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Getting your sex life back on track

If you're wondering whether you'll ever have your physical relationship with your partner back again then read on

Posted: 3 July 2008
by Maria Muennich

When you've had a baby it's natural that your sex life goes on hold for a while, paticularly while a woman recovers physically from birth and has her libido dampened by post-natal and breastfeeding-related hormone changes that can impact on your love life for months. But sooner or later you and your partner will get past the question of when to start having sex again and start wondering how on earth it will ever be possible to fit in an active love-life with raising a family, even when it's something that you're both theoretically interested in maintaining. The good news is that, even though it will be different, there's no real reason why you can't have a healthy and rewarding sex life with your partner once you have children. The less good news is that it'll probably be something you have to work at far harder than before those children came along.

For most parents the main obstacles to a regular sex life are the twin beasts of lack of time and physical exhaustion: Not only are the opportunities for physical intimacy now relatively rare, but when you do get the chance of an hour alone you're probably so tired that you just don't have the energy to have sex. Then, of course, all kinds of emotions have an effect on your interest in sex, and particularly your sexual interest in your partner.

Beating overtiredness
Let's start off by dealing with the tiredness aspect first. After all, it doesn't matter how interested you are in sex in theory, if you're simply too tired for it. Here are some ways you can claw some energy back:

  • Get more sleep - Easier said than done, we know, but avoiding sleep deprivation will improve every aspect of your life, not just your sex life, so it's well worth trying to prioritise it and giving yourself permission to rest. Of course there are times when caring for your children will disturb your sleep to a greater degree than normal, particularly in the first months of a new baby's life, during illness or teething, and so on, but this just means that you need to take every opportunity you have to rest. Try not to place unrealistic expectations on yourself and chase your tail trying to be the perfect everything. Is a bit of sleep more important than the ironing? More important than a spotless kitchen and an uncluttered living room? For most people the answer to this is yes. If you have the opportunity to spend more time with each other as a couple than usual, whether that's weekend or holiday, then make sure that you start off by getting some good sleep in, so you can better enjoy the rest of the time you have.

  • Relax! - Most people are far more likely to be open to the idea of sex with their partner if they take time out to relax, particularly before bedtime. Giving yourself time to wind down will also help distance you from daily worries and get you off to sleep better. Try different ways of relaxing: run yourself a bath for a reinvogorating soak, enjoy a glass of wine together (but don't overdo it or you'll end up depressing your libido), meditate, or do whatever works for you. Water therapy is excellent for relaxing and refreshing you - try both jumping in the shower quickly right before bed-time for a quick perk-me-up, you may find hidden reserves of energy when you then snuggle up together.

  • Spend time on yourself - Everyone needs a little time to do their own thing, and for mothers this can be even more important: Women often put all their energy into trying to be the best mother, wife and/or breadwinner, and neglect their own needs in the process. This not only leaves you feeling exhausted, but also probably rather dull and unsexy. If this sounds like you then take the time right now to sit down and work out how you can reclaim some time for yourself to do those things outside of the family that make you feel good and fulfilled. It may be exercise, spending time with friends, reading, joining a club or getting in a little personal grooming time, or a combination of all of these, but do make sure that you get your regular dose of 'me time'. It will help boost your energy levels, your confidence, your breadth of interests and your mood. And as a pleasant knock-on, it'll make you all the more attractive to your partner.

Recover romance
As a parent you're likely to need a little more help than most to take your mind off day-to-day responsibilities and worries and reconnect with your sexual self.

  • Arrange regular dates - You're more likely to be in the mood for sex if you've had some time together with each other first. Getting out of the house can make all the difference to the quality of this time, so you can put aside thoughts of the baby / children and mounting household chores and enjoy a little old-fashioned wooing. Do some of the things together that you used to enjoy before baby came alone, whether that's cinema, theatre, concerts, dining out or rock climbing. You'll need to find a babysitter who you trust completely, or all you'll do is sit there worrying about what's happening at home (you might do this anyway the first couple of times). Ask friends for recommendations or if you've got a family member who's happy to babysit then make the most of it. Setting up a regular evening babysitting slot can help make sure that you do actually make it out regularly, rather than just talking about it.

  • Avoid using your bed for discussing day-to-day concerns - As parents we all know what it's like to collapse into bed, exhausted, feeling as though you've barely spoken to each other all day and then to use the few minutes before falling asleep to discuss one or another family matter, or the course of the day. Doing this can mean that you associate your bedroom as a place to discuss serious issues or resolve conflicts, rather than a place where you relax and are sexually intimate. Of course it's vital that you do regularly talk about how your days have gone as well as important family concerns, but it's best to try to keep the talk in bed light and positive.

    It can help to get into the habit of making time to discuss things after the children are in bed but before you head off to the bedroom. Maybe leave some of those chores until the next day, or turn off the TV a few minutes earlier than you would otherwise and give each other your full attention for a daily catch-up.

    Once you are in your bedroom, try to keep the focus on each other, rather than your family. It can be really relaxing and rewarding to get into the habit of a pre-sleep cuddle together, and if that sometimes leads on to something else then who's complaining?

  • Be physically affectionate, every day - Your physical relationship is supported, nurtured and deepened by even the smallest shows of affection. If you are physically distant with each other on a day-to-day basis then you simply get out of the habit of enjoying each other's touch. And while a regular evening cuddle session is great, even simple, fleeting moments of touch can give you both a confidence boost and help keep you feeling sexy. Take the few moments to caress your partner's cheek, squeeze his hand or wrap your arms around him, suspending the bustle of daily life for just a few important moments.

Be emotionally intimate
Often there are emotional, as well as physical, back-drops to a lack of interest in sex and these can usually be solved through effective communication between you and your partner.

  • Set aside time to talk Talking to each other in snatches over filling drinks bottles in the morning is the way much of a couple's communication is often squeezed in, but you also need to set aside time, as regularly as possible, where you can properly discuss issues.

  • Be open It may be that one or both of you aren't happy with the current set-up or balance of family life. When your love life goes off the boil it can help to be open and honest with each other about your feelings about what's happening, as well as trying to address any issues that stand in the way of your love life: One person may feel they are carrying too much financial responsibility, or another may feel unhappy with the way chores are divided - it's very common, for example, for women to feel that they aren't being supported enough by their partner in completing household chores. "My husband seems to think that by going out to work full-time he's done his bit, regardless of what's left to do in the house" says Emily, mother of two, "he does change the odd nappy but I find myself doing almost everything else, as well as working part-time!"

    These kinds of resentments can really interfere with your love life, and left unaddressed they can really impact on a partnership, so rather than ignoring these feelings, make sure you talk them through, giving each other plenty of time to express yourselves.

  • Actively communicate - When you do have time to talk, and there are areas of disagreement, try to see things from each other's point of view by actively listening to each other - you may find that your partner isn't finding his own role so easy right now either.

Get a little privacy

  • Weekend away - Getting right away from the family can give you both the chance to focus on each other completely, as well as giving you total privacy for relaxed and even adventurous lovemaking. So when your children are old enough (probably sooner than you think), call up the grandparents or close family friends to see if they can take the children for a couple of days. A weekend retreat in a nice hotel is of course lovely, but even if you just have your own place to yourselves for the weekend you can manage to recharge your relationship's batteries.

    And even as little as a single day away from it all can help, so don't think you need to take a long weekend to see some benefits, regular brief escapes can be very effective.

  • Make knocking on doors a family habit - As your children get older you may find that one of the dampeners on your love life is the worry about being walked in on, which can definitely restrict your creativity and ability to abandon yourself to the moment. While the odd weekend retreat is very valuable and restorative, you can't really restrict your love life to places other than your home, so you're going to have to get over this fear somehow. A lock on your bedroom door is one way to make sure that you aren't physically disturbed, but you can also simply teach your children from an early age to knock on a door before entering, which is something they will need to learn sooner or later in any case.

Add some spice
It's particularly easy to get into a love-making rut when you have limited time and energy to think about it, and sex is slotted in whenever the opportunity arises, so here are some ideas for reintroducing a little excitement.

  • Try something new - If there's something you've always wanted to try, or something you know your partner is interested in trying then why not give it a go? There's no need to be particularly dramatic, even just taking the lead where you would usually follow can spark things up a little. Challenge each other to take it in turns to add a slight twist on proceedings.

  • Build up the momentum - Thinking about sex is almost a sure-fire way for putting you both in the mood for it, so allow yourself to daydream a little as you get the chores done, flirt with your partner by phone or text when he's not around, prepare your bedroom with a scented candle, some music or whatever else works for you, or maybe rent a film to watch together once the children are in bed.

  • Resurrect the quickie - Let's face it, as a parent you're going to have to exploit what opportunities you have and while it's no substitute for taking time for lovemaking with your partner, the odd quickie can be very exciting and is certainly better than nothing for keeping your lines of sexual communication open. The sense of naughtiness about a quickie is also great for reminding yourselves that you're people, as well as parents.

If sex really isn't on the menu for you right now, as happens for lots of women for months after birth, then it's still important to keep the flame of intimacy alive between you, so have a read of how you can stay close to each other without sex.

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