reprinted by permission
Physical intimacy is an essential part of any couple’s relationship. But it takes work to maintain a satisfying sex life, especially after having children. This pandemic has made it even harder for new parents. You’re cut off from your village and limited where you can go to get away.
Parents and passion
I’m trained to teach Bringing Baby Home workshops, based on the research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman, that help couples transition to parenthood. I learned that approximately two-thirds of couples express less satisfaction and more conflict in their relationship during this time.
It’s normal as a new parent to feel exhausted and “touched out” between the sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and the heightened stress and anxiety that often accompanies new parenthood. Those who feel like the bulk of childcare and household responsibilities fall on their shoulders often can grow resentful. They have little left to give to partners who may in turn feel neglected or rejected.
The good news is one-third of successful (or “Master”) parents reported increased closeness and sexual satisfaction when they became parents. So, what’s their secret?
The secret to passion
It’s actually the strength of a couple’s friendship or what the Gottmans refer to as “the fondness and admiration system.” Your ability to deal with conflict in safe and healthy ways, make repairs regularly, and be willing to move from “Me to We” positively impact all aspects of your relationship including your sex life.
Consider a hypothetical couple, Mark and Susan. They understand that each of them needs a break after working all day. They also prioritize a weekly or monthly date night and quality time as a family. Instead of relaxing on the couch after dinner or going out with friends all the time like in the pre-baby days, Mark makes the shift from “Me to We.” He recognizes how demanding it is to care for a child all day. He understands that Susan is equally tired. So he takes turns cooking, doing the dishes, baths, and bedtime. Choosing to be an involved dad has many benefits to fathers and children as Micheal Kaufman writes in his book, “The Time Has Come.” The more initiative he takes with housework and childcare, the more supported and less stressed Susan feels and the easier it is for the passion to return.
In short, passion grows from Master couples sharing the load (including the mental load), expressing appreciation, being respectful and encouraging in their communication, and making time for their relationship.
Reigniting the spark
In her latest book “A Radical Awakening,” Dr. Shefali Tsabary writes, “No true intimacy with another can occur without intimacy with the self… how can we enjoy another’s body when we haven’t done this for ourselves?” She talks about the importance of waking up from cultural conditioning, which leads many people to dislike or feel ashamed of their physical appearance. She encourages them to embrace their changing landscapes. That includes playful exploration of what brings pleasure to their bodies and engaging in open discussions about sexual fantasies with their partners. Practicing mindfulness can serve to heighten the pleasure of intimacy in and out of the bedroom.
Rituals of connection can also help reignite the flames of passion despite how busy life gets. Routines in parenting are important. Make them intentional times of bonding. The Gottmans also note small gestures of physical or emotional intimacy (like the six-second kiss or writing little love notes) create a sense of closeness and anticipation.
A final thought
Relationships are complicated. It’s normal for sexual desire to move in cycles throughout your relationship. However, becoming parents doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. Work on building a solid friendship, mutual respect, and equal partnership. Then, you can trust that making time for intimacy will help to keep reigniting the spark.