Have cotton nightshirts replaced sexy lingerie? Have Teletubbies or Pokemon jingles replaced your favorite love songs? Are romance, intimacy and uninterrupted lovemaking just vague memories? Then you must be married with kids.
As soon as the baby arrives, nearly every aspect of your relationship changes—including your love life. At a recent seminar, a mom named Helen asked us for advice. "My husband and I had a great love life before we had kids," she said. "But now we have a problem. Frankly, after three preschoolers climb on me all day, I just don't want to be touched. I'm exhausted and want my 'personal space' back. I end up making myself be intimate because I know my husband wants sex. He senses my reluctance and that doesn't help things. Any tips on how we can reignite a faltering love life?"
Our advice to Helen applies to all couples struggling with getting their sex life back on track after kids arrive. You need to give yourself permission to prioritize your marriage—and that includes finding the time and energy to love each other. One warning: don't wait for spontaneity or you'll end up waiting a long, long time. 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.
Couples with children become concerned about the loss of the easy intimacy they enjoyed earlier in their marriage. It's a common struggle but certainly not hopeless. We know; we've been there.
When we'd been married four years, six pounds and seven ounces of dynamite blasted into our lives, blowing away our sex life and causing mass confusion. As new parents, we were overwhelmed, exhausted and insecure. We kept waiting for life to return to normal. It never did. When I (Claudia) went back for my six-week post-partum checkup, the doctor told me we could resume sex as usual. Whom was he kidding? After delivering an almost-seven-pound bundle of energy and nursing a ravenous baby several hours a day, I was exhausted and wanted sleep, not sex.
Although I (Dave) was tired too, I didn't understand why Claudia and I were so out of sync. Our easygoing, relaxed routine was history. Then after we added two more kids to the mix, we almost gave up on both sex and sleep. Our sexual fantasy boiled down to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Becoming parents should not make us celibate, so how can couples have kids and still maintain a sex life? It's not easy, but it is possible, especially when you understand that great sex is much more than the physical act. We're talking about developing and nurturing a love life.
Light Up Your Love Life
It didn't happen overnight or even in a few months, but with stubborn determination we found ways to reignite our love life. If you've just had a baby, your journey back to a healthy sex life will take time. Consider these factors: the type of birth (Caesarean or vaginal) and the difficulty of the delivery, the temperament of the child and the parents, the amount of support you get from family and others and your job situation.
Our initial rebound from temporary celibacy was followed by years of working at maintaining an intentional love life. You can do it too. Here are four tips.
1. Get some rest. Sleep-deprived spouses are not sexy, so before you can revitalize your love life you'll need to get some rest. Take a nap. Go to bed tonight when you get the kids to sleep. We actually have advised parents to have a sleep date. Get away for 24 hours, but spend the first part of it sleeping. Until you overcome some of your sleep deprivation, you won't be alert enough to concentrate on loving each other.
2. Practice love talk. With adequate rest, both of you will be better able to talk about what you expect from your sex life. It's necessary to discuss each spouse's expectations because they're almost certain to be different. Talk about it until you understand each other. 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 do you think of when you imagine intimacy and closeness?
- What is romance to you? Do you need romance to set the mood for sex?
- What are the positive factors about your love life?
- What brings you the most sexual fulfillment? What do you think brings your partner the most sexual fulfillment?
- How often would you like to make love?
- How much hugging and cuddling do you need before and after intercourse? Define this in minutes if necessary.
- What are the fantasies you have been hoping to fulfill with each other?
- What changes do you need to make to keep sex fresh and growing?
3. Take marriage vitamins. After you understand each other's expectations, romance your mate at least one time each day by giving each other marriage vitamins, such as these:
- Kiss for ten seconds (this is longer than you think!) every morning when you say good-bye and every evening when you say hello.
- Hug each other for 20 seconds each day.
- Flirt with each other. Even when there isn't time for sex, make sure your mate knows you want to.
- Leave a romantic message on your partner's voice mail or e-mail.
- Daydream about making love while doing the laundry, dishes and so on.
- While getting ready for bed, light a scented candle and play romantic music on the radio or CD player.
- Give your spouse a one-minute shoulder rub.
- Rent a romantic movie and watch it together after the kids are in bed.
4. Schedule time for sex. Yes, actually put it on your calendar (in code, of course). When our children were young, our working schedules were flexible. With the help of a wonderful Mom's Day Out program, we scheduled a couple of hours each Monday morning when we could be alone. This was our time to learn how to be great lovers. While our weekly Monday-morning trysts eventually ended, over the years we have continued to schedule time for lovemaking. Becoming great lovers is an acquired skill—but it is one you can develop if you schedule time for practice.
The Bright Side
Since children present obstacles to finding time alone together, look for creative ways to get together. Use the challenges, delays and separations to fuel your romance. Because it's more difficult to make time for sex, you also appreciate it more when your plans for love succeed.
Remember that sex is God's idea. He is the one who put the passion and desire in your heart for each other, and he wants you to celebrate your sensuality by loving each other with abandon. In a recent survey, we asked parents around the country to share tips for how to remain lovers while parenting their children. Here are their best suggestions:
- Hire a sitter to take the kids to the park on Saturday morning for a couple of hours.
- Have a weekly date night. This standing date isn't necessarily for sex, but it adds romance to your marriage.
- On Sunday afternoons, save a favorite video for the children to watch while mom and dad "take a short rest." Then lock your bedroom door.
- Let the kids spend the night at a friend's house.
- Take a 24-hour getaway every couple of months. During these brief rendezvous, you can enjoy the spontaneity that just doesn't happen at home with kids around.
- Put the kids to bed early and have a romantic candlelit dinner at home.
A Lifetime of Love
If you're thinking "Hey, this is a lot of work!" you're right. But trust us, it's worth it. We've logged more than 30 years as lovers and parents. These days our home is quiet, yet in the recesses of our mind we can still hear the echoes of happy children.
Now our sons are grown and have families of their own. And every now and then we hear little voices in our home, when our precious grandchildren come to visit. We see again the stresses, strains and joys of parenting through the bloodshot eyes of our children. Our wish for them and for you is to seize the day. 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.
Claudia and David Arp, MSW, lead Marriage Alive seminars across the country and are the authors of numerous books, including Love Life for Parents and 10 Great Dates (both Zondervan). Visit their website at www.marriagealive.com or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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