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Q&A with J: Getting Back on Track with Sexual Intimacy

Today’s question is from a reader who wants to get her marriage’s sexual intimacy back on track. It’s a long question, but I left most of it because there are a lot of factors involved. Let’s dive in.Q&A with J: Getting Back on Track with Sexual IntimacyEver since the twins entered our lives, I have become a low-drive wife. Initially I think it was the stress and lack of sleep that came with new motherhood. Then there were financial stressors, as my husband lost his job and we were living with a friend for the first year of their lives — and the boys were sleeping in the living room. My in-laws were living with us much of the time as well, to give assistance with caring for twins.

Fast forward 3 years, and I’m finally feeling less exhausted. We are living in our own home. My husband has a new job. However, my drive is still very low to non-existent. I did talk with my gynecologist, who told me it’s very common for women after they have children to not feel a strong sex drive. My husband has been incredibly patient and once in a while does ask me about being intimate. But mostly because we’re tired from working, parenting, and house managing all day, neither of us make much effort toward intimacy. We still briefly kiss most days hello and goodbye. We still hold hands. But I know that marriage should include sex and we’ll suffer consequences if we don’t get on track.

I’ve fallen into the bad habit of reading online lifestyle blogs and/or streaming internet television as my “downtime” after we get the boys to bed and the living areas cleaned up/lunches ready for the next day — and my husband goes to bed. I think he’d feel better if I at least went to bed at the same time, but I feel this need for “alone time”, so I usually don’t.

We talked about intimacy this morning, because I woke up before my alarm and he was ready to have sex. But I tried to explain to him that I don’t think I can go “zero to sixty” — meaning, without any other physical intimacy, it felt like skipping steps to go right for intercourse (even with foreplay included). I asked him how he felt about that, because I didn’t want to get him excited only to have to deal with not having resolution. And he said from his perspective, once you’re married he doesn’t understand why you would be intimate without intercourse. So, I’m left feeling like if I’m not ready for “the whole thing”, then I shouldn’t do anything. But I wonder if having make-out sessions for a few evenings would be something that could help my excitement — even though it sounds like it would drive him crazy.

I want to get back on track with sex (the last time we had intercourse was February!) but I’m not sure of how to do that. We’re happy otherwise, but I know that could change, especially if he loses patience and if my drive doesn’t return on its own as the kids need me less and less.

Let me start with this: Oh honey, I’ve been where you are. Not exactly, of course. I never had my in-laws living with me (you brave soul, you), but I know that feeling of little ones in the house, so much going on, the desperate need for alone time, and the sense that a sex drive is a luxury you just can’t afford at the moment. You can read about my struggle and lessons learned here and here.

Now here’s the fabulous part: You want this. You really want this. You understand that marriage shouldn’t be simply managing a household and raising kids, but rather includes a relationship between two people who are also lovers. You’re ahead of the game, so to speak, in understanding the importance of all kinds of intimacy in your marriage, including sexual.

But you’ve got a plethora of issues to deal with, and I think you’re going to have to knock them out one-by-one to get where you want to go.

Deal with the strain of motherhood. Motherhood is exhausting. I know people tried to warn you, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing that 7-day-a-week, 24-hours-a-day pull on your mind, body, and heart. There are days when every fiber of your body aches and longs for a spa day … in the Bahamas. Some of your fatigue is simply unavoidable, but sometimes we take care of everything but ourselves and don’t equip ourselves with the energy we could have to tackle our days.

If I could go back and advise my overtired self, I’d say these things: Talk to your doctor about your malaise and get assessed for hormonal deficiencies, depression, and other physiological causes of fatigue. (And if you doctor blows you off, push the issue.) Eat well, sleep as much as you can, exercise, and groom yourself. Ask for help, and don’t feel guilty about it! It might even be worth hiring a babysitter from time to time when you’re actually at home so that you can get stuff done. Figure out where to take shortcuts and where to take time (hint: people matter most, and people includes you). Let the kids wait on you sometimes; if they cry an extra thirty seconds while you finish your breakfast, they’ll be okay. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. And if you want advice on what that looks like, ask grandmothers with the benefit of hindsight what really mattered and what they did that was a waste of time.

Set boundaries with in-laws. Don’t invite them back. *grin* Actually, when couples have family living with them, they need to establish some boundaries to prioritize intimate time. Even your parents understand that they wouldn’t have those grandchildren they adore so much if you didn’t get a chance to have sex. Establish a policy that carves out alone time, even if it’s disappearing into your bedroom while your in-laws are wrapped up in a Wheel of Fortune episode, TV blaring and unaware of what’s happening down the hall.

Manage stress. And here’s where so many struggling couples live. I love how Jim Burns, author of Creating an Intimate Marriage, describes it as “over-committed and under-connected.” We have so many burdens on our minds, so many demands on our time, so many to-dos on our lists that we feel like there’s nothing left to give our spouse. Stress can show up as financial decisions, work expectations, extended family drama, childcare issues, health challenges, and really anything that makes your heart heavy and your energy wane.

You can’t get away from all stress. Honestly, I think in my early motherhood days, I relied on times when I escaped stress — by going out with the girlfriends, taking a bubble bath or a nap, hiding in my closet… But that didn’t relieve my stress; it just postponed it. What helps us work through our stress are active things like prayer and meditation, exercise we enjoy (not “working out” as another to-do), a hobby that gives you personal satisfaction, activities with friends that leave you with specific memories (like attending a concert or ball game, going to the beach, etc.). It’s doing something that reminds you of your worth as a person and the joy available in life. Figure out what that looks like for you.

Spend just-us-two time together. Yes, I think you probably need alone time. But you’ve made it where the alone time you need supersedes the alone time the two of you need. You’re going to have to get creative with your schedules and perhaps try different approaches to see what works. But if you can get your husband to put the kids to bed or do the baths or clean the kitchen, would that give you some alone time before bedtime so that you could go to bed together? What about waking up early in the morning for just-us-two time? (Something that, given your question, sounds like it could work.) How about your kids’ nap times or animated cartoon show times on the weekends?

You also need to spend time that isn’t about sex, because you need to work on your friendship and your romance. I honestly think it’s less about make-out sessions (which I’m all in favor of) and more about feeling close again — feeling that special bond between two people who fell in love. Look into babysitters, bartering childcare with other couples, and using times when your kids aren’t needing you right that moment to have time together. I’m not all that convinced by the prevalent idea of don’t discuss your kids on date night, but keep things positive and interactive. This isn’t a family meeting to make household and parenting decisions; it’s about you two connecting one-on-one.

Reawaken your libido. I’m struck by the fact that the Song of Songs has this phrase three different times: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). That tells me that the alternate is true: Arouse or awaken love when it so desires. And it desires when you’re married — as God intended.

How do you wake your Sleeping Beauty sex drive? Checkout advice from my blog here, here, and here. I think the key is often to tap into the sensual before the sexual. Become more aware of your body, what awakens parts of it, what feels good and what doesn’t, what helps you feel more appealing and confident, what opens your mind to physical intimacy with your husband.

Re-initiate sexual intimacy. It will take a little bit of time to get back into a groove, but you can totally do this. I’d suggest that you don’t worry about frequency so much right now, but just that first time, and then the next, and the next. It’s okay if those are once a week rather than more days than not. This is a season of your life with many demands. But if you start things back up, and then only have sex once a month, you’ll basically be re-initiating over and over and over. You need to have sex often enough for your bodies to acclimate and your comfort and confidence with each other to grow.

For the first time, plan for it. If you can find childcare so that the kids aren’t a potential interruption, go for it. If not, wait for a time when they’re very likely to be asleep. Schedule it for both of you, stating outright that this is something you’re both committed to doing. Yes, I know that can sound very unsexy, but isn’t that basically what we do with wedding nights? Just knowing you’re going to get it on doesn’t determine how all that happens — it just helps you both anticipate and prepare.

Determine to take it slow and rediscover one another. You did it once, you can do it again. Set the scene if you need to, and ask for what you need — whether that’s a body massage, more foreplay, or time to explore his body with your eyes and hands. Bring the lube in case you need it, because our mommy bodies don’t always produce all they need for sex to be comfortable — and that doesn’t mean you aren’t aroused or don’t want to engage. Be okay with things being awkward; they might be, or might not be. Just remember that you two are one flesh, and whatever happens, you get to do this again. And again and again.

I hope something in here helps! It’s a lot of information, but there was also a lot in the question. Wishing you all the best!

19 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Getting Back on Track with Sexual Intimacy”

  1. This was a good post for me to read today, because I was going to ask a question here. I’m not sure where else to ask it. As you know, I’m a woman, I am the much higher drive spouse in my marriage, and at times I really, really wonder…
    Does the low libido spouse even CARE? I mean, at all. Even a little bit? Do they even care one iota about the pain they are inflicting on their spouse? I’d really like to know.

    So this was kind of an encouraging read. Because even though the question asker is the wife, and low libido wives are far more common than low libido husbands, at least she seems to care. It’s encouraging to see someone reaching out for help and wanting to make things better for her marriage. Now if we could just get my husband to care as much as this wife does, that would help.

    I can’t show him this post because he gets mad that I read marriage blogs. He doesn’t really think anything is wrong. He thinks sex every ten days is more than enough (I’m convinced he usually does it to fulfill some “obligation”) and he doesn’t seem to understand why I feel so ugly and worthless and I don’t even think he feels pleased that I love and crave him so badly. (He actually accused me today of wanting boing but sex. That HURT – a LOT! His work stress is through the roof. I could understand that. But here’s the thing, it is always through the roof. Always, always. There is no end in sight, it doesn’t get better. It just gets worse. And there is never any of him left for me. Again, I could understand if this were a season, but when you’re married to a workaholic, it’s forever. It’s my life. I will never know what it’s like to be a loved and desired wife.

    I’ve stopped sleeping in our bed. He says this bothers him, but why? It’s not like anything is going to happen. I don’t think he understands the pain of having to lay close to the man you love and are wildly attracted to, knowing he does not return your feelings, and that lovemaking will more than likely not happen. I don’t even sleep that much anymore.

    So I applaud the question asked for reaching out and for wanting to make things better. She obviously loves her husband and I hope he realizes how blessed he is.

    1. @B – Caring is directly related to understanding. When I lost my father at age 24, my friends cared, but only as much as they could relate. After a about 2 months went by, none of them really wanted to talk about it anymore. That didn’t mean they didn’t care about me or the situation. It meant they didn’t understand because they couldn’t relate to it. None of them had lost a parent before, so they didn’t understand yet that there is time line to that type of intense grief. I suspect if they had, they wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss my need to talk about it. That, and the fact that we all process things differently.

      Your husband is sexually satisfied with sex every 10 days, so he doesn’t fully understand your desire and need for more. The sad fact is, he likely will never fully understand the hurt and rejection you feel. He may gain more understanding than he has currently, and helping him do that is your responsibility. But, unless he experienced the same type of rejection, he can’t relate totally to how this impacts you. And, even then, his experience with it will be different than yours. Thus, preventing true understanding.

      Here’s an analogy. If you and your husband woke up and had breakfast. Then later you had lunch. After breakfast and lunch, you are feeling stuffed. Your husband’s hunger is also satisfied after lunch. So you both go on about day feeling good. Then, a few hours after lunch your husband comes to you and says he’s starving and asks you to cook something for him. You are are still full from lunch. You’re thinking, “how on earth can he be hungry already, much less, starving? We had a huge breakfast and lunch. It’s just not possible for him to be THAT hungry.” So you tell him to wait and not eat too much of a snack because you’re planning to cook dinner in a few hours. So, now he’s very hurt that you didn’t care about his need to eat something more substantial now. Your response doesn’t mean you don’t care about his hunger. It means you don’t understand it enough to demonstrate caring at the level he needs.

      1. @K, thanks for your reply. It’s insightful, and an interesting way of looking at things.

        I think I need to start trying to understand how he sees things. Maybe he’s not totally repulsed by me or intentionally trying to hurt me. He’s a great husband and a nice guy, so all of that doesn’t really line up with what I look at as him punishing me for having a high sex drive by his holding out, or acting like it’s not important.

        I’m also working on trying to not compare our marriage to others, although it is SO HARD. It’s especially hard to read time and time again about the majority of husbands who love their wives so much and desire them so badly, when I know my husband doesn’t feel that way. I struggle with not comparing myself to these better wives, and it is very, very hard not to wonder what is so wrong with me.

        I also need to learn to focus more on his needs – which seem to be mostly work accolades and sleep, and focus much less on my own needs. I’ll get there, it’s just a long road.

        1. He might be low testosterone. That is known to affect male sex drives. You could feed him more Ginger(supposedly a natural supplement) in his diet or simply try and get him to get tested for it.

  2. “Talk to your doctor about your malaise and get assessed for hormonal deficiencies, depression, and other physiological causes of fatigue. (And if you doctor blows you off, push the issue.)”

    YES YES YES. Postpartum hormones can be crazy for YEARS, and a responsible doctor will NOT just say, “Oh, low sex drive is normal and fine, just learn to deal with it.” If you’re having trouble finding a doctor who will take you seriously, see if there’s a compounding pharmacy in your area that can point you in the direction of a doctor who can do a full hormone panel. You do not have to live with fatigue, depression, and no libido!

    1. Agreed! I got blown off by a doctor twice regarding an estrogen issue. And no one — no one — ever assessed me for postpartum depression, which I now believe I had. I definitely think we moms need to learn to push a bit if we’re feeling bad and we’re getting the “well, you don’t have as much sex as the kids” statement, when we know deep-down it’s more than that.

      1. “no one — no one — ever assessed me for postpartum depression”

        Good GRIEF! I’ve had friends who were basically hounded about PPD and others who were completely ignored. Seems like care in that area is just all over the map. So frustrating!

  3. I am also in the little years (7 yr old, 5 yr old, 2 yr old, and 7 weeks pregnant, so I definitely get the exhaustion. (Boy, do I ever.) After our second, I had severe PPD and we went for four or five months without having sex (not including the physical recovery time). After I recovered we made a plan to make sure that never happened again because it wrecked havoc on my marriage.

    To be honest, the best approach for me has been like Nike: “Just do it.” I don’t mean obligation sex. I just mean that I get started even though I don’t “feel like having sex,” because once we start my body catches up and I enjoy myself. If I waited until I felt in the mood, we would never have sex. I honestly mean never. I guess I frankly don’t understand what a libido even is, because I haven’t felt the urge for sex in years now. So I choose to just dive in and I actually look forward to diving in now, because I know I will enjoy it. My husband is high drive, so right now we have sex every three days.

    I was/am using a bioidentical progesterone cream and everyone told me that I would find my libido again, but I’ve been using it for 8 months and did not notice a difference there. But again, I guess I just think about sex differently now. We have it often and I enjoy it every time, so I chose to jump in trusting that my body will catch up, and my husband is patient with foreplay since he understands I am not like him and will never be ready to go at the drop of a hat.

    The other thing is that I’ve gotten creative. It doesn’t always have to be sex. I like to surprise my husband by jumping in the shower with him in the morning from time to time, and we do a lot of this during the postpartum period. It is a special time to be skin to skin and to talk and to kiss and usually a happy ending for him. Regardless of how it happens, we have chosen to make our sexually intimacy a top priority, and I am very happy about it!

  4. B, I am with you, only my wife has explicitly told me she doesn’t care and that I should just deal with it. And we averaged about 4-6 timea per year over about 20 years, and haven’t done it in almost 3 years because I gave up after she called me a pervert when I suggested that it was not inconceivable a man would want to make love to his wife once or twice a month. I was trying to get to just once a month

    I havent moved out of the bedroom yet but I am close. Our 25th is this summer and oir church celebrates marriages at 25 and 50 years publicly on sunday morning. I already told the pastor not to call us up. Damned if I will “celebrate” 3.5 years of no sex and a lifetime of little to none. If he does I told him I will walk out the door. It will be a big suprise to her as it is paramount that our marriage appear perfect to everyone else.

    When the youngest is gone, so am I.

    1. How you tried, genuinely tried, to find out why she is so resist? Does she have a bad history in this area? Like childhood molestation or even just bad teaching? She seems so walled-up, I wonder what’s going on there, and I wonder if you could be a safe place for her to finally open up and move past this damaging perspective she has. Because yeah, I agree with you that 4-6 times per year is painfully sparse lovemaking in a marriage.

      1. We’ve been to counseling 3 times and it has been brought up and she says no history of abuse. I think it is because of her upbringing. I’ve never seen her parents hold hands much less kiss or hug. They are cordial to each other and thats about it. Should’ve seen it coming.

        Funny thing is a few years ago her brother had an affair and got divorced because of it. Later on she found out he cheated because he had been in a completely sexless marriage. She then said to me, “See? You are lucky you get what you do.”

        I’m not a cruel person. Bur I want to say back to her, maybe you’re lucky that i haven’t cheated or divorced you yet.

        So very dipressing.

        1. Oh my. This is one of those cases where your wife seeking out a better way seems unlikely, at least for the time being — which is one of the reasons why I really think we need to be talking about this in churches! You’re missing out, she’s missing out, and God’s design for your marriage is getting ignored. We’ve got to do a better job of letting Christians know that marriage includes intimacy — of all kinds — and how much sexual intimacy can benefit their relationship.

          I’m just praying. For you to hang in there. For her to hear a different message. For God to act mightily. Blessings.

  5. Mrs J, thanks so much for sharing this!

    We have two little ones, toddler and infant, do I can really relate.
    With my first, I just thought it was normal to have a low drive, especially being on the mini pill. I know our relationship has suffered as a result, with porn and trust issues.
    I really want my relationship with my husband to be stronger. I have been praying for healing for both of us and we’ve been slowly getting “busy“ 🙂

    Thanks for acknowledging that it can be awkward, I’m still dealing with it especially when I’m not sure where my “sweet“ spots are.

    Again, thanks for the encouragement; like you said in a previous post, it takes as long as it take (my favourite post btw).

    Hugs and blessings

  6. I think that the lady wrote the question is a positive first step in making a change. Good job and good luck and blessings in figuring out how to make things work.

    The one issue I didn’t see addressed was the statement “However, my drive is still very low to non-existent. I did talk with my gynecologist, who told me it’s very common for women after they have children to not feel a strong sex drive.” The reason this bothered me is my wife talked to her gynecologist and that was the same message she received, so that became the excuse never to initiate sex or rarely act on my initiation because “I don’t feel in the mood”.
    If I told my doctor that “I really don’t like going to work” would they say, oh that is normal, only just do it when you are in the mood? NO, of course not.

    As a HDP man, the loss of the physical / sexual connection of my sexless marriage resulted in me feeling in the end that I just had a roommate. Eventually, the resentments, hurt, rejection was too much for us to recover and we divorced after 19 years. Everyone has a choice in a marriage, and from my experience with my wife she choose to be a perfectionist, help at school, help her friends, go to church groups, criticize how I did the dishes or laundry, etc. Did she ever spend time to choose me? To fill my needs for physical intimacy? No, she was to busy with other things.

    So our kids live in a broken home, she is angry / concerned over her financial future, etc., but it was a result of her choosing everyone else above me. So for all LDP out there, please understand that sex doesn’t make a marriage, but the total lack of fulfilling the HDP needs will result in resentment, pain, anger, hurt, and potentially blow your marriage apart.

    1. I quickly covered that point with “Talk to your doctor about your malaise and get assessed for hormonal deficiencies, depression, and other physiological causes of fatigue. (And if you doctor blows you off, push the issue.)” But in two posts I linked to, there’s more information about this issue of doctors responding very casually, problematically, to a lack of sex drive.

      As for your marriage blowing apart, I just don’t have enough information to comment on that really, except that I hope it wasn’t merely a lack of sex that ended it all. Because studies show that kids fare better in strained families than broken homes, as long as there isn’t ongoing conflict or abuse. Usually, however, a complete lack of sex is wrapped up in other issues as well. Regardless, I’m saddened by your story, that things couldn’t be worked out and your marriage saved. Blessings!

      1. Broken Hearted Jim

        Thanks for your clarification and sorry I missed the comments about the doctor.

        The reason for me choosing divorce is complicated and it was much more than the lack of sex and we worked with many therapist trying to resolve our conflicts / brokenness. However, if one party thinks they are perfect and is not willing to change and meet the other person’s needs, then eventually you have to say “no more” for your own sanity. People can blame my own insecurities, but the lack of physical intimacy in the marriage, especially considering she was so “available” to me (and many others) before marriage, became such a major stumbling block for me. It’s hard not to think “it must be all of my fault” or “I’m not good enough”, etc., etc. and that makes the rejections so much harder.

        Looking back, I don’t know why I allowed myself to be emotionally strip mined and sexually rejected for 19 years …….. Thanks for your blog as it is helping me gain a sliver of hope that loving sex in marriage doesn’t necessarily mean rejection, heartbreak, and lonely nights crying yourself to sleep.

        1. No need to apologize about the comments about the doctor. It was a point worth reiterating!

          And yes, usually a divorce happens for many reasons. I’m saddened things didn’t work out for your marriage. Many blessings!

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