Why Won’t My Partner Sleep with Me?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My husband and I used to have a great relationship, but ever since we had a baby and he started a stressful new job, he won’t sleep with me anymore. I don’t mean just have sex, although that’s a problem too. I mean he literally doesn’t sleep with me. He stays up half the night and falls asleep on the couch more often than not. When I get up in the morning, I often end up waking him up and telling him to go to bed. It’s like we are ships passing in the night.

This has strained our relationship so much! I miss my husband. I want to be intimate with him, but even more than that, I want to feel him next to me. I miss snuggling. I miss his warmth and his gentle presence. I sleep better when he’s with me. I cry myself to sleep a lot now, and any sleep I do get is fitful. Having to always be the one to wake up and attend to our baby (since my husband is downstairs, out of earshot) doesn’t help.

He refuses to change or even compromise. He says the stress of his job—he’s a police officer and works evenings—makes him need to “decompress” after his shifts by “vegging out” in front of the TV. He says he can’t go to bed right after work or he just lays there and tosses and turns. But that’s basically what I do if he’s not next to me.

What am I supposed to do if my husband won’t make an effort to sleep with me? I keep thinking the lack of sex will bring him back eventually, but it’s not happening so far. He’s a pretty sexual guy, so I am starting to wonder if he’s getting sex somewhere else. Ugh. As if I needed another reason to not be able to sleep! —Restless

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Dear Restless,

No doubt you’re not sleeping so well these days. In addition to having a little one wreak havoc on your sleep, you have an absentee bed partner. You describe your situation as causing a great deal of distress. It’s on your mind day and night. I’m glad you reached out for help, and I hope this reply offers some points to consider.

You describe your relationship as like “ships passing in the night,” but previously you felt like you had a strong and connected marriage. It sounds like the biggest source of distress is a lack of connection and intimacy, on multiple levels. From your account, you have expressed your desires and concerns to your husband, yet they have neither been validated nor led to change in where your husband spends his time at night. It’s no surprise you are having trouble sleeping.

Talking about sensitive topics with a partner can be tricky for many reasons—among them the baggage that people bring to the communication. It is possible your husband isn’t hearing you because of things that are affecting him, which then reinforces your feeling that he isn’t present. The explanation he has given is that he feels stressed and needs to unwind. This may be accurate, but as you insinuated, you don’t know whether this is the full story. Might there be other challenges he is not comfortable discussing or isn’t able to identify? Might there indeed be an affair of some sort? It sounds like whatever his struggles are, they are affecting him on many levels, including domestic life and his emotional and physical connection to his wife.

Even though communication is hard, it will be part of the long-term solution if you want to bring about change and break this pattern. Individual therapy can assist you with meeting these goals, as can couples therapy, if your husband is open to this.

Even though communication is hard, it will be part of the long-term solution if you want to bring about change and break this pattern. Individual therapy can assist you with meeting these goals, as can couples therapy, if your husband is open to this. Both approaches can facilitate communication and identify issues that may be contributing to the state of your relationship. Regardless of which approach(es) you try, it is important to try something.

Other considerations are important to acknowledge. For one, transition periods in life are inherently stressful. Transitioning into parenthood and starting a new job can feel overwhelming, certainly. We may not know how to deal with the stress. We may resort to coping styles that are familiar to us because it may feel comfortable or easy to react in a certain way.

How has your husband typically coped with stress in the past? Some people tend to react to stress by withdrawing or disengaging. This can, of course, be hard for others who feel like they are shut out. Ultimately, how we deal with things now, whether it be big changes, new demands, or even disagreement about the importance of sharing a marital bed, affects things in the future.

Another consideration worthy of acknowledging is how you are coping. Your sleep has deteriorated, which presumably leaves you feeling less rested during the day. Many nights of poor sleep, of course, can take their toll physically and emotionally. It can affect your energy and internal resources as a caregiver to your baby.

You are caring for someone else, but what are you doing to care for yourself? When we regularly care for ourselves, we are better prepared to deal with the stresses we face, including the ones that don’t seem to make sense or seem like they are easy to resolve. It is easy to forget to take care of yourself when you are so concerned about the well-being of others. May this be a reminder about the importance of checking in with yourself and engaging in something restorative, energizing, or otherwise positive for yourself.

Kind regards,

Marni Amsellem, PhD

Marni Amsellem
Marni Amsellem, PhD, is a licensed psychologist. She maintains a part-time private practice in New York and Connecticut specializing in clinical health psychology, coping with illness, and adjustment to life transitions. Additionally, she is an interventionist and research consultant with hospitals, organizations, and corporations, both locally and nationally, involved with research investigating the role of behavior, environment, and individual differences in multiple aspects of health and decision-making.
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  • Gail

    Gail

    April 23rd, 2018 at 2:13 PM

    I thought my situation was bad. My husband has taken to sleeping in another room because he says I snore, even though I don’t (I taped myself several nights and…..NOTHING!) I am so tired of sleeping alone and I don’t know what to do.

  • Caleb

    Caleb

    April 24th, 2018 at 8:17 PM

    Charlene, I must admit I do not cope well with anniversaries and holidays any more. I lost my husband of 44 yrs in May 2016 after an 8 yr battle w/cancer and was diagnosed with IPF in May 2017. I think the stress and focusing on my husband”s illness and not paying attention to my own symptoms definitely took its toll. It”s a frightening and horrible disease and one that most ppl aren”t even aware of; I know I had never heard of it, but now it is something that is constantly on one”s mind. I almost wish they had never “looked under the hood so to speak and that I was still blissfully unaware! I hope your day has improved and that you found the strength to better cope with the anniversary. I have found your posts inspiring as well as educational. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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