It’s sad and shocking, but if we stop making love after we have kids, we will lose our partners.
I almost did.
After I had kids I went from a loving, blushing bride to a bitter—well, you can fill in the blank. I loved my little ones with all my heart, but something about their arrival negatively affected my partner’s and my relationship on a very deep level. If you had told me then that we’d embark on a slow drift away from each other, I’d have called you a bold-faced liar or dismissed you entirely. I never thought anything could possibly come between my lovely husband and me. Sure, I’d seen hints of it in my parents’ and my friends’ relationships. I’d noticed other couples struggling with fights, negativity and building resentments, but that was “them,” not me. I never expected to experience the same thing. I never fathomed my own sweet marriage would take a hit once our kids arrived on the scene.
Before children I was an adoring, loving, sensual, sexy-lingerie-wearing attentive wife. But once I had two kids under the age of four, I almost lost myself, my mate and my mind. As newlyweds, my husband and I were passionately in love. I was the kind of doting wife that had a three-course meal on the table and a bath waiting for my husband when he got home from work. I’d wear the “good bra” and see-through outfits. I was ready for sex anytime, anywhere, and I was so nice that when we ate I would even say things like, “Hey honey, would you like a bit more salt on that?” And sex every other day was normal for us.
But the insidious, emotional separation between two people can be invisible, smoke under the doors, until one day, all of the sudden, it’s not. Fast forward two short years to baby No. 1 of two:
After dealing with 199 days of our colicky baby crying for four straight hours a day and 180 days of sleep deprivation where I averaged three good hours a night, I changed beyond recognition. That once-adoring wife became Mrs. Bitter and Edgy. I began to snap at my husband nightly—he’d walk in the door after work and I’d say, “Take the baby now. Don’t talk to me, don’t even glance my way, and don’t touch me. Oh, if you’re hungry, go figure it out yourself. I need an hour alone. And don’t even think about sex.”
Things got worse for us quickly. It was like I was in my own nightmare created by the constant, never-ending demands of being a new mom. I couldn’t even recall the loving adoration I’d had for my husband on our wedding day; all I wanted was sleep and a shower. I started to care less and less about us. The baby was all that mattered—her survival and my sanity.
Desperate for help and knowing I was in serious trouble, I began to search for answers to this downward spiral. I began to seriously consult my spiritual leaders, friends, family and elders for support. I talked to the women in my life who had “survived” children and asked them what they did when they felt resentment toward their partners. I collected a series of ideas and solutions that I could slowly apply one by one to my life.
Doing these steps would be what ultimately saved my marriage, and these are the very steps, with the addition of what I added from my own trial and error, that I still take every day some 25 years later, still married to the same guy. Performing these “acts” in a regular, regimented way slowly started to revive, reinvigorate and restore my love for my partner. They got me to remember why and how much we loved each other, and the regularity kept that ideal close to our hearts and minds.
The underlying message I came to adopt was to make love and be loving toward my partner, who I was at risk of losing. I did this in a way that would fulfill each of our needs. Every time I felt resentful or complained about having to “work” for my marriage (and believe me I worked hard), whenever I felt stubborn and did not feel like dating my husband, complimenting him or being intimate when it felt unnatural, not to mention inconvenient, I had to ask myself a very tough question. And for those of you who may wonder why you have to be the one to take proactive steps for your own partnerships, I will ask you the same: Do you want to give in to your ego, be right and keep your pride, or do you want to be happy and stay married?
- Go on a weekly date with just your partner (no kids or “business talk” allowed).
- Follow the 15-minute rule: You must talk to your partner in person for 15 minutes every day. This time should be uninterrupted: no texting, no calls, and no kids. And the conversation cannot be about the kids or money. You each get 7.5 minutes. (If you are apart for any reason, chatting online with no kids nearby is acceptable.)
- Compliment your partner daily: Say something positive—it can be a simple thank you.
- Have a weekly sex date, even if you really, really don’t want to. Schedule it on your calendar and honor it.
- French kiss your mate weekly. (The kiss must last more than seven seconds.)
- Flash each other once a day, even for two seconds.
- Hug for more than 60 seconds daily.
- Offer a “sexual favor” or “trade” once a month. Each partner can pick what he or she wants.
- Dance together once a week—in the house, out of the house, in the garage—it doesn’t matter where. Just move together to music in a sensual way.
- Plan one 24-hour getaway from the house and the kids per year. If you can’t afford a hotel, plan camping or a house trade with a friend without kids.
I know these are strict and seem hard to do, but if you can do just one a week or pick up a few new habits, you will see growth in your relationship!
In a culture with a high divorce rate, it’s fascinating to me that millions of us spend so much time and money on our bodies, finances, crafting, home improvement and careers. But what about the loss of intimacy in one of the most important relationships in our lives? How much time and devotion are we willing to give to the person we fell in love with and then decided to raise a family with? Are we willing to work hard on this relationship? I can promise that if you do, it will pay off in years and years of loving results. And you get to stay together, too!
Leslie Kaplan, M.A., teaches English at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. She is a writer and co-author of Make Love Whenever Possible When Married with Children. She and her co-author, Peg Melnik, present Intimacy Boot Camps for moms all over the Bay Area. She got married in 1989 and is still madly in love with her husband, which she credits to putting her marriage first on the list of priorities.