A few weeks ago a friend from college was staying at my house for the weekend. She watched my husband and me as we went about our daily tasks in caring for our one year old daughter. We prepared meals, changed diapers, did laundry, played and laughed, cleaned up from dinner, and finally it was bath time to end the night. By this point, we’ve choreographed a well timed dance to accomplish our chores. We do it without even thinking. My friend watched us during bath time, and remarked “wow, this is the most efficient bath I’ve seen in my life!” She also shared that she’s never seen us so happy.
Many people believe that having a baby kills a couple’s intimacy, and the truth is that can happen very easily. When you have a baby, that baby’s needs become the center of your attention. It is difficult to be emotionally available to your partner. One parent tends to put all of their focus on the child, leaving zero resources for themselves or their partner. Both parents become wrapped up in getting the everyday jobs completed out of necessity. I haven’t heard too many people say “I LOVE doing the dishes, it’s so romantic.” But why can’t it be?
Intimacy can be described as closeness. There are opportunities all around you to become closer to your partner. It’s in the process of fulfilling those daily responsibilities, in how you work together, in the way you share about your day, and how you say goodnight. And what’s more, research shows that sexual intimacy arises from emotional intimacy. Couples that can find ways to connect to each other in the midst of chaotic schedules experience more intimacy and relationship satisfaction.
Why is this important? We know that conflict drastically increases for 92% of couples in the first year after having a baby, and relationship satisfaction decreases for the first three years for 67% of couples. Distress in new parents has negative consequences for the baby (more on this in a future post), including impeding emotional and physical development, physiological responses (a baby’s blood pressure actually increases when listening to parents argue), and hinders their ability to self regulate and stay calm. Increasing intimacy is a great way to combat conflict. One of the best things you can do for your baby is having a happy strong relationship.
Here’s 5 simple, quick, and easy to implement ways to increase your intimacy after baby:
1. Say Thank You:
Do you remember to tell your partner “thank you” for all the small things they do for you? When you’re focused on trying to get everything done, you probably forget all about doing this. It may seem meaningless, but at their core everyone wants to feel appreciated. That’s what saying thank you is, expressing your appreciation that someone else has done something to help you, to make things easier, to take care of you. After baby’s arrival, both parents are doing more work than before, but both partners feel underappreciated. The next time you find your partner folding the laundry, tell her/him “thank you.”
2. Set Aside Time to Talk to Your Partner:
Remember that part about connecting and closeness? Building intimacy requires talking to your partner. It can be as simple as telling the other person about your day. Oftentimes (but not every time) those surface level conversations will turn into deep discussions about your vision for your family, dreams for the future, and reveal your most guarded emotions. Schedule 20 minutes a day of uninterrupted conversation with your partner.
3. Be Present with Your Partner:
Lack of engagement gets in the way of emotional and physical intimacy. When your mind is wandering off thinking about your mile long to do list or how you “should” be doing this or that better (see post 4 Reasons Why "Shoulding" Yourself Isn't Helping You Be a Better Parent), you’re not really increasing your intimacy. As you notice yourself thinking about something else, come back into the present and listen to what your partner has to say. Repeat what they said back so that they know you understood them. Couples will tell you that the time they have to spend together after baby is scarce and sacred; it would be a shame to miss it.
4. Express your Desire for Your Partner:
Sexual desire and engagement changes for the majority of couples after having a baby. Research indicates there are some gender differences. For example, men often want to have sex more frequently than women. Women typically want more of an emotional connection than men. This isn’t always the case, but generally speaking women’s libido takes a plummet in the first year of their baby’s life. Couples that are satisfied with their sex life after baby are couples that show their desire for their partner in a variety of ways. Surprisingly men enjoy having their wives look at them in ways that convey their attractiveness, and can go longer without engaging physically if he simply feels desired and wanted.
5. Nonsexual Touch:
Everyone, women and men, need affection that does not involve sex. Touch helps us to feel more emotionally vulnerable, more desired, more comforted, and needed. Holding hands, a hug, or an affectionate embrace helps us to feel safe and connected. It also communicates that our partners are thinking about us and reaching out to be more intimate. It only takes a few seconds to touch our partner, and the benefits can be truly amazing.
You may have expected this post to be more about sex, and if so you’re probably disappointed. As mentioned earlier, emotional intimacy leads to sexual intimacy. These are easy strategies that don’t take a lot of time and you can start doing immediately. Stay tuned for the next post of my “Us plus One” series for strategies on increasing sexual intimacy after baby. Oh, and P.S., Couples and Relationship Expert John Gottman writes “all positive interactions are foreplay,” so start getting positive with your partner.
I am dedicated to helping couples entering parenthood feel confident, connected, and prepared to grow their relationship into a family that thrives. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. If you are looking to strengthen your relationship, increase emotional and/or sexual intimacy, or ease the process of becoming a parent, please call me at (832) 827-3288 for your free phone consultation or to schedule an appointment. I would love to be part of your journey.