Clinical psychologist Dr. Shoshana Bennett explains what happens to passion after baby makes three, and what you can do to revive sexual passion.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges to passion when a baby arrives?
A: There are a number of potential challenges to passion when a baby enters the scene. Here are just a few in no particular order:
1. Sleep deprivation can drain both energy and enthusiasm. Even with the best of intentions, if the couple is exhausted by evening, chances are slim that they’ll have anything left for each other.
2. Moms (especially those staying at home) frequently report feeling “all touched out” by the end of the day. With a baby sucking a body part, and older children hanging on her leg, sitting on her lap, asking to be picked up and so on, the last thing she desires is more touching.
3. Mom may be struggling with a new body image and not feeling like her sexy pre-pregnancy self. In addition, she or her partner may be worrying about whether her body will respond the way it used to during sex.
4. Fear of getting pregnant can be a passion squasher.
5. Physical discomfort from stitches, rips or sore nipples may take a few weeks or longer to heal.
6. Any big stress, such as finances, can impede passion.
7. Hormone shifts in the new mom can lower her libido.
8. Adjusting to new roles as parents is major. Often a partner, usually the mom, has difficulty switching hats from mom to lover – especially if the baby is sleeping in the master bedroom.
9. There’s a myth that all the attention should be lavished on the baby and that the infant should always come first. The truth is, it’s healthy for the couple to take a few seconds to connect (with a wonderful kiss, perhaps) before picking up their fussing baby. In the end, the child will benefit greatly having parents who love one another.
10. If one views spending time with his or her partner as a chore, it will nix passion. Unfortunately when there are many items on the “to-do” list, spending romantic time with your partner can be regarded as just one more thing to do – instead of looking forward to it.
Q: How do men and women experience those challenges differently?
A: In general, men look forward to reconnecting as a couple as quickly as possible with dates, sex, and usual activities with friends. Even wonderful husbands can sometimes find themselves being impatient or frustrated, not understanding that the initial adjustment to motherhood can take time. Men traditionally feel the increased responsibility of providing financially for their families when a baby arrives, and this concern often keeps them at work longer. Women often feel guilty because they don’t have the emotional and physical energy for their men as they did previously, but they aren’t sure how to remedy this. It’s common for moms to place their own needs and the couple’s needs last on the list (if they’re on the list at all) since the baby’s requirements seem to take over. When the vacuuming, bottles and child are all screaming for attention, so to speak, those are the tasks that tend to get recognized. Women want the same closeness their husbands do and often grieve the loss of the romantic relationship that was present before the baby arrived. They simply feel powerless and overwhelmed when trying to harmonize all their roles and responsibilities.
Q: Do you have to readjust your idea of passion after a baby arrives?
A: No. Your idea of passion and the ways you demonstrate it can remain the same. What needs to be readjusted is the time factor. Couples need to schedule time together, since spontaneous couple time when a baby is present is difficult to impossible. Scheduled time can be just as fun and interesting as the spontaneous kind – sometimes even better! Love notes in the car, phone calls and text messages letting your partner know how much you’re looking forward to your time together can build up anticipation and excitement. Whether there’s a baby or not, individuals have different concepts about how passion can be expressed, so remember that you can show strong feelings of love and caring in many ways – not just sexually.
Q: Why is it important to keep passion alive in a marriage?
A: The most important relationship in the family is the couple relationship. After all, the baby is here as a result of that love. Parents are people too, and people want and deserve to be happy. In addition, the couple relationship must be nurtured in order to keep a solid foundation for the baby. Children brought up in a family where mom and dad are happy together feel secure. When passion dwindles, happiness dwindles. Not that couples need to be swinging from the chandelier every night in sexual rapture, but sincere interest and strong love for each other need to be communicated verbally and behaviorally (optimally both).
Q: Do you have any practical tips for reigniting or maintaining passion after baby makes three?
A: Be creative with this one! Here are a few suggestions for getting you started:
1. Never assume your partner feels appreciated as your lover – say it and show it! She is more than the mother of his baby and he is more than the father of hers – they are lovers and need to feel adored as such. Couples who express, “I miss you and I’m looking forward to spending time with you,” typically have the most passionate relationships.
2. A few hours of uninterrupted sleep per night (yes, even breastfeeding mothers can achieve this with planning) is necessary for keeping brain chemistry and moods even.
3. Dates should occur at least every other week with ground rules such as no talking about the baby and change into something special before going out. Dates are for reconnecting as partners – not for discussing childrearing or any other daily issue! Only flirting and light, fun talk is allowed!
4. A sense of humor and laughing together is essential for reigniting and maintaining passion. Catching your partner in the hallway as you’re each heading for a baby or house task and saying things like, “I love you. I’m so glad we’re doing this together – this is tough stuff!” can go a long way.
5. Real kisses and hugs – not just little pecks on the lips or pats on the back – can also make the difference between an OK relationship and a juicy one.
6. A weekend without the baby or even one night away every month or so can do wonders.
7. Making sure the division of labor feels right with house and baby (day and night care) will help eliminate resentment (another passion squelcher).
8. Excellent nutrition and exercise can boost one’s physical and mental health, both important for libido and self esteem.
9. Make sure each of you has some “me” time to nurture yourselves separately on a regular basis each week. For a passionate couple it takes two nurtured individuals!
10. Love notes, text messages and phone calls such, “Meet you tonight 9pm – no clothing necessary,” or “Baby at sitter tomorrow morning. Wanna’ play?,” or “I miss you! Can’t wait til you come home!” will start sparks flying.
Written by Sarah Treleaven