Rekindling The Flame
...when life gets in the way
Date nights are great.
They can remind you of why you fell in love way back in the beginning, but not if you just sit there staring at each other, or worse still, anxiously waiting for terror to strike in the form of a text from your babysitter.
The thing about date nights is, it’s not the date that creates the fun, it’s the connection.
If date nights are dull or you’ve been struggling to maintain intimacy since having children, try these suggestions to stay close to your partner even through testing times.
Dating requires effort
Waiting for the perfect time to start date nights is a waste of precious time. Couples with kids always tell me how busy and overstretched they are. I hear you. This is the world we live in. That said, this is the life we have and it’s our job to nourish and nurture it.
The temptation is to put it off until things ‘calm down’. The truth is, while you have small kids, things will not calm down. They will be full-on and it’s on you to create opportunities to connect. They will not create themselves. Waiting until your ‘body is back’ or you're ‘less tired’ may never happen. While sleep deprivation is a major stressor, so too is your relationship falling apart. Sometimes we have to choose between equally complicated options as our only options. The unfortunate reality is, the longer you put it off, the harder it is to get back in the saddle.
This is also true for people without children. Feeling awkward about sex just breeds more awkwardness. The good news is feeling awkward is not fatal. It’s just – well, awkward.
The thing about relationships is, they are alive. They are living, breathing things, that like all living breathing things, require nourishment. If you had a neglected pet, plant or child, you wouldn’t expect them to survive. Yet we do not offer our relationships the same lifelines we offer our pets or children. Without sustenance and care, everything will perish. It’s our job to make sure this doesn’t happen in our relationships too.
Take It Easy
After giving birth, you may need more time than doctors recommend to get back into sexual activity. This is because doctors are trained in medicine, not pleasure – so their lens of what’s appropriate may be quite different than what your body is experiencing.
You may have a whole new relationship with your body. Your body image. Your libido. If your sleep deprivation is chronic, it’s easy to forget that it’s not just you and the new-born. You are a trio at least, if not more. Trying to establish solid sleeping patterns is helpful, and if that’s just not possible, work with your partner to find a middle ground. Negotiate time management to make sleep a priority, with a view to making sex a priority too.
Getting back together sexually may not look exactly as it did before, at least for some time. It may not be intense genital stimulation, but rather kissing, stroking and skin-to-skin contact as a way of maintaining sensual connection. Learning how your body functions erotically in this new context of parenthood is crucial, especially if you are a birth-parent.
Self Care For The Win
Part of taking care of the relationship, means taking care of yourself, recognizing what you need and asking for it where you can.
If your partner’s requests to reconnect sexually feels invasive, it may indicate you’re not feeling nourished enough within yourself to nourish the relationship.
Consider what you need instead of shutting them out. Reflect on what they can offer you to create a container for you to feel connected again. Knowing what you need or want is a crucial part of being a good partner. Maybe you need time alone, or you need for them to take the other kids out so you can be with the baby, maybe you need a massage, or just a really good sleep. Even if you don’t know for sure, go with your first instinct. It’s usually right. Don’t leave your partner to guess on their own. None of us are mind readers – especially when we’re stressed out and lonely. Speaking up gives them a better opportunity to offer you what you need, to in turn help you offer more to the relationship.
If you need to spend time together – engaging the wider family network is a great way to prioritize your relationship too. Sometimes the burden of just two is too great for a relationship to sustain. Intimacy can be a family-managed and community-managed project too.
It’s not a failure to seek help outside the couple, in fact, it’s essential.
At no other time in human history have we lived such domestically disconnected lives from other people and families. We are not designed to live the way we do now and our relationships bear the brunt of this isolation.
What Does Your Relationship Need To Feel Nourished?
Take the time to think about the things you do (or did) that make you feel close. In other words, what activities nourish your relationship?
It may be simple things like making coffee for each other in the morning, or Friday night Netflix and chill, or the evening recap of the day’s shenanigans. If these rituals stop abruptly, you’ll feel the difference. Such change can be jarring.
Reconnection activities needn’t be grand, but they should be meaningful. If you used to enjoy snuggling in bed, but now there’s a child in the middle, it’s OK to move the kid, or move yourselves. You’re adults. You’re allowed adult time to connect. Adult privilege is a thing. Use it. After all, you’re the role models your children absorb for a healthy relationship template. Setting healthy boundaries means modelling and honoring them for yourselves too.
Remember What Makes Sex Great...
When sex drops off it can be easy to forget why you even enjoyed it in the first place. Take the time to recall what you used to enjoy. Talk about it.
Finding ‘the mood’ for sex can be hard when it’s actually the last thing on your mind. The truth is, being ‘in the mood’ for sex for most of us is BS anyhow. One of the shortcomings of the poor sex education we’ve all had, is we believe that sex is both natural and spontaneous. It’s really not – not for most of us and certainly not very often. What once may have felt spontaneous, was very likely what happened after a series of dates, flirty set ups and an anticipated session in the sack together. Hardly spontaneous after that much build-up. And as for natural, did you know what you were doing the first 20 times you had sex? Or were you just fumbling through? The truth is sex is a craft to be learned, just like sewing or painting.
While some of us experience spontaneous desire some of the time, the vast majority of us experience responsive desire. This kind of desire comes alive when a certain set of conditions have been met to allow the mood to flourish. Feeling relaxed, receiving the right kind of touch like caressing, massage, or kissing are things that may stimulate responsive desire. Many of us intuitively know how this works. Dates are a technique used to initiate responsive desire too, as the date itself sets up a container for partners to have time to connect and feel each others’ presence. Responsive desire is not based in lust so much as it’s based allowing the mind, the body and the heart to reconnect. For some people it can happen quickly, others take more time. Don’t think lust and ‘the mood’ alone are the core drivers of desire. In fact, such beliefs are often the cornerstone of disconnection between couples.
When we first got together relating seemed effortless. It’s easy to think that when we are with the right person, everything just falls into place. But in the beginning we spent a lot of time planning dates and scheduling time for sex and adventures. We miss this as we settle into domestic life.
Remembering how you used to initiate sex is really helpful
Even if you live together, sending flirty texts is a great way to start building erotic tension and moving toward making time for sex. In much the same way we schedule exercise or time with friends / family, we need to make sure we prioritize time with each other. The thing about sex is the more you have, the more you have.
Consider Getting Help
I feel like I scream this from the rooftops all the time – and here I go again.
There is no shame in getting guidance when it comes to sex, love and relationships. They are really, really tricky things to navigate alone, and even harder when you’re sleep deprived, stressed out and anxious. If your phone wasn’t working you’d get it attended to, but most of us seem to take better care of our phones than our relationships. This is quite literally, insane.
Not all therapists are skilled in sex so make sure the one you choose, is. Research them and find out what they know. (Or come to me – you already know I am all over that!) While working on intimacy is important, it’s quite different to sex therapy and most couples’ therapists are not good sex therapists. Check their philosophy and training to be sure your chosen practitioner is actually knowledgeable in working with sex and not just relationships.
If your budget means therapy is out of the question, online courses really help. No matter what steps you take to rebuild a connection with each other, do not let the relationship flounder. As soon as there’s a hint of trouble, get on it. Learn more about rekindling desire in my online course The Desire Series.
I can tell you with my 15+ years experience that couples who thrive are the couples who work on their relationship quickly and consistently. Those who put it off or wait for it to repair itself are the ones in grave danger. You feed your kids. So feed your relationship. It’s that simple.