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


    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.

  • Ash


    July 10th, 2019 at 8:35 PM

    You are not alone. I am sleeping alone for last 20 years. My husband saying same thing I am snoring He gets very miserable when we stay at hotel where only one bed.

    I just stay awake

  • Gabe


    December 30th, 2019 at 3:53 PM

    To Restless, to Ash:
    I am sorry you are having to go through what you go through. Some context: Pops was a Police Chief. I was a Communication Specialist with the PD – a dispatcher for the PD, Sherriffs Dept., EMT’s, Highway Safety [State Troopers} for a short time, which I quit. I had to quit for the following reasons: It brought memories from my childhood with pops’ career [military, military police, and intelligence], and I could not leave details during the dispatches where it was taking 10 to 15 seconds more than the 20 aloted to dispatch to officers. I simply could not leave details off for their safety and the experiences that I witnessed when pops was active with those that had to be handcuffed and why. I am not making excuses for Police Officers; some live off excuses but the great great majority do not. Law Enforcement personnel face the ugliest a community goes through. I have not told my wife many of those, and I was a dispatcher, not face to face with the victims or the perps. Withdrawing is an easy coping mechanism. You see that frequently among law enforcement and the military; I know, I lived through it. I am also a parent; truly, the husband is tossed aside and almost invisible to the mother-wife when a child arrives. That being said, following are some things that helped in my marriage, not solved completely but helped: Get time away from your children to be just with your spouse as the friend and partner your spouse married. Men a simple and do not see as deeply as women can. Sorry, but we do not perceive like women do. Those are just facts. Setting time as a wife-husband-partner-friend on a regular consistent basis [once per every 2 weeks or week or month as examples] do wonders to the husband who is truly stressed from work and from not being the center of attention as the husband once was, and no longer is. And two: Taking care of yourself also does wonders, from sleeping well [yeah, try that as a mother or father right? Right. :-) ] to smelling lovely – just lovely/ not exaggerated like when one has taken a shower just to relax, to clothes that make you, the wife, feel comfortable and attractive. Men never cease to want to play. Men are overgrown kids who want to play and yes, even giggle. I do not know if you are aware of any of this but, I feel for you because there are times I have to sleep apart from my wife. Not frequently. My point: If he wants to correct the relationship, he will be willing if you set a time just for him, you projecting how comfortable and well you feel, and that you still want to play like when you both first met. It may not be a cure but it is a starting point. I have seen too many loose relationships that were valuable and then not … only to discover they are still valuable [a tough sometimes not needed path to take]. I am sharing with you some of the things we, my spouse and I, have had to revisit. Good luck to the both of you. My best wishes.

  • Gabe


    December 30th, 2019 at 3:05 PM

    Gail, I am sorry to hear about your situation. I myself have had to take steps because my wife snores. Having sleep apnea myself does not help. I have to wear earplugs, foam, to the shape of my ear canal on each ear, because she snores loudly. Being sleep deprive can kill someone. I know. It almost happened to me. I had to decide that if something unusual [like a tornado alarm or a weird noise in my house or an emergency phone call makes the phone ring] occurs, then my wife will have to wake me up. I cannot afford being sleep deprived. One night of short sleep is different from consistently not sleeping well as one’s body requires. I am around equipment that is hydraulic, pneumatic, fuel propelled, automatic in a manufacturing setting. I cannot afford being sleep deprived. One day is not enough to check yourself. My wife goes one or two nights when she barely snores. The other 5 days: Lumberjack chainsaw time baby!!!! Loud!!!! That is alright. I took measures where I can sleep. Have you discussed options concerning sleeping issues with each other? What measures are you and he willing to take? It may sound trivial until it happens to one, but, communicating issues with each other is at the core of solving them. An honest conversation. My wife gets nervous when I tell her “we need to talk”. Most of the time it is serious. I have to learn to listen. As a tool I took an online course through Udemy on “listening skills” and it has helped me to listen and it has help point out when we do not listen to each other. The cost is not prohibitive and the course is simple and very practical. Again, one night may not be enough. My best wishes to you.

  • 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.

  • Martina


    February 14th, 2019 at 3:32 AM

    Hi my name is Martina I am 31 turning 32 this year I meant my kids father when I was 18 he was all over me back den and today I got two kids I had a tough life with my kids father he wasn’t they with us all the time he never slept with me or help but tell one day I gave my kids to my ex mother in-law to go and get help for myself and my kids so I got help like support to do program and to get a house so down the track I got a home for my kids all by myself that he couldn’t do me and my kids he came back I didn’t know where he was he’s mother know where he was but she like to be he’s body guard like all mother do mine he’s business and don’t like me putting my arms around him so he came back crying like I still love ok I let’s give another try so he sleep with me but he stating to sleep on he’s own coming from work and like to give at orders like he your boss I’m trying to get out of this relationship if I do something wrong I’ll get hurt from him he control my life I used to cook he’ll be like or what you cooking had the favour to it like I don’t know that tell one night he came in the kitchen again controling me so what I did catch the food out and say you cook that’s why I only cook for me and my kids he still don’t sleep with me I’ll have to buy teddy bear for myself to keep me warm at night lol I do feel stress in are way I need to get rid of because Thier are man out are kind,caring,loving person that want somebody to keep him warm.

  • Gabe


    December 30th, 2019 at 4:04 PM

    Martina, we normally do not wake up every morning thinking “good morning good looking, it will be fine because you are fine, and no matter what, you count”. I do. Here is what I have discovered: People tend to treat one according to how one perceives him-herself. Now, there are some who will just mistreat others, especially those who should mean something to them. Martina, I have yet to meet a woman who is not good looking, fine, and no matter what, she counts for something and someone who was not convinced of it. Convince yourself of your self worth, that you count, and that you are a beautiful woman and mother … please. Because, you do count. Once you convince yourself, you will know what to do, when, where, and with who. My best wishes for you. In the middle of all the ruble, under the dirt and rocks, and mountain … lies a diamond. Do not forget that. :-)

  • Jay


    April 22nd, 2019 at 11:22 AM

    So am I the only husband that is tired of sleeping in the same bed as my wife? I love her, I love our kids, I have no plains to leave, but their has not been any sex for a long time now. I do not want to sound like this bad person that demands sex in order for me to stay in the marriage. I want her to want me, to want to be with me, and I am frankly tired of being rejected. I thought that if I waited for her to make the first move things would get better, but she has not made any moves. We are not that old I am 42, she is a bit younger. I did not think we would have this kind of relationship until we were much older. Being in the same bed as her at night is just frustrating. Right next to me, and normally with her head on my shoulder, is the one person in the world that I want to be intimate with, and the feeling are not returned. This past weekend our oldest (my son from my first marriage) was visiting his mother and I stayed in his room. It was great!! I will admit that I am very conflicted about this whole thing, but I sleep really well. No waking up to no covers, no laying there well past the point of being comfortable because I need to use the rest room and did not want to wake her. This is the worst I thought that if I left the bed I would need to come back, but like I said I slept so well this morning at 4:30 when the first alarm went off I did not freak out, there was no one to be cranky with me. I got dressed with the light on, and went to work…….. what the hell this should not be a better situation.

  • Gabe


    December 30th, 2019 at 3:28 PM

    Jay, just a comment. This happens more frequently than most realize. It is not true that men have more libido than women. It is not true that men do not even touch their wives after a certain age. What the media shows concerning sex is not all true; what the media shows what intimacy is even less true – more of a lie- dishonest. I have close friends who ended up separating and divorcing because they would not agree on being honest with each other with what you comment. It all came about my wife and I getting to know their daughter and discovering the high level of stress this young lady was living daily because dad would speak with her but not her mom. Mom would want to speak with dad, but dad would not even hold her hand. The daughter was stressed because she felt the lack of affection between her parents and the competition both parents were having to keep her “won over”. This young lady was neither ignorant nor blind, and she felt the force of apathy, indifference, and disdain both parents had slowly provoked against each other. Yes, they were working against each other without intending to initially. He refused to face the elephant in the room. She faced it. When he remained undecided, she decided that she could not longer stand by and watch what this was doing to her kids. My point: Clearly communicate in a prepared controlled environment without distractions where there is no anger or outburst to sincerely find out what is going on. In the meantime, enjoy your sleep in another room, sleeping well may help clear your thinking before speaking with your wife concerning the matter. I have had to do this with my own spouse. It may not be pleasant at first, but it is a roadblock to resolving an issue that is important. As an old friend of mine used to remind me, it is a sinch by the inch but impossible by the mile.

  • Deana


    December 17th, 2019 at 9:24 PM

    It will ba a year in March that my husband has been sleeping on the couch. I have talked to him many times about how Ou sex life has gone down hill because this is upsetting to me. He said he sleeps downstairs because there is no bathroom upstairs near our bed. I think this is bull. I have caught him numerous times on porn. Also, when he gets stressed out he gets inward. I need the physical affection or I get stressed out. I think he is being selfish because I have asked him to try to come up with some solutions with me. I don’t even mind moving so we would have a bathroom attached to our bedroom. I think our relationship is not a priority to him and he doesn’t realize the damage he’s doing by not taking this issue seriously.

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