Having children impacts your relationship or marriage, especially with regards to intimacy. It is not uncommon for couples to find themselves disconnected physically and emotionally during a pregnancy, after the arrival of a child, and when parenting young children.
Here are some typical complaints I hear from couples with some tips on how to address concerns:
1. I am tired all the time. I have no energy left for my partner at the end of a day being with a baby, or managing work and children’s drop offs.
Tip: Set aside time during the day, perhaps during nap time on a Saturday or Sunday, rather than trying to be intimate at the end of a long day.
2. There is no time for sex, our evenings and weekends get booked up or we end up watching TV when the kids go to bed.
Tip: Book intimacy time at least once a week for an hour or two. Stick to that time like it’s a doctor’s appointment. If it isn’t booked, it won’t happen.
3. I don’t feel sexy.
Tip: In her book Great Sex for Moms, Dr. Valerie Raskin suggests taking time to cultivate feeling sexy and in tune with your body by finding self-care strategies that make you feel good. For example, before an intimacy date go for a workout, by sexy lingerie, and have a luxurious bubble bath while your partner puts the kids to bed. If you are not up for intercourse (for example because of a perineal tear or difficult birth recovery), get creative and come up with others ways of pleasuring yourself and your partner whether you climax or not. Let go of any goal other than being present with yourself and your partner.
4. I want to have sex but my partner doesn’t. OR My partner won’t stop asking me to have sex and it is the furthest thing from my mind.
Tip: Dr. David Schnarch, author of Intimacy and Desire and Passionate Marrige says that every relationship has a High Desire Partner and a Low Desire Partner, and in fact roles can switch. Schnarch explains that it is essential to strengthen your own sense of self, to be able to self-validate rather than depend on your partner for validation of your needs and desires. By ‘holding onto yourself’ and learning to tolerate and manage your emotions and needs you can interact with your partner in an authentic and collaborative manner to address sexual desire. Schnarch suggests that this is hard work as each partner must honestly reflect on behaviours and actions, and in turn propel themselves to change and grow. He recommends trying “tender loving sex” where you allow yourself to be held and seen, as well as “fucking” when you allow yourself to be adventurous and playful.
5. I don’t feel emotionally connected to my partner. We never talk unless it has to do with the kids.
Tip: According to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, couples can default into communication patterns that undermine a secure attachment necessary for healthy functioning. Johnson believes that couples can re-establish a secure attachment by elucidating unhealthy patterns and, in turn, cultivating a sense of security and connection. For example, Johnson recommends having ‘hold me tight’ conversation to address fears related to the relationship and then make a request from their partner to help address this fear and need. For example, asking a partner to reassure you that they are listening to you, that they are committed to the relationship, or asking to be held and affirmed in your feelings.
You can work on ‘holding on to yourself’ through internal strength and validation, or ask your partner to ‘hold me tight’, or book regular intimacy time and set yourself up for success in advance of that time. No matter which method you draw on, be sure to put ongoing effort into intimacy and connection with your partner. This is the foundation for your relationship and, in turn, provides a framework for the family unit.