Throughout our lives, we’re constantly absorbing messages about the do’s and don’ts of relationships. We’re told certain behaviors and choices are taboo and should be universally avoided — lest your relationship be doomed.
But relationships aren’t one-size-fits-all. You and your partner are not destined for failure just because you sleep in separate beds or take separate vacations. In fact, some of these “looked-down-upon” behaviors can actually be beneficial for certain couples. Yes, really.
We asked therapists to share which “taboo” relationship choices shouldn’t be ruled out — and, heck, might even be worth embracing in the right circumstances.
Taboo No. 1: Sleeping in separate beds.
Culturally, there’s a stigma toward couples who choose to sleep apart — dubbed a “sleep divorce.” Outsiders assume that there must be trouble in paradise: either the relationships is on the rocks or their sex life must be nonexistent.
While either of those scenarios may be true for some couples, those are by no means the only reasons people choose to sleep in separate bedrooms.
“In fact, some relationships fare infinitely better by not sharing their space at night,” Abigail Makepeace, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, told HuffPost. “It may be a matter of preference to have separate rooms or in some situations, it may be a necessity.”
Perhaps one partner snores all night long, thrashes in their sleep, goes to bed much later or wakes up much earlier, and the other partner is a light sleeper. In those cases, not sleeping in the same bed can help ensure both parties get a good night’s rest.
As long as both partners are happy with the arrangement, then this set up can actually lead to a healthier relationship, Makepeace added.
In fact, Kelifern Pomeranz, a psychologist and sex therapist in Menlo Park, California, pointed out that sleep issues and relationship problems tend to go hand in hand.
“Research shows sleeping in separate beds contributes to better overall sleep, which, in turn, can lead to better relationship satisfaction,” she said.
“Some relationships fare infinitely better by not sharing their space at night.”
– Abigail Makepeace, marriage and family therapist
For couples that regularly sleep apart, Pomeranz recommends coming up with a nighttime ritual to connect.
“Set aside time before bed — even if it is brief — to cuddle, talk and connect emotionally before you both turn in for the night,” she said.
Taboo No. 2: Talking about your romantic pasts.
For many couples, discussing their love lives before they got together is off the table. They find it too uncomfortable a topic or worry it would be threatening to their current partner. But discussing prior relationships shouldn’t be taboo, said therapist Nicole Saunders, owner of Therapy Charlotte in North Carolina. We all have pasts, and those experiences have shaped the person we are today.
“When couples allow fear, jealousy or other insecurities to block out data-rich portions of their relationship histories, they miss an opportunity to gain insight into one another’s evolution: conflict style, triggers and character,” Saunders said.
Plus, the way your partner speaks about their last relationship can offer clues about the kind of person they are today, she said.
“If there is no accountability or responsibility, then there has been no growth and the same pattern is likely to repeat!”
Taboo No. 3: Flirting with other people.
Engaging in flirty banter with someone other than your partner is often seen as a sign you might be unfaithful or that you’re unhappy in your current relationship.
“However, when done without the intention of infidelity, flirting with others can have the potential to ‘spice up’ your relationship,” Makepeace said.
When we flirt, we rediscover our sensuality and confidence — and we can bring those positive feelings back into our relationship, she added.
If you’re in a monogamous relationship, though, make sure the flirting doesn’t cross the line into “territory incongruous with the fidelity of the relationship,” Makepeace said.
Taboo No. 4: Masturbating.
Some folks mistakenly believe that if you’re self-pleasuring, then you must not be sexually satisfied in your relationship, Pomeranz said. When in reality, sex and masturbation are two separate things that fill different needs ― one doesn’t replace the other, but they can work in tandem.
“The most important sexual relationship is the one that you have with yourself.”
– Kelifern Pomeranz, psychologist and sex therapist
“The most important sexual relationship is the one that you have with yourself,” Pomeranz said. “Connecting with your own pleasure is important not only for knowing what you like but also for being able to verbalize to your partner what you want. Time and space for self-pleasure can allow for increased intimacy and connection in a relationship.”
Taboo No. 5: Taking separate vacations.
Just because partners plan solo trips or go away with their friends or relatives doesn’t mean they’re avoiding quality time with one other. They’re just nurturing the relationships they have with themselves and the other important people in their lives.
“A healthy relationship needs both familiarity and distance,” Pomeranz said. “Vacationing separately allows each partner the opportunity for autonomy, independence and self-reliance. It also gives each person the chance to miss one other, which can allow for a renewed appreciation of one’s partner.”
Northern California therapist Kurt Smith, who specializes in counseling men, said he doesn’t typically encourage couples to vacation separately because he believes they should prioritize spending time together. However, going on trips with friends or family “shouldn’t be problematic if it’s the exception, not the rule,” he said.
Taboo No. 6: Going to bed angry.
How many times have you heard this piece of age-old relationship advice: “Never go to bed angry.”
If this works for you and your partner, then by all means keep on doing what you’re doing. But forcing yourselves to resolve a conflict before you hit the hay is “unnecessary,” Saunders said.
Staying up to hash things out when you’re all worked up and exhausted can sometimes exacerbate the tension, rather than alleviate it. That’s because in an emotionally flooded state, important skills like listening, processing information and empathizing with your partner are all compromised.
“There is no evidence that breaking this old adage is harmful to a relationship and it can be argued that ignoring it can be beneficial,” Saunders said. “Going to bed with unresolved conflict gives the couple time to process their feelings, maybe get some sleep — even if it’s not the best — and come back to the table with a fresh perspective.”
Taboo No. 7: Talking openly about money.
Avoiding clear, honest conversations about finances is a mistake, Smith said.
“I spoke with a woman this week who has been married for 23 years and doesn’t know how much money her husband makes or anything about his finances,” he said. “Now that they’re separated and she’s dependent upon him to keep paying her rent, her not knowing anything about his finances has become a really big deal.”
“When couples allow fear, jealousy or other insecurities to block out data-rich portions of their relationship histories, they miss an opportunity to gain insight into one another’s evolution.”
– Nicole Saunders, therapist and owner of Therapy Charlotte
But you shouldn’t wait until things go sideways to have these conversations.
Talking about money can actually be a way to deepen intimacy in your relationship and bring you and your partner closer together, financial therapist Amanda Clayman told NPR. And because our money hang-ups are never just about money, these discussions can help you each grow in other areas of your lives, too.
“Money shows up in our lives every step of the way as something that appears, on the surface, like a problem to be solved,” Clayman said. “But usually it reveals something deeper about something in our life that needs to change, grow or shift.”
Taboo No. 8: Watching porn.
A porn habit can be damaging if consumption is excessive, is used to regulate emotions or begins to interfere with a person’s daily life, like their job or relationships.
But in many cases, it can be a great addition to a healthy, exciting sex life with your partner.
“There is a lot of public discourse that porn use can harm relationships and lead to sexual dysfunction,” Pomeranz said. “While this can be true if porn is overused or as a means to deal with negative feelings, research shows that partners who watch porn together report greater relationship functioning and sexual satisfaction than partners who do not.”
Taboo No. 9: Keeping a secret from your partner.
This one is “extremely controversial,” Makepeace said, but in some cases, she believes keeping a secret can actually be better for a relationship.
“If a behavior or belief occurred in the past, that you have learned from and are no longer practicing, it can sometimes be advisable for the survival or health of the relationship to not share,” she said.
Here is one way to determine if you should share or keep a secret from your partner, according to Makepeace: Ask yourself, do you want to confess because you want to clear your conscience? Or is it because you believe telling your partner would actually be better for the growth and development of the relationship?
“These potential gains should be weighed against the possibility of devastating effects on your partner, if you share a secret you have been harboring,” she said.