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.Ever 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!