Keeping the Romance Alive as Parents
Sanjay is a 37-year-old corporate manager. He lives in New Delhi with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Since the birth of their child, Sanjay feels like his wife is no longer interested in sex. At first, he thought he was the problem. Was she not attracted to him anymore? Even though she denied this, her actions did not suggest otherwise. Sanjay continued to blame himself and question his own attractiveness. They used to have a regular sex life before the baby but now, without warning, he had been cut off. The constant tension almost made Sanjay feel as if he was no longer an important part of his wife’s life.
So when does this all start? In today’s world, both parents are intensely involved in the pregnancy and tend to believe that this partnership and closeness will continue as they raise their child together. It’s what Christopher Clulow, chairman of the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies, London, calls 'the fantasy of fusion', a belief that they will go through the parenting experience together. 'The commitment of modern couples to equality between the sexes reinforces this notion by creating expectations about male participation in the early stages of parenthood.'
Parents attend birthing classes and doctor’s appointments together, they pick out names and clothes for the baby, and are suddenly immersed in an experience that they only share with one another. After the birth, though, they both are separated by different roles that they often do not share. While the mother provides physical and emotional support to the baby through breastfeeding, cleaning, and minding, the father is pushed outward and expected to handle the financial and logistical tasks of providing monetary support, purchasing food and diapers and dealing with the outside world while the mother recovers. Each role has its own pressures and pleasures, and suddenly the parents find it hard to empathise with one another.
In the packed new-parent schedule, they can barely find time to connect, let alone for sex. As this period can carry on for years, the decline of the sex life, if ignored, becomes the new normal.
If you’re going through something like this, here are a few tips that can help you reignite your sexual intimacy after a child.
Set Aside Time for Intimacy
Sleep deprivation and unbalanced sleep cycles in the early days of parenthood is one of the first things that cut into your intimacy. When you’re completely drained and exhausted at the end of the day, sex begins to seem like a task.
However, you don’t have to choose between the two. Sex often means a better and deeper sleep afterward, which leaves you more refreshed in the morning. Laura Berman, director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center conducted a study that showed that “Couples who engaged in regular sex were more likely to experience high-quality sleep than couples who didn’t”.
To make your intimacy a priority, you might need to plan it in advance and set time aside for it. Going to bed earlier means you’re still energetic enough for sex, which eventually leads to better sleep overall.
Cultivate a Healthy Body Image
As a woman, post-pregnancy, you may not still fit into the clothes that once flattered you and that’s okay. Accept your new body and see the beauty in it.
According to Dorfman, women are already predisposed to pay more attention to the responses of others. With motherhood, this is exacerbated and they may tend to assume that if they find themselves unattractive, so will their partner. In reality, men don’t automatically notice every stretch mark or spot of cellulite on your body, they’re more likely to just be thinking how amazing it feels to be so close to you. So don’t let your body image hold you back!
Redefine What Sex Means to You
If it seems like the sex you used to have before the baby is just impossible to have now, find smaller gestures that hold the same kind of intimacy. Share a slow kiss in the morning. When stroking your partner’s hair, look deeply into their eyes. Connect sexually through small actions, and suddenly sex won’t seem like the most distant idea.
Reconnect as a Couple
Having a child makes you a parent, but not less of a partner. Spend time together, not as co-parents, but as romantic partners. Even if you’re tempted to talk about the kids all the time, don’t. Take some time out to nurture your relationship as a couple. It doesn’t have to be a designated date night, it could just be the first few minutes when you wake up in the morning. Have the same conversations you used to before the baby.
Think Outside the Box
Occasionally, ask a responsible relative or friend to take care of the kids for a couple of hours, and go out there and do something that you’ve never done before as a couple. Continue growing as romantic partners even after your parents. Both of these roles should be equally important. Plan a date night or just stay in alone one evening and reconnect.
Talk It Out
Make sure that your partner knows that they can always feel comfortable telling you what they feel about your sex life. Have frank and honest conversations about your needs and issues and try to understand each other’s perspectives. If you can make decisions together about finances and parenting, why not sex?
If you’re uncomfortable diving straight into this, you might want to involve a professional third party, such as a counsellor or a therapist. Remember that this can be treated just like any other physical concern that needs to be addressed, and can’t just be left to heal on its own.
Anytime is the Right Time
If it seems like you’re just too tired at the end of the day, don’t restrict yourselves. Any free time is a good time, especially when there’s an infant in the house and your schedules and sleep cycles are erratic anyway.
If you feel like you’ve tried all these tips, but you’re still having trouble rekindling your sex life, you’ve got to ask yourself very honestly, where this could be coming from? It might be time to take a closer look at your relationship and what might be making you feel uncomfortable.
It is possible that you could be feeling tired and stressed out, missing having time to yourself, or resenting the inequality in sharing responsibility. You might even be feeling self-conscious about your body, but unaware that this is what’s causing your negative attitude.
First, identify the cause for this emotional block and then try to address it together with your partner.
It is important for you to remember that post-delivery, situational, physical and emotional changes are inevitable. In the first year, the baby requires a lot of attention, owing to which parents realistically just may not be able to find the time or energy for sex. But this changes as the baby grows older and you learn to manage your time better.
There may be times when you think that you may not ever go back to the way it was pre-baby. What’s important is to remember that you have a long road ahead of you and many great ways to grow as a couple. Becoming parents is only one of the amazing journeys you’ll go on together.
Cohen, D. (1992, July 07). The baby came but the sex went: Many marriages fail in the 18 months after childbirth, often because men are unsure of their postnatal role, says David Cohen. Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-baby-came-but-the-sex-went-many-marriages-fail-in-the-18-months-after-childbirth-often-because-1531894.html
Abedin, S. (n.d.). Your Sex Life After Baby. Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/features/your-sex-life-after-baby#4
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://www.parenting.com/article/sex-after-baby
If you feel like you are struggling to regain intimacy with your partner in your newfound role as parents, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
good article. but i think in india its difficult to talk about this issue. many times our aprents are staying with us. even small gestures and all are difficult.