by Michelle Perry Higgins
I’ve never met one person who told me his or her sex life improved after a newborn arrived. Have you? That little bundle of joy turns every room of a married couple’s home upside down, especially their bedroom. When our first child was born, I finally understood all those jokes about women placing a “closed” sign on their vaginas. How is it possible to feel sexy after all your body went through delivering a child? Not to mention the exhaustion, the lack of sleep, and the fears and insecurities about being a competent parent. Oh yes, that first baby is a life-changer.
I was juggling career, housework, a new baby, an intimate relationship . . . but intimacy was the ball I dropped.
While I loved my husband and cherished him deeply, I had this other tiny life to care for who required so much more attention, whose life literally depended on me. Romance wound up on the back burner.
Although there was nothing unusual about what happened to us, after having the baby—in fact it’s quite common—I wish I’d had some kind of navigation system guiding me through this part of my marital journey. I’m sure Jared would have appreciated a heads-up as well.
For those of you struggling to keep that flame alive in your marriages, or those of you who are past struggling and have just given up, take heart. There are solutions.
I interviewed my dear friend, clinical psychologist Dr. Nanette Rowe for Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms and I’d love to share some of that interview with you here. I asked Dr. Rowe the million-dollar question: why do couples lose that romantic spark in their relationship?
Dr. Rowe: “This happens even in the best of marriages, when the person you are sleeping with, who used to be your romantic ideal, suddenly becomes the guy who wakes up with bad breath, has food in his teeth, or conveniently leaves his underwear on the floor. By the same token, the sexy image he used to have of you gets altered by the daily sight of you in baggy sweats, or when you are trying to hold a conversation as he sits on the toilet. While all those behaviors breed a certain kind of intimacy, comfort, and closeness, they are anything but erotic and certainly not sexually exciting. Ironically, the comfort we seek in relationships is precisely what decreases the spark.”
She went on to talk about the common phenomenon of couples who put all their energy into supporting and raising the kids, thenone day turn to one another and say, “We did such a good job raising the kids, but by the way, who are you?”
Dr. Rowe: “Isn’t it unfortunate that while a couple can be loving and nurturing with their kids, they would neglect one another? It’s easy to simply excuse the neglect of one’s partner by talking about the endless demands of kids and work. However, the consequences of that neglect are reactions like emotional distancing and resentments. Too often couples simply take their partners for granted, assuming their partner is the same person they got together with decades ago. Typically he or she isn’t the same person who entered the relationship.
“One of the best ways to avoid this distance from happening is to continue attending to the other person as an individual, as well as being the other’s co-pilot both in raising kids and along life’s journey. If you manage to stay connected, then the acknowledgment that you have co-parented well together is a shared experience of your history and relationship together. I advise couples to start early and bring the spark back by truly attending to the relationship. Once you go back to appreciating what you love and respect about the other person, you can begin to acknowledge it to him and to yourself.”
Dr. Rowe also talked extensively about the fine art of communicating with your partner.I asked her if instead saying “you need to help me,” a wife really needs to say, “Let’s help each other.”
Dr. Rowe: Right. She might say, “I am feeling neglected because the baby has so many needs. Of course he is precious and I know we both love him, but I can get really frustrated with him from time to time. I need your help when I’m losing my perspective on parenting. Do you ever feel that way?
“This way, the two of you are bonding over the experience of parenting. It may not be sexually exciting, but it’s connecting in a meaningful way. Attending to the other’s needs and feelings helps to get an understanding of how both of you are feeling and experiencing and how you are managing.”
To read my full interview with Dr. Nanette Rowe, pick up my book Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms: 7 Steps to a Balanced Life, available in hard cover and eBook.
If your romantic pilot light has gone out, you haven’t been that hot for each other in a while, or you’ve let romance fall by the wayside putting all your energy into your kids, here are a few suggestions to help you get back in the groove.
- Call or text your husband during the day and ask him if he has any special plans for the evening. Let him know that you’ve been thinking about him and that you are looking forward to feeling his special touch later on. I’m pretty sure that he’ll be feeling that same way when he gets home.
- Get in the habit of telling your partner how much you appreciate him. This is so easy to forget, and so, so important to remember . . . and actually do.
- Talk with your partner. Are there areas where you can improve your relationship? Make a commitment to one another to communicate those needs. Can you talk about all of that in a supportive, non-nagging, non-judgmental way?
I’ve talked in previous columns about how important “me” time is, for you to recharge your energy. Couple time is no less important. If you have to schedule it in advance, then do it. Don’t wait until your kids are grown to realize you and your husband have grown apart.
Don’t wait until your husband loses patience with your exhaustion, lack of interest in intimacy, or always putting everything else ahead of the two of you, and does something drastic.
Don’t believe that physical intimacy is not just as important to a balanced life as excelling at work or keeping a clean and organized household.
As always, living a happy and fulfilling life is all about balance. Raising happy and healthy kids is about modeling that balance. The time you take to keep your marriage strong will pay off in so many ways, not just for you but for your children when they fly the nest and find partners of their own.
I hope this column has provided some help in finding yours!