A loss of intimacy after having children is normal, but it’s important that it doesn’t become a permanent state in your marriage. Learn how you and your partner can work together to reconnect.
New parents and expecting couples often experience a dip in libido due to frantic schedules and the constant demands of young children. While parents don’t want this change to negatively affect their relationship, couples aren’t always sure what steps to take to improve physical closeness. Rest assured, because experts say that with good communication and a little work, those dips don’t have to turn into a drought of sexual contact and intimacy.
Nicole Griffiths of Greenfield Center, New York, is a mother of one and also in her last trimester of pregnancy with her second child. She says that she is too tired for intimacy these days and admits to avoiding sex in the evening. “We’re both exhausted at the end of the day,” she says, adding that carrying 45 extra pounds has contributed to the fatigue.
Although the physical contact may have waned, Griffiths says she still finds her husband attractive. “Making home improvements is a huge turn on. Watching my husband interact with our 21-month-old keeps the spark going; knowing that he loves this child as intensely as I do is a huge turn on, too.”
The Ebb and Flow of Intimacy
Rachel Greene Baldino, MSW, LCSW, a therapist and author of The New Age Guide to Loving Simply, explains that intimacy ebbs and flows during big life transitions, such as having and raising children.
Couples can work in regaining intimacy after children, first by increasing their awareness. “Before you give birth, it is good to be aware that your libido, your overall energy level, your interest in sex, and the amount of time that you have to devote to intimate moments with your spouse will all decline quite a bit immediately after the birth of your child. This is a perfectly natural, expected development,” Baldino notes.
“If you expect to return to a very active sex life six to eight weeks after you have given birth, you may be disappointed, because while your body will probably be nearly or fully healed at that point, your energy level and sexual desire may still not be up to your usual level,” she says.
Communication is vital at this stage. For example, if you are exhausted, pressed for time, or low on sexual desire and interest, you may want to address any or all of these issues with your spouse and in turn allow your spouse full expression of his or her concerns as well. “Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in feeling these feelings, as many (and probably even most) young couples go through this experience,” says Baldino.
Part of communication is acknowledging to yourself and to your spouse that your priorities have shifted dramatically. Baldino says to keep in mind that while previously you only had to worry about the two of you, you now have a child to care for, and that is a huge and radically life-altering responsibility.
Intimacy comes in many different forms. “Many couples who are too tired and emotionally drained from new parenthood to have a great deal of sex find other ways to feel physically close (i.e., cuddling, massage, hugging),” says Baldino. “There is also emotional intimacy, which is just as important as physical intimacy, and which comes from keeping those lines of communication open—perhaps just by lying side by side in bed and talking about all the joys and challenges of this brand new world of parenting.”
The Continuing Marriage
Some couples continue on a lonely road of no intimacy in their marriages. Psychologists estimate that about 15 to 20 percent of couples fall into a “sexless marriage” in which they have sex less than ten times a year.
“Parents often forget that the couple relationship needs time, too. It may sound difficult in a busy week to devote some time to just the two of you, but if you do it successfully, it will make a huge difference in how the rest of your time together goes,” says Dr. Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, PhD, psychotherapist.
She suggests couples have a “state of the union” meeting once a week. Parents may want to arrange for shared childcare with a friend. “Nothing works better than trading childcare with other parents, so that each of you gets some time off,” she says.
Also make time to get together with other parents to have “at-home” social evenings with the children included. This helps both the budget and your need to have adult contact and couple support. Every couple needs to interact with other couples who have similar lives—it supports the relationships, says Dr. Tessina.
Families who focus on all work and responsibilities lose the spark that keeps them close. Dr. Tessina adds that having down time and adult alone time with other couples allows the parents to relax and creates more intimacy, which leads to a better sex life.
Waking up the Libido
According to Debbie Mandel, MA, stress-management specialist and author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, marriages can survive a temporary libido dip. “When women are stressed and busy, they feel fatigued and irritable—add to that mix fewer hours of sleep. Intimacy in the bedroom is viewed as another thing on her to-do list, and because the timing is the end of the day, it will be the one on the list to go,” she says.
Although it sounds unromantic, Mandel says intimacy may need to be scheduled. “Get a babysitter and go out as a couple. Dress for the occasion. Think of your partner as someone you want to attract. See him through the eyes of another woman who desires him and not think of him as a parasitic husband/father who doesn’t do as much as you around the house,” Mandel says.
Looking for more ideas to put you in the mood? Mandel offers couples the following tips for fostering intimacy:
- Try and visualize a romantic scenario. Rehearse it in your mind. “Sex begins in the mind,” she explains.
- Tap into your five senses to set the stage in the bedroom. “Take a relaxing candlelit bath with fragrances and wine. If you don’t have time for that, take a hot shower and let it relax your muscles and give yourself a massage in your favorite fragrant crčme,” Mandel says.
- Try cuddling and not speaking. Connect as a couple without any pressure.
- Exercise daily from 15 to 30 minutes, preferably using large muscle groups to release testosterone in your body which raises libido. “You will shed stress, release endorphins, feel energized and look better! So, the next step is to get physical with your husband,” explains Mandel.
Mandel points out that research shows that once you become more intimate, it becomes more natural and your desire increases.
Gigi Sage, relationship expert and founder of Productive Partnerships Inc., notes that if you lose intimacy, be patient and do things together that you always enjoyed.
“Take a shower together, massage each other’s feet, take a walk, go dancing, and keep your heart open. Having children is one of most rewarding things in life, but to build a truly strong family you need to take care of yourself first, then your partnership, and then your child,” she says.
Sage also recommends focusing on you. “Instead of pressuring yourself to fix the situation with your spouse, focus on you. Sometimes a new mom gets so absorbed in her new role that she completely forgets about herself,” she says.
Are you bathing regularly? Getting haircuts? Working out at the gym? “Trade babysitting with other moms so you can get time for yourself. Join a gym that offers child care. Put the playpen in the bathroom. Life flows better—and you’re more likely to get lucky—when you’re having a good hair day,” says Sage.
Don’t forget to feed your soul. “Some new moms get fed up because all they can talk about anymore is their children. Keep a focus on something that inspires you and makes you feel vibrant and alive,” Sage says. A weekly class, such as photography, or hobby is a good start.
Finally, notice what is working for you. “Everyone likes to feel appreciated for the contribution they’re making. The more you focus on acknowledging each other for the things—little and big—that you do, the more you’ll both see the good in each other,” says Sage. “After all, that positive feeling of love and affection is the foundation on which intimacy is built.”