Has getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep become your hottest bedroom fantasy? After a long day, are you more likely to slip into comfy PJs than sexy lingerie? Have romantic nights out been replaced by struggles just to get the kids fed, bathed and into bed at a decent hour? Have the strains of late-night mood music been supplanted by those of early-morning cartoons? Have spontaneous weekend romps morphed into a routine of birthday parties and Little League games?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, congratulations! You are officially married with children. Though you and your husband are undoubtedly enjoying the unique joys of parenthood, you are probably also struggling to find more time and energy for yourselves as individuals and as a couple.
The first thing to suffer is usually the romance department — ironically enough, the thing that got you to this point in the first place! Children change your sex life in ways that many couples are unprepared for and are not sure how to overcome. After all, children require enormous amounts of attention and energy — both emotional and physical. They can leave parents feeling overextended, depleted and relatively unavailable for each other. They make it more challenging to spend quality time alone together having adult conversations and doing adult activities. Once-energetic lovers can settle into a sexual routine marked by emotional distance, feelings of unimportance — and even a sense of resentment.
This is a common problem, and the remedy is simple. The key is to give yourself permission to prioritize your marriage — and that includes finding the time and energy to make love to each other. Your marriage needs to come first, and here’s why: your kids will wait while you build your marriage, but your marriage won’t wait for your kids to grow up. Ask any couple whose marriage ended just as their kids left home.
All too often, couples allow children to take center stage, placing the needs of the marriage on hold. Depending on the initial health of the marriage, this “holding pattern” can be successfully managed through compromise and good communication. However, many relationships are badly wounded by the neglect that occurs when children take priority over the marriage.
Here are some practical ways to recapture the passion and place your marriage’s needs first:
• Make time each day that is just couple time — no kids allowed.
Set up whatever guidelines feel good to you — such as forbidding interruptions by your kids — then don’t feel guilty about enforcing them. It’s actually good for your kids. Even if they complain, they’re learning that their parents value each other, which makes them feel secure. It’s also good for them to see you making time for each other and prioritizing your marriage. This is a powerful example to set for their developing sense of self, and a terrific model for the development of their future relationships.
• During this alone time, focus on building intimacy — not just on the bills or the to-do lists.
Whether it’s sex or a deep and meaningful conversation, we’re talking about taking half an hour or so to keep re-knitting the ties that bind a couple together, and to create a solid family framework in which to raise children. Use this time to acknowledge each other for everything you do. Explicitly convey your liking, warmth, caring and concern for your partner.
• Don’t wait for spontaneity, or you’ll end up waiting a long, long time.
Schedule time for intimacy. This may not seem particularly spontaneous or romantic, but it is actually one of the best things you can do for your relationship. Think about all the time you expend nurturing your career, your children, your physical health. Your sex life deserves the same focused attention and dedicated effort. So yes, actually put it on your calendar. Becoming great lovers is an acquired skill — but it is one you can develop if you schedule time for practice.
• Create realistic expectations for your sex life.
Remember, the goal is not to achieve perfection. You’re attempting to create a level of improvement that you both find satisfying. Whatever you do, don’t add to the stress by creating unrealistic expectations. Open, constant communication is crucial. Couples need to get comfortable talking about their sexual feelings. Trying to guess what your partner needs doesn’t work. Neither does feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. If need be, buy a good sex book to trigger conversations about what you want your sex life to look like as you move forward together. And remember, the context of your conversations with your partner is always key. Exchanges cannot happen in the heat of an argument. Initiate this intimate conversation in an atmosphere of trust, unconditional love and acceptance. If one partner is reluctant to talk, the other needs to be patient, gentle and accepting. The following questions may help you get started:
• What does romance mean to each of us? What puts each of us in the mood for sex?
• What are the positive factors about our love life?
• What brings each of us the most sexual fulfillment?
• How often would we like to make love a week? (Getting clear on expectations of frequency can do wonders!)
• What are the fantasies we have been hoping to fulfill?
• What changes do we each need to make to keep sex fresh and growing?
• Special note for mothers: value your sex life as much as your husband does.
Typically, a husband is interested in more sex than his wife, and this difference often becomes exaggerated once children are part of the equation. Recent studies confirm that women still tend to handle the majority of parenting responsibilities (even when they work outside the home). Thus, women often are the ones whose romantic excitement and sexual energy are most diminished by children. Very often an unconscious, probably instinctual decision is made to prioritize motherhood over all other identities — placing their children’s needs in front of their husbands’ needs and their own. This can spell disaster in the bedroom for a couple, so stay vigilant to avoid this inclination.
So the next time you’re feeling annoyed about your husband pawing at you when you can barely hear yourself think, stop and consider the male perspective for a moment. While he wants sex, he may also be feeling neglected. He may feel that you don’t care enough about him to approach him as a lover or to stretch yourself to engage him for a little while — especially when he sees you stretching yourself much more for the children, or even for a friend who calls on the phone. The solution is not to take these differences personally, but to recognize them as normal and rooted in the biological hardwiring of men and women.
Once they have children , couples need to nurture their relationship more than ever. You need to find the time and make a conscious effort. Remember, you cannot simply expect your spouse to feel loved and nurtured. It is impossible for two people to keep their love growing and prospering without plenty of energy spent relating to each other individually and intimately. Both commitment and chemistry in a marriage require daily effort and attention. Anything that deflects energy from your partner — kids, work, family, health, possessions — threatens romance and personal satisfaction in a relationship. In the middle of your hectic lives, as you parent your kids, keep grabbing time to love each other. Not only can you have kids and a love life too — you can be lovers for a lifetime.
eHarmony Marriage is a new, online alternative to marriage counseling. It's a private, personalized program that is designed to help you enjoy a stronger, happier and healthier relationship. We use your answers to our marriage questionnaire to focus on your areas of greatest need. When you visit eHarmony Marriage and take our questionnaire you'll receive a FREE Marriage Action Plan to show exactly how we can help you. http://marriage.eHarmony.com