Maybe you've already had sex with your new partner. Maybe you've drifted off beside them for a few minutes afterward. Maybe you've even had a couple of sleepovers. But there are some fundamental things to discuss with your partner when sharing a bed together for the first time. It might seem strange to relate your preferences in regard to snuggling, temperature or even middle-of-the-night sex drive with a new partner, completely antithetical to our modern modus operandi of only becoming vulnerable very slowly with someone new. If you are not upfront about what you want and need, though, you're setting yourself up for disaster. Sleep is sacred, and it's unlikely to go smoothly without at least a quick conversation in short order. As usual, communication is the way to go.
Getting involved with someone always carries a bit of a learning curve, and no one is a mind reader. Rather than getting three months into a relationship before you feel comfortable to say that you'd prefer to keep the curtains closed and not be hit in the face with sunshine in the morning, or that you are freezing at night and need less air conditioning, you might as well get it all out of the way without delay. As relationship coach Melinda Carver says, "Most new relationships are a great time to learn how to compromise (or carry an eye mask!)." Here are eight things to speak with a new partner about in the beginning stages of a relationship, before you literally sleep together.
1. Room Temperature
With all of these, speak up and say what you need to say. Some people love to blast AC all night long in the summer, or crank up the thermostat in the winter. "If you are cold, it’s OK to say that you need a blanket," says Carver. And if you're boiling, say that too. Especially after sex, lots of people need a chance to return to their normal body temperature. "After the heat of passion, some people prefer not be entangled with someone else’s body," Carver says. If you're worried about upsetting your partner, asking for a little space and "not spooning is OK if you say it in a nice way," she says.
I'm a hopeless snuggler. It's just in my very composition. I'd sooner speak fluent Japanese than be refuse a snuggle — that's just who I am. I've met my matches in cuddling, and I've also come across some staunch anti-snugglers, as this essayist calls "solipsists." (He divides the world into two categories, snugglers and solipsists. Sounds about right to me.) I'm pretty honest about my snuggling tendencies — my sleeping partner will find out before dawn anyway, as I tend to migrate to the nearest warm body as I dream.
I've slept beside solipsists, and I've cuddled with snugglers all night. One important note: Even the most stalwart of solipsists sometimes convert to avid snugglers with time. If you're a snuggler and you really like this new solipsistic partner, try to be patient (and respectful of their needs). If you're a solipsist dating a snuggler, try to be gentle and understanding. And if you're in a snuggler-snuggler or solipsist-solipsist arrangement, congratulations. Above all, communicate about your preferences so as to avoid later arguments or hurt feelings.
Sex may very likely come into play in this scenario. "Some people have a strong sex drive," Carver says. "If this is you, ask your partner if you 'get in the mood' again, would they mind if you woke them up." Some partners may be ecstatic about that possibility, but others may not. Conversely, it's worth discussing this with your partner even if there's not a chance in hell that you'll be the one rolling over in the middle of the night feeling frisky. Your partner may be that type, and you should be clear if that's OK with you or not, Carver suggests. "We all have different sleep needs," she says. Some can't fall asleep again for hours after being woken in the night, and if you're that person, say so.
All of that said, "it’s a good compromise, though, to say yes to being woken up every now and then," she adds. And I would agree: While I am always down with communication, I think it's best sometimes to just let it unfold and be spontaneous in this realm in the beginning. If a 3 a.m. romp doesn't go well, you can have that discussion later. But I may be in the minority with this opinion.
4. The Bathroom
If you're the type to wake up in the middle of the night to pee, be sure you know where to go. "If it’s your first time at the house, it’s best to ask where the bathroom is," Carver says. "Afterwards, you will know exactly where to go if you wake up in the middle of the night without having to wake up your partner to ask which way to go." And if you tend to make frequent trips to the bathroom and your partner is a light sleeper, ask if there's anything you can do to avoid waking them up or at least minimize their discomfort.
"One partner may want the TV on to fall asleep to, or have a night light," Carver says. "The other may need total darkness." This may be a case of compromise. "If you are the one that needs total darkness," she says, you can "ask your partner to either lower or turn off the lights." But if you're photosensitive, you're probably already accustomed to using an eye mask for sleep. Bring it along and let your partner have their light.
This is trickier than light, because no one relishes sleeping with ear plugs. If your partner has roommates, there's a good chance they'll bang around late at night or early in the morning now and then. If you're a light sleeper, this is bad news. A fan or a sound machine can alleviate the hassle. On the same token, it's one thing to have a muted TV on as you fall asleep, but another thing entirely if your partner likes to have the sound on as well. Express your needs and see if you and your partner can find a compromise.
Even if your partner loves dogs, it's wise to ask whether they're fine with your pooch snuggling with the two of you all night. Same goes for cats and any other domestic animals, as Carver says: "If you have a dog or cat, ferret or skunk that normally sleeps with you, advise your partner that they do so," she says. "Not everyone loves having a kitty sleep on their neck or a dog lying across their legs." If your partner isn't comfortable with your puppy spooning them all night, respect their preferences. Over time they may become more at ease with the prospect, but in the beginning it's best to defer to their needs.
And the same goes for you: If you're sleeping next to a new person and they usually cuddle with their cat all night, it's totally legit to ask them to put their cat in the other room if you won't be able to sleep well with a feline sleeping companion.
After sex, when the lights are off, people feel comfortable sharing stories and feelings with their partner," Carver says. Naturally. "They go into minute detail about their life or activities," she says. All of this sounds good so far. "They can talk for what seems like hours!" Ah, here is the problem. "If you are the recipient of these stories and just want to go to sleep, tell the person [who is] nonstop talking that you enjoy hearing them, but would like to hear more at breakfast," she suggests. And "if you are the nonstop talker, realize that some people need to unwind quietly to sleep."
Though your partner may not want to cut you off — just as you may be loath to ask your partner to STFU — it's wise to pay attention to little hints and let sleep happen sooner rather than later if your partner isn't being an active conversationalist. "Be aware of how long you talk and the cues from your partner who starts tuning you out," Carver advises.
Paying attention to little hints is the best thing you can do across the board, from snuggling to sex and everything in between. Of course you're not going to feel 100 percent comfortable with bringing up every possible topic under the sun in the very beginning, and that's understandable. Whether you discuss all eight of these things with a new partner or just a few, being observant of your new partner's signals will go a long way in avoiding a misunderstanding and sleeping harmoniously beside them.
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.
Images: Piotr Marcinski/Fotolia WiffleGif (8)