can lead to resentment."
Brenda Perry, who describes herself as a "cuddler," wasn't thrilled when she learned that her future husband didn't like any touching at bedtime.
"It caused some problems for us during the day too. I didn't feel truly accepted by Art because he didn't want me in his space. Some nights, as it got closer to bedtime, I'd just get very tense. I used to put a lot more blankets and pillows on the bed to kind of compensate for what I saw was his lack of attention," she says.
"Differences in a relationship can be much more pronounced at night," Sandburg says. "During the day, you can avoid each other. But at night, there's no escape, you're together. When there's a problem between a couple sharing a bed, it's not uncommon for one to sleep with a lot of stuffed animals or pillows or blankets to get the nurturing they're not feeling."
Says Lavenau, "When a couple comes to me with a problem like, 'He insists on having a warm bedroom, and I want it cold,' my first question would be whether they're arguing about something else. Are you really saying, 'My needs aren't important to him'? You need to see if these problems at night translate into problems during the day."
It took some long talks, but Brenda now accepts Art's desire for his space in bed. "I told her and showed her how much I loved her, but I couldn't sleep with the two of us wrapped up like a pretzel," Art says. "Instead, we just hold hands."