After a long day of taking care of three little boys, cooking, cleaning, and juggling work responsibilities, it was my time to rest. I ignored the subtle flirtations of my husband, Mike, hoping he would get the hint that I was not in the mood. I had reached the finish line.
As we were getting ready for bed, I changed into my PJs and he caught a glimpse of flesh. He looked at me amorously as if the act of changing my clothes was an invitation. I faced a fork in the road: Would I "do my wifely duty," or tell Mike what I was really thinking? I responded with a compromise: "We can do it as long as I don't have to be awake."
If this only happened once in a blue moon, our marriage could weather the storm. However, scenes like this were regular occurrences during our busy years of babies and toddlers. I began to dread sex. Although I loved my husband, I resented that he wanted my body and was encroaching on my rare moments of free time. I remembered hearing that sex was supposed to be a gift from God to a married couple. Frankly, I wanted a gift receipt so I could exchange it for something more useful.
Many young moms can relate to this scenario, as the number one barrier to sexual enjoyment for women is a lack of time and energy. Men often don't understand the mammoth endeavor it can be to switch from mommy mode to lover— who has time for sex when a screaming child is in the next room and dirty dishes are piled in the sink?
Why you can't put sex on the back burner
Study after study shows that sexual satisfaction and a healthy marriage go together. From a woman's perspective, we think, "Of course! If the marriage is good, the sex will be too." Men have a different approach: "How could marriage be good without great sex?" According to recent research, the guys actually have a point.
Oxytocin is the powerful bonding hormone that flows through your body in mass quantities when you have a baby. Oxytocin helps you to feel connected to your baby so you can endure the crazy years of toddlerhood. The power of oxytocin makes your baby the most beautiful creature in the world to you. Women have varying levels of oxytocin running through their bodies at any given time. You may get a surge of it when you have an intimate conversation with a friend or when your husband gives you a backrub.
Men are less endowed in the oxytocin department. Your husband will only have huge surges of the hormone at one time—after orgasm. Have you ever noticed that he acts more in love with you after sex? He thinks you are gorgeous with your hair sticking up and your morning breath. That's oxytocin!
I need my husband to be bonded with me. I need his attention and his help with the demands of children and life. God has designed a way for this to happen through sexual intercourse. It truly is how many men feel closest to their wives. Understanding the power of the chemicals involved in sex has given me a new appreciation for how critical it is to the health of our marriage. When I sense tension between my husband and me I often think, "That man needs some oxytocin!"
Yet, with all this information, it may seem like a monumental task to make sex a priority in your marriage. You may have legitimate barriers to overcome like body image issues, deep conflict with your husband, broken trust, wounds from sexual trauma or physical pain during sex. I don't want to make light of these painful circumstances. But often, great sex doesn't happen because it's simply not a priority.
How to make time for making love
Although you may never feel as tired as you do as a young mom, there will always be some reason to neglect sex in your marriage. Like anything else, it won't get better until you determine to change some things. Busy women find time to do what they deem important. They work out, go to Bible studies, volunteer in the classroom, and create elaborate scrapbooks. Is it time for you to make sex a priority? If so, here are some ways to make that happen.
1) Schedule sex
This might sound like the most unromantic idea on the planet, but spontaneous sex rarely happens in the busy years of raising kids. You need time to get your mind and body prepared to be intimate with your husband. If you simply wait until bedtime, the chances of you both being ready with energy at the same time are slim to none.
Couples "schedule sex" in different ways. Some actually put it on the calendar one to three times a week. Other couples agree that each of them will initiate at least once a week. My husband and I had a code word that he would use meaning, "Let's have sex sometime in the next 24 hours." Then I had the freedom to initiate within that time frame when it was good for me.
2) Think about sex
The bestselling book series Fifty Shades of Grey has proven one thing: women want to think about sex and feel sexually stimulated. I've read the series, and want you to know, please don't fall into the trap of erotica. It is pornography for women. Porn and erotica cause you to share your body with your husband, but stay hidden from him in your own secret fantasies.
A holy, erotic book called The Song of Solomon gives a Christian woman permission to fantasize and think about being sexual with her husband in a way that honors God. When you understand the symbolism of the book, you will be surprised by how specific, steamy, and erotic this book is—and it's in the Bible! If you are married, God wants you to think about sex, but to keep your fantasies and thoughts geared only toward your husband. The brain is the most powerful sex organ, especially for women.
3) Pray about Sex
God cares about your sex life. He understands the devastation of finding out your husband is looking at porn or has no interest in sex. He knows the pain of sexual trauma. He even cares about your exhaustion or depression. As a clinical psychologist, I've worked with many women through such barriers. While counseling can be a step in healing, God is the ultimate healer.
If your husband is willing, get on your knees together once a week and ask God to show you how to love each other sexually. Ask him to help you work through the barriers that cause division between you.
There are a lot of great things you can give your kids, but nothing compares to the foundation of growing up in a home in which mom and dad love each other. You may be sacrificing time and money to take them to play groups, sporting events, and music lessons, but remember: never work hard at being a mom at the expense of having a thriving marriage.
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Juli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy, and is co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?