The six months following the disclosure of my spouse’s serial adultery—and the ensuing four-year separation—were the most difficult times of my life. They especially affected my sleep. I had been married for 19 years and was accustomed to having my husband beside me in bed.
I knew how desperately I needed sleep, but it eluded me. I would lay awake sobbing night after night. Usually, I would drift off from sheer exhaustion in the early hours of the morning. But I could feel the inevitable pull of depression from my sleep deprivation. With three young children to care for, I couldn’t afford not to be at my sharpest.
If your marriage is broken—whether your spouse still sleeps beside you, sleeps in another room, or you are separated—I’m sure you can relate.
Changing Your Mindset
Depending on your sleeping arrangements with a sexually-addicted spouse—same bed, in-house separation, or out-of-house separation—being proactive about the time period between when you climb into bed and when you fall asleep can build enormous security and promote deep, peaceful sleep.
It starts with your mindset. If we are called to endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7) and we believe that God works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), then we must learn to discipline our mind and focus on what benefits God can bring from our time in the “desert”. Jesus voluntarily went into the desert to be tested and purified. And when the testing came, he used God’s Word to fight Satan’s lies and manipulations (Matthew 4:1-11).
Instead of letting your imagination run amok, worrying about anything and everything that could possibly happen (which Jesus said won’t change anything anyway, Matthew 6:25-33), decide to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
Where do we find these qualities in abundance? The scriptures. Maintaining such positive thoughts takes mental self-discipline. You won’t master it the first time (or the tenth time), but if you persevere, your deliberate practice will produce transformation.
If you and your spouse are separated (in-house or out-of-house), this will be a lot easier than if you are sleeping in same bed. In a moment, I’ll address if you’re still bedmates, but if you’re separated, turn your bedroom or wherever you are sleeping, into a haven or retreat with your First Husband (Isaiah 54:5).
I dotted my ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars to bring the night sky into my bedroom. I also purchased new lingerie, pillows, and sheets. My night time sanctuary became so special to me, I had to really count the cost when my husband came home because I got so accustomed to sleeping wrapped in God’s secure embrace.
Changing Your Bedtime Routine
As a fitness instructor, I coach my clients about the importance of sleep. When my husband and I separated, I decided to put into practice some of the self-care principals I used with my clients. With a little tweaking, I was sleeping through the night in a few weeks.
I started with a flexible bedtime routine. Some of these strategies may be familiar, some may be new, and some may be a stretch, but what have you got to lose except more sleep?
- Refrain from doing anything physically exerting (like exercise) 90 minutes before bed.
- Retrain your brain. That means no electronics 45 minutes before bed. If you absolutely have to, use a blue light app or night shift mode on your phone or tablet (Android or iPhone).
- Sing worship songs to God in the shower (Psalm 98:4). Sometimes singing would make my heart light. Sometimes I cried with gratitude because God is so faithful.
- Body Image issues? Before disclosure, my weight was such a point of contention in my marriage. Even after we separated, each time I looked at my body in the bathroom mirror it triggered thoughts of my husband. To stay focused on things above, I covered the lower half of my bathroom mirror with affirmations. Once I was able to view myself in a healthy way, I removed them.
- Think positive thoughts. While I brushed and flossed my teeth, I re-read all the affirmations on my bathroom mirror.
- Read and re-read encouraging scriptures (from a print Bible—remember, no electronics).
- Pray either with the lights on or the lights off, asking God to help you sleep.
- Play music without lyrics. Artists like Liquid Mind create music specifically for sleep. Others mix music with nature sounds like waterfalls, birds, or waves washing over the beach. You can access this genre of music on Pandora or through Google Music or Amazon Music. You can also find this genre of music mixed with serene video footage on YouTube.
- Sleep with the absolute minimal light. Complete darkness is best.
- Once in bed, lay on your back and practice deep-breathing. Watch this video to learn basic supine breathing techniques. Our minds can only focus on one thing at a time, so the deep breathing practice acts as a focal point. It’s also super healthy and relaxing because you flood your body and your brain with life-giving oxygen.
- Create and recite personal affirmations. When painful thoughts of my husband assaulted me, I lulled myself to sleep each night by verbally telling God all the roles He played in my life: “You are my King, you are my Comforter, you are my Defender, you are my Provider,” etc. I would repeatedly tell God (and remind myself), “I trust You. I trust You. I trust You…”
Boundaries in Bed
Sometimes the reason we can’t sleep is lying right next to us. You may lay there staring at the ceiling with silent tears soaking your pillow while your unrepentant addicted or adulterous spouse snoozes away beside you.
If you haven’t set boundaries on an unrepentant spouse sharing your bed, I want to encourage you to do so. Either your spouse sleeps somewhere else or you do. There is nowhere in Scripture that God says you have to sleep in the same bed with a spouse who refuses to stop viewing pornography (Matthew 5:28) or committing adultery. That’s abuse.
If your spouse is in recovery and you are sleeping in the same bed, tell them about creating your new routine and ask for their support. That may mean you spend some time in a different room reading, praying, singing, or reciting your affirmations, then crawl into bed silently repeating them to yourself. It may mean adding a couple’s prayer before you fall asleep. Whatever works for you.
Caution with Medication
Sometimes other factors play into sleeplessness and may require medical attention. Personally, I avoid pharmaceutical sleep aids as they often have side effects. We can also start relying on them, triggering an addiction to medicate our pain.
In most cases, if you are practicing self-care—exercising 3 days a week, eating right, working on your recovery, and consistently utilizing your bedtime routine—sleep will come.
Creating a routine and disciplining my thoughts were my keys to sleeping each night. Now it’s time for you to create your own routine. Get your free Good Night’s Sleep Guide Sheet.
Also published on Medium.