I work with many young couples who come into counseling after the birth of children. They complain that their relationship has changed, feel disconnected from each other, and sex is often limited or non-existent. They are anxious to return to the connection and passion of their earlier relationship, but do not know how.
New parenthood is a difficult time for most couples with its many challenges and transitions. Along with the joys and happiness that a new baby can bring, couples can be faced with a variety of stressors that have the potential to derail an otherwise healthy union. Suddenly there are huge responsibilities on our plate, and little or no time for freedom, spontaneity and fun.
Children demand so much of our time, energy and attention that often there is limited time for the couple to connect, spend time together, or have sex. A common dynamic is that the partner who is not the primary caretaker wants to connect sexually, and the partner who is the primary caretaker is simply too exhausted to comply. This often creates an atmosphere of tension and hurt. Most couples lack the communication skills to articulate their feelings, and this is where relationships can begin to go off track.
Other couples complain that they have no "couple" time - between caring for young children and maintaining households and careers - the marriage is delegated to the basement.
All couples need and deserve 'alone' time - time to reconnect and get the relationship to flourish. Although many couples see this as a luxury, it is actually a necessity, and it's crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship. We are in fact teaching our children a wonderful lesson and showing them good boundaries when they see Mom and Dad taking time for themselves.
Getting your relationship back on track is essential.
- Revisit the fun of your earlier relationship. What was enjoyable for you as a couple prior to the birth of your children? Did you enjoy arts and culture, sports, connecting with friends?
- Make a commitment to have a date night. Take turns creating a fun date and surprise each other! Try some new things such as dancing lessons or a yoga class, visit a new neighborhood, get a couples massage or take a massage class, see live music, go to a wine tasting, attend a lecture on a topic you are both interested in.
- Ensure conversation will flow. I often hear from couples that they are so disconnected that even on date night they go out to dinner and then have nothing to say to each other. This is why date night really needs to be fun. See a funny movie, a concert or sporting event - and then go out and discuss it. Teach your partner something new. If you read an article in a magazine or the newspaper this week that your spouse may enjoy - make a copy and bring it to the date. Read it out loud and then discuss.
Create a new sex life that works for both partners
What was your sex life prior to your children being born?
During these discussions we try to identify and evaluate what your earlier sexual habits and desires were about. Perhaps there may have been a hidden sexual problem that was masked by the passion of dating? If so, we can discuss and evaluate this and make a plan to address the problem.
Create an environment where sex and romance can grow.
Nothing is more of a turn off than a partner who is demanding sex. Communicate as a team what is sexy and romantic to each of you. Relearn how to seduce your partner. Remember when you were dating. Use kissing, teasing and touching to relearn each other's desires.
Encourage women to reconnect to their body and their sexuality.
Childbirth can change our bodies and our view of ourselves as a sexual creature. It's crucial that we learn to love our new body and self. If you are unhappy with weight gain that you cannot seem to lose, consider working with a nutritionist, taking a yoga or a dance class, visit a weight watchers meeting, take up running.
- For the partner who is not the primary caretaker - Caring for children and the household day is an exhausting job. If you want your partner to pay more attention to you (and sexual attention) become part of the solution and not part of the problem. Are you doing all you can in the evenings and weekends to help your partner with the children, and then are you helping them to relax and unwind? Are you creating a lovely environment where your partner can transition from 'mom' to lover? Consider taking a bath or shower together, lighting candles, reading poetry. Make the atmosphere wonderful and good things will come.
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Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Expert working in private practice with individuals, couples, and families.