The combination of children and marital intimacy is like a snapping turtle in a bubble bath: sure, you can still take a bath, but you can bet your tender parts it’ll be a challenge.
One of the problems, ironically, is that you were so intimate before you had a baby! You lapsed into sexual intimacy almost without effort, without planning or discussion. (That’s one of the reasons why you’re in this situation, right?) While you were expecting your miraculous bundle of joy, you may have read parenting how-to books and heard the dark whisperings of rumor that foreshadowed a giant weed-whacker to your lush intimacy landscape. But you didn’t put too much stock in that. After all, you and your husband/wife/partner/beloved are different. You value your intimate encounters, and therefore you’ll be able to stoke passion’s flames through any transition.
I won’t say I told you so, since we’re all adults here?
Okay, since your family joyously expanded, you find that you and your spouse are hardly connecting in that special, special way. First of all, remember that you are not alone. This is the most commonly reported change that couples face when becoming parents. And then look at the reasons why your sexual life has changed so radically:
You are exhausted.
News flash: raising children is exhausting. To be sure, it has its indescribably exhilarating moments, but it’s hard work and is physically and emotionally trying. It’s hard to remember you even have intimate needs when you’re falling into bed-corpse-like-at the end of each day. You’ve forgotten you ever used the bed for anything but sleep, precious sleep.
You and your partner have suddenly taken on new roles.
You are no longer just here for each other, but you now have this life between you, new life that it’s your job to protect and nurture. Of course your children can only ever know you as parents, but you and partner existed in entirely different roles before the kids burst onto the scene. You were the undisputed center of your husband’s universe, and your planet orbited around his sun. And no matter how much you attempt to psychologically prepare for the major, sudden shift from lover to parent, you can’t fully understand all the implications and nuances until you’re living it.
Also, many men report feeling a great deal of jealousy when their children are infants. He once had you all to himself, and though he knew he’d have to share your attention when Junior came along, he couldn’t have known you’d be spending almost all your time and energy with the baby.
Your child needs you more than your spouse needs you.
If we look back on our old friend evolution (which is ever-so-handy in explaining human behavior), getting intimate was just what you needed to ensure the growth of your family and the survival of the species. But now that intimacy has served its function and brought a new life into the world, your attention needs to be turned to the little one. Nobody is doing cartwheels over the prospect of a fizzling libido, but let’s face it: it kind of makes sense that your sexual drive would wane when you’re needed elsewhere. You have a baby that desperately needs you. Which means your needs (and those of your partner) will have to take a backseat, at least for a while.
Time is a precious commodity.
A busy Saturday used to be one where you committed yourself to a manicure, haircut, and somebody’s bridal shower. Now you’re lucky if you can brush your teeth before noon. So when there is a rare pocket of time that you can use as you’d like, one of you might be in the mood while the other longs to do something ordinary and unromantic, like take a shower all the way through, without interruption.
The sea of spontaneity you frolicked in when you were just a couple has nearly dried up. Spontaneity and intimacy are good friends, and spontaneity thrives in the freedom of unstructured time. In this new world you’ve entered with naptimes and bedtimes and bathtimes and bottle times (even times for burping!), there isn’t much room for the luxury of spontaneity, and that can cause intimacy to flounder.
What to do about it?
Accept it. Acknowledge it.
This isn’t just a problem you are facing, but one that every couple that has children faces. This is normal. You are normal. It doesn’t mean you can’t be intimate with your mate. It just means that it’s going to be a challenge for a while, and it will necessarily take a different shape for a while.
Introduce intimacy to routine and structure and planning.
True, intimacy’s pretty tight with spontaneity, but she can make new friends. They can grow to like each other (or at least tolerate each other) if you keep insisting and pushing them together, arranging play dates for them. Trust me on this. It may not sound sexy to say to your husband/wife: “After Wesley’s bathed and down for the night, meet me back here. Let’s skip the 10 o’clock news and play strip poker. Without the poker.”
And if-through supportive friends or family-you get the chance to have a night out without the baby, TAKE IT. Learn to nurture even the tiniest sparks of intimacy in the moments you find or work to create.
Enjoy the baby!
It may not feel like it at this moment (especially if you’re in one of the T-stages-teething, two’s, teens), but your darling’s childhood really does go by so fast. There may be lots of things you’ll end up regretting when you’re looking back on your life unfurled, but trust me: you won’t ever regret the time you made to spend with your child, the awesome, staggering, joyous gift and responsibility of a child. So accept the fact that sexual intimacy with your mate will occupy less of your attention than it previously had, at least while the children are young.
Settle for less and you’ll get more.
Take what you can get during this hectic and invariably important stage of your (and your baby’s) life. If you and your spouse only have the time and energy for heavy petting and pillow talk, enjoy that and really be present and available for that.
When you’re not with your husband, send him a sexy, teasing e-mail (if he’s allowed to get personal e-mails at work, of course?). Leave your wife an erotic phone message. Put a tempting note in a surprising place: in his shoe or in her sandwich. Since you don’t know when the mood will strike, prepare for the mood in these little, but hugely helpful and exciting ways.
Forget what came before and find the joy in this new life.
Dwelling on the past (whether it was glorious or miserable) has never done anyone any good. Quite the contrary, it can only put the brakes on a rich, rewarding present, because it sticks you in the past and on replaying events you either want to replicate or avoid. Forget about how much great sex you and your partner had before the baby. Commit to learning how to be intimate now, whatever shape it needs to take to accommodate your family’s legitimate demands.
Set realistic goals and celebrate meeting them. And, before you know it, the baby will be old enough to sleep through the night, and someday sleep over a school friend’s house, and even long after that can go away to overnight camp?.and maybe you’ll decide to do it all again, with the next baby that needs you like crazy, and that you wouldn’t trade for all the uninterrupted, candle-lit, sultry evenings in the world.
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