In my last post, I started sharing lessons I learned from the time in my marriage when our sex life sucked. In the years surrounding my pregnancy and infant-caring, my sex drive was largely absent while my husband still wanted to go at it like soap opera characters.
Anyway, the first set of lessons involved what the wife could do herself to maintain a good sex life during those trying years. Now I'll suggest a few things that couples can do.
Approach parenting as a WE thing. John Gottman, the well-known marriage researcher, has a fabulous section on this topic in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He reports that "in the year after the first baby arrives, 70 percent of wives experience a precipitous plummet in their marital satisfaction." We might expect this is related to fatigue, stress, health issues with a baby, etc. However, the key is "whether the husband experiences the transformation to parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind."
Having a baby is life-altering for most women, but not necessarily for some men. I was blessed to stay at home with my babies. However, that meant that my life was suddenly in a whole other place 24/7. Meanwhile, my husband kept going to work and living a lot of his life the same. He had added a baby to the mix, where the baby was everything in my daily life. I wish I had invited him into the parenting experience better, and frankly I wish he had jumped into it more assertively. We could have made our early parenting years more of a WE thing and thus lessened the burden on me. These days, we have a far more integrated approach to parenting our kids.
How would that have helped our intimacy? Well, that shared experience would have increased intimacy outside the bedroom and allowed us more time and desire to be inside the bedroom together.
Communicate openly about your sex life. My husband did not talk to me about how much he missed our intimacy. He was trying to be patient and understanding on that account and went without for longer periods than he should have. I in turn did not communicate what I was going through, or when I did, it was more like a pity party than an invitation to improve our sexual relationship. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that other couples do this too. Instead, couples need to honestly discuss concerns and look for ways to pursue satisfying intimacy.
Block out time for intimacy. Pre-children, most couples can make love just about anytime they want. After our workdays, we could have sex in the afternoon, evening, nighttime, morning, whatever. We could also do it in our bed, on the living room rug, in the shower, on the kitchen table, whatever. The point here is that our sex lives were flexible and mostly spontaneous.
Yeah well, forget that. When you have babies in the house, you may need to actually schedule times for intimacy. Sure, there are opportunities for sponataneity as well -- like your child unexpectly falling asleep in his bouncy seat and you and hubby running to the bedroom for a quickie before baby wakes up crying. But if you wait for the time when lovemaking fits into the rest of your schedule, you may find yourself waiting too long. Intimacy needs to become part of the schedule.
Have date nights that include intimacy. If you have grandparents, relatives, or babysitters to care for your little ones, take advantage of that. If not, perhaps you could barter with another couple or start a babysitting co-op where several couples take turns watching the kids while the others get a date night. In fact, things got better with our sex life when we availed ourselves of such opportunities.
Be more creative with sexual activity. There were times during my hormonal changes that intercourse did not feel good. Sometimes, it even hurt. That should not have quelled all intimacy. There are other things you can do! Sensual massage, a hand job, oral sex, and other activities are sexually pleasing and intimate in nature. They shouldn't replace a sex life that involves intercourse, but they can enhance your sex life and carry you through periods when penetration isn't comfortable. Speaking of which, you may need to try different positions during pregnancy or after childbirth to find a comfortable one for the both of you.
That's a lot of lessons, huh? Summed up, though, I have learned how important it is to take care of yourself, communicate with your husband, and prioritize marital intimacy. That's true at any time in your marriage; however, with pregnancy or young children in the mix, there are special challenges that can easily become big obstacles to maintaining a healthy sex life in your marriage.
What challenges to your intimacy are you facing with pregnancy, babies, or young children in the home? If you have passed that phase, what did you learn? What do you wish you had done differently to keep the spark ignited?