The amazingly authentic and funny and profound Laura is back again today sharing insights on parenting and celebrating the spectacular part of God's design husbands and wives to connect on the deepest of levels.
Me: "I'm writing about sex for the blog this week."
Mark: "Oh, ok."
Mark: "You're writing about what, now?"
Me: "Sex. Like, sex after baby."
Mark: "Am I in it?"
Me: "Well, you're kind of my frame of reference here, sweetie."
Mark: "Oh, right" (Look of terror enters his eyes.)
It's times like this that Mark really wishes I'd drop the whole aspiring-writer thing and take up quilting.
Seriously, though, weird as it is to say, especially knowing that people who know us in face-to-face life and see us in places like CHURCH and THE GROCERY STORE will be reading this, I'm really happy with the sex life my husband and I have built together. I'm proud of my marriage in general, and of the amazing things God has done in our relationship over the years. But this is one particular area where I feel like we've worked hard, been blessed, and hit our stride. And as awkward as it can feel at first to bring up this topic for discussion, I'm actually a huge advocate for safe, appropriate places where discussions about sex can take place, especially in Christian circles. I firmly believe that God intended us to delight in every aspect of our marriages, and that sex is a gift that we should nurture, explore, have fun with, and pray over. And it's particularly crucial to keep the flame stoked as we move into parenthood, Having a baby truly does change everything, and sex is no exception. To open this discussion, I'll throw out a few things that I've found to be lifesavers as we've adjusted to an intimate relationship with a baby in the house.
This is one thing that Salt N Pepa got right. (I also still find myself whistling "Whatta Man" from time to time...but I digress.) Really - we need to talk about sex! It's often kept so hush-hush and secretive that it can begin to feel embarrassing to even speak about the subject aloud. Within a marriage, though, it's especially imperative that this aspect of the relationship is one where there is open communication, especially when you're adjusting to life as parents. There's really no reason that a conversation with your spouse about sex should be any more awkward than discussing where to have dinner on Friday night. What's working? What's not? Is anything getting in the way of your connection with each other? Mark and I have had as many communication struggles as any couple, but one thing I've been thankful for in the intimate area of our marriage is that we speak openly and often about it with each other. Because of these conversations we've been able to better understand each other's needs, rather than assuming that we know those things already...or expecting the other person to automatically be in tune with them. So if you're not talking with your husband about your sex life, I'd encourage you to push past the awkwardness that you may feel at first, and see what happens!
Of attitude, people. Flexibility of attitude. In the time before children enter the picture, it's easy to let visions of perfectly romantic moments and long, uninterrupted times behind the bedroom doors keep your expectations at idealistic levels. With a baby in the house, however, there are just bound to be bumps in the road. You will be interrupted at...um...inopportune times by an early awakening from a nap, or unexpected request for a nighttime feeding. You may have times when a planned rendezvous must be postponed slightly. And the best thing you can do? Just roll with it. It's easier said than done sometimes, particularly for someone like me, a perfectionist by nature who isn't always known for an easy-going attitude. But I realized one day that if I had two choices when dealing with these challenges. Either I could get huffy and frustrated when the unexpected happened, working myself right out of the mood and into a grumpy, gripey state of mind; deciding that it was pointless to try to enjoy any romantic time with Mark until we could leave the baby with a babysitter overnight someday. Or I could take a deep breath and we could chuckle about it together, allowing the anticipation of the continuation of our time together (whether it be minutes away or a few hours) become a fun part of the experience. What I found is that when we adopted a flexible attitude about our sex life, we began to enjoy it more...dare I say even more than before we had children! There was less pressure for a pre-planned, perfect experience and much more opportunity for delightfully spontaneous, unique encounters that were pretty perfect in themselves.
You probably already know this, but I'm going to reveal it as if it were a secret stroke of genius: There is no rule that says that sex must happen after dark...or in your bed. I know the whole "not tonight, dear" punchline of cartoon strips and TV sitcoms, where mom and dad fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day and are faced with the do-we-or-don't-we question, sort of give that impression. But it's not the case. In fact, if I'm being honest, the very end of the day is the very last time I really feel like putting any energy into an intimate moment with my husband. We've found that early evening is often our best time to focus on each other, where we can get the kids to sleep and then make our date time the focal point of our evening. Not that we have to take all evening – it's great to cuddle up on the couch afterwards and watch The Office or something. But that way we're giving our best time and attention to each other first. A spontaneous afternoon encounter can be fun too, or even an "Oh hi, here we both are behind closed doors getting dressed for the morning...hmmm..." In the new-baby stage, we've found that it's even more necessary to inject creativity into our sex life. Taking advantage of those precious few moments where the little one falls asleep in the swing, or finding another cozy nook of the house in the days when the bassinet occupies our bedroom. Thinking outside the box is a good thing!
While all three of these elements are helpful ones no matter which parenting style you follow, I believe they're particularly helpful if you've chosen to adopt a servanthood mindset as you care for your baby. Creativity is essential when choosing a season of co-sleeping, for instance. Flexibility is a lifesaver when dealing with night-waking or nap-waking struggles that make for more frequent interruptions. And communication covers it all, making certain that the connection is solid and circumventing possible misunderstandings or needs (of any kind) going unmet.
Look, new motherhood is exhausting. There are plenty of times when the last thing you feel like doing is giving your body or your kid-free time to someone else. But if we can start asking ourselves questions like, “When do I feel most energized?” “Am I giving my husband any of that time?” “What do I need to feel connected emotionally or physically?” and then talking with him about those things, we're not only serving our spouse...we're giving ourselves the gift of a sex life that can be lively instead of draining, fresh instead of mundane, and “let's enjoy each other” instead of “let's get it over with”. A healthy sex life can really carry over to other areas in the marriage.
My overall message in this topic is that while having a baby will most likely change a couple's sexual relationship, there's no reason for it to suffer. There are definitely steps you can take to preserve this valuable aspect of your marriage. And while some popular parenting views assert that a more responsive parenting style can invite doom into your sex life, I simply disagree! In fact, I believe that the extra attention and effort we've given to keep our intimate relationship on track has served it bring it to a point of deeper point of health and vitality than at any other point in our marriage. The key has been choosing – in good times and difficult ones – to keep it a priority.
And now, I'm off to run this post by my husband, whose eyes still have that slightly terrified look...
So, who is feeling brave this week? What can you add to this discussion on cultivating a vibrant sex life in the new baby season? Tips and tricks to offer new parents? Any husbands/fathers reading who have the courage to weigh in?
What works for you in this department and what does not?