Couples start having problems in their sex lives when the job of raising the children becomes so overwhelming that there is no time to be alone and no energy, even if you find the time. Or when one of you starts avoiding sex as a (misguided) means of coping with other problems in the relationship.
Communication is not always the easiest thing in a relationship, and communication difficulties usually find their way into the bedroom. If you don't have time to talk about things except after the children are asleep you are going to bring your problems and conflicts to bed with you. Don't do it. Your bed is for lovemaking, not negotiations.
One way to avoid bringing conflicts into the bedroom is to set aside time to talk about things during other times and in other locations. Make appointments if you have to. Try to pick times when neither one of you is too tired or grouchy to discuss things like money matters or day-to-day problems. True, if you're having trouble finding the time to make love, you'll probably find it hard to find time for family meetings, but it's crucial that you try. Even if all you can manage are a few minutes here and a few minutes there, at least you're talking things out.
When you're trying to reestablish your sexual relationship with your partner, it's important to have one place that isn't baby-oriented. Let the toys, bottles, and baby things mount up everywhere else if you must, but keep your bedroom as a place for you and your partner—you want to be able to set a sexy mood and scene when you're alone together.
You know you need to set up a childcare plan to cover you when you're off at work or running errands. Having back-up baby-sitters is equally important for the health of your relationship. If you can find relatives or friends to watch your children—even for just a few hours at a time—it can go a long way toward keeping the two of you connected on many levels. You can use this time alone to work out problems together. But best of all, you can use this time to talk about how you used to make love before the children were born and what you would like to do when you get home after the children are asleep. It can build some romantic excitement that can work wonders in your relationship.
It is so important not to take your relationship for granted. Couples drift apart for what can seem like the most trivial of reasons, and the stress of a new baby in the house is hardly a trivial pressure. Even without a baby, you know that a good relationship needs constant nourishment and care, so don't let these new pressures make you forget to take that care. Keep those lines of communication open, keep expressing your feelings and lavishing love on one another as much as possible.
Many couples get into a dangerous syndrome of emotional competition—trying to overcome each other instead of pulling together as a team. This does nothing but breed mistrust, and it can be exacerbated when a new baby enters the household with its own set of needs. But this is precisely the time when cooperation and mutual support are most needed, so it's worth your while to spend some time and energy to strengthen your bonds of love and trust as a couple.
If you consciously try to work together, there is no reason not to find mutually satisfying solutions to most of the problems you face. What's key is that you strive to build your relationship on a solid foundation of trust, respect, and compromise. And there's an added benefit: By building a strong relationship with your partner, you are setting the best possible example for your children. The crucial lesson to learn is how to compromise—you're doing no one a favor if you go the totally self-sacrificing martyr route, and you gain nothing by forcing your will on everyone, either. The first breeds disrespect, the second is a recipe for resentment. Compromise means seeing to it that everyone's needs are at least partially met, and you can all feel like you're working together.
Don't make your partner guess why you're too tired lately for a little romance. Tell him, even if you think it should be obvious. He's got his own insecurities now that he's a new dad, so he may not see that you're just feeling overworked—he may take your temporary lack of interest as a more permanent kind of rejection.
Making your sex life a priority in the scheme of things will make a positive difference in the harmony of your home. Men and women need to join with each other on a regular basis to maintain intimacy. This does not necessarily mean intercourse, but it does mean that you need time to focus on each other as lovers, and not as simply fellow travelers in the great childrearing enterprise.
Now, this does not mean that every sexual encounter you have with each other must be spiritual and transcendent. If you can find the time for some fun with each other, grab it—sometimes, even being a little bit naughty can be pretty nice.
You can rekindle romance without risking your life in many very simple ways:
But most of all, remember to be loving to each other and think of one thing in your relationship to be grateful for each day.
When our kids were small, I once tried a little too hard to rekindle the old flames. I bought the cutest pair of red fur handcuffs at a novelty lingerie store and, while the kids were at school, I made a date with my husband to sneak home for lunch. When his car pulled into the drive, I was all set, handcuffed to the bedposts, with the key on my chest. But my husband had a surprise of his own—a rambunctious golden retriever pup pounced onto our bed and knocked the key to the floor. I had a hard time avoiding his attentions, while my husband spent some serious time on his hands and knees until he finally located the tiny key to free me.
Stay sensitive and aware of your partner's emotions. If he's feeling unloved or displaced, a little tender, loving care can make him feel less isolated. And don't be shy about letting him know when you're feeling the need for a little nurturing, too.
Finding the time does not mean finding the time for sex only. A couple also needs to find the time to allow their relationship to grow. You can't put all of your energy into raising a family and into your separate interests and expect your relationship to grow along with everything else. You need to make a special effort to know what is really going on with each other. You need to talk, or sometimes you just need to spend some time together not saying a word.
The relationship between you and your partner needs to be given the same kind of energy you give to your children. A relationship is headed for trouble if the energy is focused too one-sidedly: either entirely on the children or exclusively on the couple. In this, as in all things, what you seek is a balance—one that recognizes the needs of everyone in the family.
But when children are small, it's easy for a mother to bury herself so thoroughly in her children's demands that she misses the warning signs of trouble with the adult relationship. You need to carve out several different kinds of time: family time, alone time, children time, and partner time. Sounds like you need a lot of time, doesn't it? But remember that the amount of time spent in each area is less important than the quality of the time you put into it. If you find that things are not working well at home, chances are there is something out of balance in one or more of those relationships.
When you become a mom, you're taking on a bigger task than you might have guessed. You are central to the happiness and well-being of everyone in your family. It is important to them to feel close to you and to feel sure of your interest in them. Look at these relationships as plants that need lots of water and sunlight to grow. Loving your family and telling them so is like that water and sunlight—love and reassurance are the nutrients they need.
You need the support of your partner. Do not be shy about demanding some time for your relationship with him, if that's what you need. Single moms may have to cope with childcare on their own, but if you've got a partner, it's simply not acceptable for you to have to do without his support in coping with your children and their needs.
If your husband is not willing to connect emotionally with you or refuses to participate in the raising of your children, you may need to get some professional counseling. Don't dismiss the idea out of hand. If you're worried about the cost, you needn't be: Many organizations offer family counseling at an affordable rate. And this is not an area in which to make false economies. It's better to do without a few extras than to let problems in your relationship escalate to unresolvable proportions.
Relationships evolve over several distinct stages:
When the dissatisfaction blues strike, don't just ignore them and hope they'll go away on their own. Find a way to structure rewarding things into your life. Otherwise, you risk expressing your resentments in ways that can damage your relationship with the people around you who love you the most.
If you are a person who is used to crises or a lot of excitement, that third stage of a relationship may make you restless and frustrated. You might not know what is actually bothering you, but you know that something seems to be missing from your relationship and your family life. If this is the case, it's time to start an honest reappraisal of your relationship and what you expect from it. Unless you do this you will have trouble overcoming your sense of dissatisfaction, and that could very well strain your relationship.
Familiarity and routine are not the most romantic concepts in the world. The media presents such a glamorized vision of life that it's easy to judge our own fairly “normal” existence as being somehow inadequate. But simplicity, familiarity and routine create security. And security is really what most of us want in our lives. We do not need the constant stimulation that crisis mode gives us.
We get so used to stress that we often do not know how to sit back and enjoy our lives for exactly what they are. We always seem to want something more that we think the next woman has. Many women sabotage perfectly good relationships because they get caught up in the “is this all there is?” attitude. But the sense of dissatisfaction we feel comes from within us and is not necessarily the fault of our relationship.
It is therefore important to learn to accept your relationships with your family members for what they are, and come to terms with your own needs, instead of blindly expecting your partner or your children to fulfill your needs for you. That means getting to know who you are, and ceasing to define yourself by the roles you play. And it means recognizing the natural flow of your relationships within your family.
Each of us is ultimately responsible for our own happiness. To maximize your satisfaction with your relationships and with your life, you need to find out what you really want out of life and be willing to work at making it happen within the context of your family. After all, your family is a part of that vision—and it can provide the foundation of love and security you need to achieve the rest of your goals.
The key to a strong relationship is for both partners to work together toward a common goal. That's best done if each of you is clear about your individual goals and can communicate them to one another. Your task, then, is to discover your life's purpose. I'm not talking about anything big, like saving the world or earning millions of dollars. I'm talking about the day-to-day things that spell satisfaction—the things that make your life fulfilling and happy.
The greatest satisfaction comes from the smallest things—sharing a few quiet moments with your partner, seeing the joy in your child's eyes when she learns something new. Attend to these, and you'll discover that your life is very rich.
When you accept yourself with your limitations you will be able to accept your mate with his limitations. When you have acceptance of each other you can go about the business of enjoying your life together. You'll recognize the need to negotiate certain aspects of your life and delegate responsibilities in ways you perceive as fair, but you will stop trying to change one another to suit what you think you need in a partner and begin instead to enjoy each other for who you really are.
The best way to redefine your relationship with your partner, when it comes to your romantic life and raising children together, is to always have a sense of humor. Your life will never be as you expect it to be—just when you're beginning to enjoy the perfect romantic evening, the baby will wake up and start crying or your toddler will decide she needs another drink of water. These little frustrations can seem huge at the time, but if you can laugh at the unexpected, you'll find it easier to keep them in their true perspective.
Recently I broke my heel bone and was laid up for months. I felt very sorry for myself and for all the plans that were now out the window, but when I stopped brooding I realized that there was a positive side to my injury. My children were overjoyed to have me available to color with them and just sit and talk. And because I needed their help, they learned a valuable lesson about sympathy for others. And they learned to do for themselves some things that they once expected me to do for them. My accident gave us all an opportunity to grow closer.
It isn't the amount of time you spend with your family, but how present you are when you are together. You can learn to be more present, in much the same way people learn to meditate. When you are with your children, try to separate from all the noise and the chatter and focus on just being with them.
And this is important in your relationship with your partner, as well. When you are together, especially when you are going to be intimate, savor every moment and be mentally and emotionally present. Turn off the television, light a candle if you want to, but mostly just concentrate on your love.
The relationship between you and your partner forms the foundation for your children's lives. If you are able to create a strong base for them, they will be able to go out into the world with confidence and love. So even if you are too pooped to pop, you need to make love, sex, and emotional intimacy a priority in your life. You can have beautifully folded laundry, great meals, and a spotless house but without intimacy in your relationship you'll find that all the rest is unfulfilling.
Life is to be enjoyed, and if you are fortunate enough to find love, treat it as the precious gift it truly is. Children are far more important than laundry and husbands are far more important than clean houses. So if, in all the competing demands for your attention, some things have to slide, let it be the housework, not the humans.
When you strengthen your relationship with your partner through love and compromise, you are not the only ones to benefit. Your children will be much better off as well, growing up in a home without conflict. So even when you are tired, remember to fan the flames of your love as often as you can. Make romance a priority, and your home will be a much happier place.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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