I recently interviewed Dr. Lily Zehner, a therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy and relationships, to ask about common issues that arise between parents. Dr. Zehner has a private practice in the Denver Metro area and can be found online at authenticintimacycenter.com.
What are common relationship issues for couples after a child is born? How can they prepare for them and then address them?
I think what is most common is the lack of time for one another. It may come out or look like other issues, but at the heart of the matter is that they miss each other. Certainly, this can be expected and understood – this baby depends on you for every need. However, the relationship also needs nurturing and time in order to thrive. Make time for one another just as much of a priority as caring for your kiddo. By doing this, your family will thrive.
If you’re an expectant parent, take this time to also prepare your relationship for the big transition. Often, all of the time and focus is given to preparing for the baby (picking out the safest car seat, the best stroller, etc) and yet there is minimal to zero time given to preparing the relationship for the arrival of baby. Begin to strategize now on how you’ll make time for one another. Start talking to family members about watching the baby or lining up babysitters. I also recommend reading, “And Baby Makes Three” by John & Julie Gottman and “Becoming Us” by Elly Taylor together.
If you’re a current parent, you can still make time for one another a priority, starting right now. Work as a team to plan for time away (setting up childcare, clearing time in the calendar, etc). If getting out of the house isn’t possible, plan a date at home; once the baby is asleep, do something that you both enjoy together.
What’s one of the most common intimacy issues you’ve seen while working with parents? What advice would you give to those dealing with this issue?
I would say it’s that things have changed. Let’s face it, a baby rocks your world and changes it in every way. The time you once had for sexy times is non-existent. You’re exhausted, and feeling sexy isn’t likely as common as it once was. Strategizing times for sex will help (e.g. during nap time); teaming up to take turns so you each can get sleep will help with exhaustion; and taking care of yourself by moving your body and eating foods that feel good in your body will help with feeling sexy again.
More importantly, mama’s body will go through many changes hormonally and physically before, during and after pregnancy. This will impact their sexuality, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. This is not to be dismissed or minimized. Plus, dads go through their own emotional and physical changes. With this in mind, I strongly encourage partners to take this time as an opportunity to re-explore their bodies in their own time as well as together, once everyone is ready. Also, take the time to emotionally connect with your sweetie, with what I call “Non-Sex Sex.”
What happens with mom after a birth in the family? What can dad expect and how should he be thinking about or approach the topic of sex?
Mama is going to go through so many changes in delivery and after. Recovery and rest will be essential in the days and weeks to follow for mental and physical health. Each mama is different in their needs for recovery, yet sex is off the table for at least 6 weeks. Even if the Doctor clears mama for sex, this doesn’t mean she is emotionally and physically ready for it.
Patience and compassion from each other is going to be helpful during this time. Communication will be the first step in reintroducing any kind of sex; are you ready, is your partner ready? Start slow and gradually build up to sex. Begin with increasing affection such as hand holding and hugs. Kiss often and slowly. Give each other skin to skin contact with the intention of feeling each other’s warm bodies. From there, communicate what feels right and ok to reintroduce sexually.
What advice would you give to a dad that feels like his wife is not interested in or enthusiastic about having sex (or vice versa)?
Communication is at the core of a satisfying and enriching sex life with others. If dad or mama is feeling like their partner isn’t interested or enthusiastic about having sex, I would encourage them to gently bring it up. Come from a place of love and concern. Express what is beneath the need for sex, that you miss that form of connection. Be open to listening to your partner and what they may be feeling and needing. Honesty and vulnerability allows for true intimacy, both emotional and physical.
In many families, one parent works while the other stays home with the kids. This dynamic can sometimes cause stress on a relationship as each parent has expectations of what the other should be doing. What advice would you give to a family in this situation?
Again, communication is imperative. When we have expectations of partners and don’t express them, we set ourselves and our partners up for failure. So how can you be successful? Communicate your expectations and needs. By doing so, needs and expectations can be known and negotiated (REMINDER: no one is a mind reader).
I would suggest scheduling a time to have an in-depth discussion where you both can give your full attention. Be sure to take time to get clear on your needs and expectations in preparation. Also, be gentle and clear in sharing your needs/expectations, for example: “I need help with keeping the sink clean for washing bottles. It would be helpful if you could put your dishes in the dishwasher immediately after you rinse them.”
If you enjoyed this interview, learn more from Dr. Zehner by reading her e-book on emotional connection, or “Non-Sex Sex.”