The Effects of Infants on Intimacy
How does intimacy and connection survive in a post-apocalyptic-parenthood?
There are entire aisles at bookstores devoted to child rearing manuals, Dos and Dont’s of parenting and what to expect before that little nugget even shows up. Most everyone with kids has short quips of advice, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” or “Enjoy peeing by yourself while you can!” Where’s the fortune cookie snippet about how intimacy and relationships are to survive?
While some of these parenting encyclopedias and accolades may provide valuable insight – they often leave one big section out – the effects of infants on intimacy.
Where are the stacks of books on what having a child does to your sex life? Or how marriage changes after kids and car seats?
This topic came up between my husband and I one afternoon at a rare moment in our day – both kids napping at the same time. We both agreed a conversation about how a couples’ intimacy and connection is effected after babies is almost taboo in some circles. So, we decided to pay homage to our rocky incredible hot mess express journey of parenting outside on the patio as our kids slept. After it was over we felt it was a good idea to put it out there. Not only to let other couples know they weren’t alone, but to honor what we had been through. Without us, there wouldn’t be a them.
Once you become a parent, you are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There’s no paid time off or sick leave either. You also don’t grow extra arms and hands to better handle the multi-tasking that a baby demands. You’re tired 24/7. Parenting requires you to be ON all daylong, which leaves very little room to wind down with your partner. Date nights now require extensive planning and prep. Intimacy that popped up organically, sporadically may need to be scheduled – how romantic!
Having a child requires such a large amount of energy, focus and attention – inevitably other things get left in the dust- in a good way! There isn’t time for perseverating on the way your wife smacks her lips after taking a sip or the way your husband always leaves all the kitchen cabinet doors open. Not because it doesn’t bother you, but because you just don’t have time to focus on it, and you eventually let it go. Not having time to sweat the small stuff was a great thing for our relationship. It also allowed each other’s strengths to shine through because we weren’t busy looking at what the other person wasn’t doing. Dare I say there were even times where it made us more attracted to each other?! (On the days we showered and wore real clothes).
Were You Talking to Me or the Baby?
Adding a third little person to the mix did two major things. One, it created a love inside each of us for a total stranger we never knew we had. It’s true when other parents say, you can’t describe that kind of love until you go through it yourself. Secondly, it created a space between me and my partner that made it seem like we were starting from scratch some days. We no longer could assume what the other person was thinking or feeling, read their cues, or anticipate their needs. In the early stages of becoming a parent there is such a drastic focus change I literally remember turning to my husband after he spoke to me and asked, “Are you talking to me or the baby?” If we wanted to keep our connection and intimacy we had to cut to the chase and verbalize our needs. No more, “I don’t care, what do you think we should eat for dinner?” Being heard and feeling validated was the new sexy – and we both needed to feel seen in a world where everything initially focused on our little one.
This was a no brainer when we look back at the beginning of our parenting journey. When our daughter was 4 months old we went to couples’ therapy. Our relationship, sex life, communication – all needed help. Having a third person translate the misconceptions, assumptions and validate the monumental transition we had just endured not just as a couple but as individuals, was invaluable. Almost 4 years and one additional child later, we are still utilizing tools and interventions our couples’ therapist taught us. He helped us create space for each other again. Desire and play were added back in to the mix (with effort and planning at times). He helped remind us how important it was to set boundaries with all the other moving parts in our lives so we could protect and nurture what got us our kiddos- us.
“Relationships…they are your story. Write well. Edit Often.”