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To share the bed or not? – the answer is not that simple…

By Jasmine Atieno
Wednesday, September 16th, 2020
Bedroom. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine

For 48-year-old Marcel Ivory, a German who has been married to a Kenya for more than 25 years now and raising three daughters, cultural differences was not something new.

He knew their different backgrounds were bound to create tension and sometimes laughter.

On top of the list is that they currently sleep in separate bedrooms, her idea. 

“When we first got married, I wasn’t circumcised and she put so much pressure and insisted that I get cut.

The pressure became so much that after our first child she completely stopped having sex with me and said until I agreed to get the cut.

So I accepted to do it. I understand Kenyans have very strict traditions, which have to be followed. And it’s been a lot of them in our family. 

For example when we went to pay her dowry and since both of her parents were already dead…we had to pay the dowry to her elder sister.

She has uncles but they are drunkards and would waste the money. It really felt like I was giving them a very huge sum of money, especially since the sister visited us often. 

I travel a lot for work. So two years ago, after I returned from one of my work trips, I found that she had basically shifted to our daughter’s room because she is in college.

Emmanuel Manyanya, a Mijikenda elder. Photo/PD/JASMINE ATIENO

I thought she was only lonely and missing the children, but now it has become a more permanent situation where she just doesn’t sleep in our bedroom anymore.

She says it is normal where she comes from that a couple can have some separate sleeping arrangement,” says Marc.

Known as ‘sleep divorce’, sleeping in separated beds, bedrooms or even houses is not a strange phenomenon.

Studies across the world indicate that more couples are choosing to sleep separately for various reasons including clashing schedules, different sleeping patterns that affects a spouse’s sleep, and in some cases, just the wish to wake up more refreshed away from the heat of someone else’s body or their snoring.  

Well, among certain Kenyan communities, a man sleeping separately from their wives was the norm.

As Mijikenda traditional elder and Chairman of Malindi District Cultural Association, Emmanuel Mnyaya explains, there were many reasons why a man needed to have his own separate resting space. The first one being polygamy.

Controlling jealousy 

“This arrangement was very important in controlling jealousy amongst the man’s wives.

The first wife was in charge of scheduling her co-wives’ turns to sleep with the husband.

This way, things remained under control. The second reason was to allow the man time to rest and re-energise.

If he was to sustain all these women then he would need his space and time to recharge,” shares Munyaya. 

Raymond Mwaura, a family therapist. Photo/PD/JASMINE ATIENO

With westernisation and modernity, Munyaya explains, lifestyle changes have enabled many men to house wives under one roof, but in separate bedrooms— something which has not been without its challenges.

“Sharing the same house and husband is not an easy thing for most women, you see.

They constantly have to hear what is happening in the other room or how the husband is spending time with the co-wife and this easily creates jealousy.

But where the man has only one wife, it is, in fact, a taboo for a woman to spread her husband’s bed and not sleep in it.

It is not allowed,” he adds. Some reasons that could excuse the couples from sleeping in the same bedroom include bed wetting. 

Family Therapist, Raymond Mwaura, says that traditions have timelines where cultures were different on definitions and practices until Christianity re-authored marriage and relationships.

“Maybe during the pre-colonial times and after, polygamy was widely accepted and practiced and intimacy was for children bearing and women and children shared sleeping spaces so men then would have their own rooms.

So the separation of gender made men and women to know when and where to be intimate without the presence of children.

After Christianity and western influence most cultures have adopted one wife and one husband marriages, where the expectation is leave and cleave to each other naked and unashamed; therefore, its expected for couples to stay together throughout their life unless its agreed situations due to health challenges or choice, which can be religious because of fasting or marriage conflict, but this for many couples to date remain a secret,” says Raymond.

As much couples choose to sleep in separate bedrooms due to arising conflict, the expert adds that this in no way solves conflicts between them. 

Mutual agreement

“The society expectation is stay together as per marriage vows but many choose to do so due medical challenges or infidelity. Sleeping in separate rooms can’t be a good thing unless it’s mutually agreed upon and with healthy challenges. But if the root cause is infidelity, this never solves the issues of conflict,” he says. 

Some couples who practice sleep divorce either have to keep their situation secret or constantly explain it to others that their sleeping arrangement has nothing to do with the situation of their marriage or intimacy. 

For others like Marc, who are unwilling partners in this situation, it is all a sign of doom.

The father of three is worried that his marriage might be slowly falling apart and maybe his wife has completely lost interest in their sexual relationship and using cultural to create the drift. 

Mwaura says in such situations, the man should accept that she is not interested with him only she is not ready for divorce.

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