Have cotton nightshirts replaced sexy lingerie? Have Madeline and Barney jingles replaced your favorite love songs? Are romance, intimacy, and uninterrupted lovemaking vague memories of life BC (before children)? Then you must be married with kids!
When the kids start arriving, nearly ever aspect of your relationship changes — including your love life. At a recent seminar Helen asked us, “Claudia and Dave, can you help? We had a great love life during the first part of our marriage — the part before kids! But since the kids arrived, we’ve had a problem being sexually intimate. Frankly, after three preschoolers climb on me all day, I just don’t want to be touched. I’m exhausted and want my ?personal space’ back. I end up making myself be intimate because I know my husband wants sex. He senses my reluctance and that doesn’t help our love life. Any tips on how we can get back a little of the spontaneity and romance and re-ignite a faltering love life?”
“The key to having a love life after kids,” we told Helen, “is to give yourself permission to prioritize your marriage — and that includes finding the time and energy to love each other. Your kids will wait while you build your marriage , but your marriage won’t wait for your kids to grow up. But you will have to work at it!”
A Great Love Life Takes Work!
When partners become parents they don’t have to stop being lovers — but, roll up your sleeves — it takes work! In a recent survey, we asked parents around the country to share their experiences with us and to give us their best tips for how to remain lovers while parenting their children. In the following paragraphs we’ll give you’re their best suggestions. The rest is up to you!
One warning: don’t wait for spontaneity or you may wait a long, long time! One husband wrote, “Spontaneity died when the children were born. Finding time when we’re not too exhausted to enjoy each other has definitely become a challenge.”
Our Own Experience
After four years of marriage six pounds and seven ounces of dynamite invaded our lives — blowing away our sex life and causing mass confusion. As new parents, we were overwhelmed, exhausted, and insecure. We kept waiting for life to return to normal. It never did. When I (Claudia) went back for my six-weeks post-partum checkup, the doctor told me we could resume sex as usual. Who was he kidding? After delivering an almost-seven-pound bundle of energy and nursing a ravenous baby several hours a day, I was exhausted and wanted sleep, not sex.
Although I (Dave) was tired too, I didn’t understand. We were out of sync with each other. Our easy going, relaxed routine was history. Add two more kids and we had almost given up on both sex and sleep. Our sexual fantasy was eight hours of uninterrupted sleep!
But becoming parents should not make us celibate! How can you have kids and a sex life too? Not easy, but we learned it is possible. When we talk about great sex, we’re talking about much more than the physical act; we’re talking about developing and nurturing a love life.
What is Great Sex?
A fulfilling love life is multidimensional — especially for the mom! Her desire for tenderness, for feeling loved, cherished, and romanced, is as important as the dad’s desire for passion, excitement, and quick release. So besides the physical dimension, great sex involves passion, excitement, tenderness, and romance.
And we need to remember sex is God’s idea! He is the one who put the passion and desire in your heart for each other and He wants you to celebrate your sensuality — to love each other with abandon!
Great sex could be compared to two unique musical instruments harmonizing together, playing a beautiful song that both enjoy. The instruments are different and respond in different ways to touch and stimulation. At times one instrument takes the lead in the song, and vice versa. Both do not have to sound the high note at the same time! Both instruments seek to complement the other. So in lovemaking you can make wonderful harmony together — but what if you are too tired to play?
Back to Reality
With stubborn determination we found ways to re-ignite our love life and you can too. But it didn’t happen overnight or even in a few months. If you’ve just had a baby, how long your own journey back to a healthy sex life will take depends on may factors: the type and difficulty of birth, the temperament of the child and the parents, the amount of support you get from family and others, and of course, your job situation.
Our initial rebound was followed by years of working at having and maintaining an intentional love life. Wherever you are in the parenting process, you, too, can renew your love life. If you would like to reclaim your love life, we have four tips: get some rest; talk about your expectations; take marriage vitamins and schedule sex.
Get Some Rest
Before you can revitalize your love life you need to get some rest. Take a nap. Go to bed tonight when you get the kids to sleep. Sleep deprived people are not sexy! We actually have advised parents to have a sleep date. Get away for twenty-four hours, but spend the first part of it sleeping. Until you overcome some of your sleep deprivation, you won’t be able to keep your eyes open to love each other. So make it a priority to get some sleep. Then you’ll be ready to talk.
Practice Love Talk
Talking about your expectations will help you understand each other and get on the same page, but don’t be surprised if your expectations are different. You’ll want to initiate this intimate conversation in an atmosphere of trust, unconditional love, and acceptance. If one partner is reluctant to talk, the other needs to be patient, gentle and accepting. The following questions may help you get started:
What do you think of when you think of intimacy and closeness?
What is romance to you? Do you need romance to set the mood?
What are the positive factors about your love life? What brings you the most sexual fulfillment? What do you think brings your partner the most sexual fulfillment?
How often would you like to make love?
How much hugging and cuddling do you need before intercourse? (put in minutes if necessary.)
What are the fantasies you have been hoping to fulfill with your partner?
What changes do you need to make to keep it fresh and growing?
Take Marriage Vitamins
After you understand each other’s expectations, romance your mate by giving each other marriage vitamins. Consider the following marital vitamins and take at least one each day:
Kiss for ten seconds every morning when you say good-bye and every evening when you say hello. (It’s longer than you think, time it!)
Hug each other for twenty seconds each day.
Flirt with each other — even when there isn’t time for sex, make sure your mate knows you want to. If you communicate your desire, it keeps the passion alive.
Leave a romantic message on your partner’s voice mail or e-mail.
Daydream about making love while doing the laundry, dishes, and so on.
While getting ready for bed, light a scented candle and turn on some romantic music on the radio or CD player.
Put toothpaste on your spouse’s toothbrush while he or she is in the shower.
Give your spouse a one-minute shoulder rub.
Rent a romantic movie and watch it together after the kids are in bed.
Flirt with each other. Give your mate an intimate touch or kiss when the kids aren’t looking
Pull down the covers on the bed and leave a candy mint on the pillow.
Schedule sex? Yes, actually put it on your calendar (in code, of course). When our children were young, we realized we needed to schedule time for loving each other. Our working schedules were flexible, so with the help of a wonderful “Mom’s Day Out” program, we scheduled a couple of hours each Monday morning when we could be alone. This was our time to learn how to be great lovers. While Monday mornings eventually ended, over the years we have continued to schedule time for loving each other.
Becoming great lovers is an acquired skill — but it is one your can develop if you schedule some time! Take advantage of the many good Christian books on sex and remember God is the one who created the sexual dimension of life. Here are some other suggestions from couples who are successfully scheduling sex:
We hire a sitter to take our kids to the park on Saturday morning for a couple of hours.
When you can’t have the privacy you want when you want it, make an appointment and be prepared to stick to it, unless physical illness precludes intimacy.
We have a weekly date night. This standing date is not necessarily for sex, but it adds romance to our marriage
Hooray for the VCR! On Sunday afternoons we save a favorite video for our children to watch while Mommy and Daddy “take a short rest.” Then we lock our bedroom door.
We take a twenty-four hour getaway every couple of months. During these brief rendezvous we are able to enjoy the spontaneity that just doesn’t happen at home with four children — two pre-schoolers and two teenagers!
Occasionally we put the kids to bed early and have a romantic candlelit dinner at home.
We swap kids overnight with our good friends.
Loving for a Lifetime
You may be thinking, “Hey, this is a lot of work!” You’re right, but trust us, it is worth it. We’ve logged over thirty years as lovers and parents. Now our home is quiet, yet in the recesses of our mind we can still hear the echoes of happy children and treasure memories of the hectic parenting years when once we struggled with finding the time to build our love life while raising our kids.
Now our sons are grown and married and have families of their own. And every now and then we once again hear little voices in our home, when our precious grandchildren come to visit. We see again the stresses, strains, and joys of parenting through the bloodshot eyes of our own children. Our wish for them and for you is to seize the day — in the middle of your hectic lives as you parent your kids, keep grabbing time to love each other. Not only can you have kids and a love life too — you can be lovers for a lifetime!
Claudia and David Arp, MSW, lead Marriage Alive seminars across the country and in Europe and are the authors of numerous books including Love Life for Parents and 10 Great Dates (both Zondervan). Visit their website at www.marriagealive.com or e-mail them at TheArps@marriagealive.org