Nothing kills the mood quite like a baby’s cry from the bassinet in the next room.
Let’s face it, there are few moments like when a couple brings a child home from the hospital. Holding your infant and realizing your awesome gift and responsibility of caring for this tiny human being can be awe-inspiring and overwhelming. The first days feel like a blur, learning to deal with midnight feedings, spit-ups, doctor’s visits, diaper changes, soothing cries, and possibly helping siblings adjust to their new baby brother or sister. It all adds up to a sleep-deprived, zombie-like, state of being. The weeks, months, and even years that follow can be chronically draining.
And if that weren’t enough, somewhere in there, your husband may snuggle up to your body that has done the energy-demanding and shape-altering work of bringing a new child into this world and let you know in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways that he wants to have sex with you. While your emotions might be all over the place, sex may be the last thing on your mind! Yet in the long term, reclaiming your sex life even during the chaotic and demanding years of child-rearing is a valuable long-term investment that will pay great rewards for your relationship and your family. How can you ensure that you are promoting the health of your sex life and marriage?
First, new parents should understand that starting up anything that resembles a sex life with a baby living under the same roof (maybe even in the same room!) will take time and even a sense of playfulness. Giving birth is a rigorous physical event and bodies take time to heal. Add to that sleep deprivation and the emotional and physical toll of caring for a newborn and you can begin to understand why it can take time to get into the mood. If there is ever a time in marriage to show patience, this is it. Ensure that the doctor has given the go-ahead for sex, and even then, be willing to take it slowly. For guys, sacrificial love means moving on her timetable without adding pressure on your wife to have sex.
When our children were toddlers, I must confess that my wife and I didn’t always understand or communicate our needs with one another. It’s an easy mistake to make. After all, even well into the preschool years, parents can become so wrapped up with meeting the needs of these mini humans that they lose focus on the needs of their spouse. More than that, we can sometimes misinterpret each other’s needs, and grow resentful in the process. Many women, for example, after hours with clingy children, find themselves “touched out” by the end of the day. From the time they are awake to the time they go to bed, they are besieged by little grabby hands, reaching out to be picked up, pulling hair, grabbing at mom’s leg. When a husband wants sex or even just affection, it can feel like one more person demanding touch. But for a husband, the desire for sex is a longing for connection, a need to feel joined to the one he loves. It’s not just that he wants physical touch, it’s that he desires to feel close to his wife. Consider ways that you can be sexual, even if not in the ideal ways of sexual intimacy that you might have enjoyed when life was less stressful.
Husbands are not always sensitive to the ways that fatigue and busyness can absolutely kill any romance, especially if they are slack in doing the work a family demands. If bathing and feeding the kids, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, getting kids to school, and fulfilling volunteer obligations are all left to wives, no wonder sex begins to feel like one more item to check off a list. A husband who expects sexual intimacy without doing anything to share responsibilities is not being at all sensitive. Husbands, if you want affection, do the chores, help with nighttime feedings, change diapers, cook meals, and clean up. Find ways to ensure she can get extra sleep. Lower your standards for how clean your house will be and clean it yourself.
So, first things first – you will do an invaluable service to yourself, and your spouse, if you are able to communicate clearly what it is that you need, and if you can do everything reasonable to be sensitive in meeting the needs of your husband or your wife.
Healthy families depend on healthy marriages, so invest in caring for your relationship. Believe it or not, your children are not your ultimate priority. It’s easy to get the wrong idea. In some circles, our culture elevates the importance of caring for your children at the expense of a marriage. The logic makes some sense, kids are more dependent than your adult spouse. And trying to get your kids to follow a sleep routine, signing them up for little league, or arranging playdates with their friends all seem like (and certainly can be) good efforts to give your kids a healthy and happy childhood. But your children aren't intended to live with you forever. They will someday grow up, and you and your spouse will be empty nesters again. But to get there, don't lose sight of the relationship building blocks that you once enjoyed as a couple. Date night might become less frequent, devotions together might be ignored, and the affection between the two of you might cool down while you focus on a thousand ways to give your kids a happy and full childhood. Yet when God creates a family, by design, he first joins husband and wife together as one flesh, and this oneness must be cultivated and maintained for the long-term health of the family. If you or your spouse feel as though you are neglecting your relationship with each other for the sake of your children, ask yourself whether it will be better for kids in the long-term if your marriage deteriorates over time.
How can you invest in your relationship even with kids in the home? Make a commitment to a weekly date night, even if that means ordering fast-food and eating it at home while watching a favorite program. It can be tough to leave your kiddos with a babysitter, but finding a trusted friend or family member and spending an hour out can do wonders for your relationship. Scheduled sex might not be the most romantic way of being intimate, but (besides being a temporary arrangement) this pre-planning can create space to keep the spark alive when it’s hard to devote the time and energy you normally would like to give to more spontaneous sex. Or, put a lock on your door and have sex in the morning before kids are up, or put a video on (when the kids are old enough, of course!) and let them entertain themselves for few minutes.
The early parenting years can be grueling. Minimal sleep, infants who can’t tell you what they need, non-stop dishes and laundry--as much as you love your children and as much as you love being a mom or a dad, the years can be a blur. Its easy to become overwhelmed and exhausted. When that happens, your relationship with your spouse can suffer. Jesus invites us to come to him and find rest in him, rest from the relentless demands of trying to prove ourselves, of trying to be “enough”, of trying to do it on our own. His love for us, his tenderness, and his care for us restore our soul. Keep your focus on him! He will be the overflowing source of strength for you, so that you will have the resources that you will need to love your spouse well.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster