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Trevor Hanson is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist practicing under the supervision of Dr. Christine Holding. Follow @theartofhealingbytrevor for tips and tricks on creating thriving relationships.
Becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences in life, but it can also be one of the most challenging. As you navigate the joys and struggles of raising a child, it's important to remember that your relationship with your partner is just as important as your relationship with your new baby. If you feel like your new little family member is throwing off your intimacy game, you’re not alone! It can feel like this new addition to the family is sucking the life out of romance and intimacy, but it doesn't have to be that way!
Can I challenge your thinking a bit? What if intimacy didn’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of postpartum duties and chaos? What if intimacy didn’t die but simply looked different? Well, I've got news for you. It will look different because it is different and the key to learning how to deal with “different” is first learning how to accept that fact. Wondering how to best keep intimacy alive after adding a new family member to the mix? Keep reading for three helpful tips.
Imagine you wake up and all your muscles are sore and you have no idea why. To make it worse, imagine you’ve never had sore muscles before! How do you think you would feel? Maybe you would be scared because you don’t know what this pain means for your health. Maybe you would be confused because you have never felt this way before.
What would change if all of a sudden you remembered that you completed a hard workout the day before? You remember that muscles get sore! How would your feelings about the pain change? You might feel the pain and get a sense of accomplishment. You might feel proud of yourself. You might even be happy because you know that the pain is an indication that you are growing in meaningful ways.
In this example, the pain didn’t change; it remained exactly the same. But your relationship with the pain changed and so did your feelings. Your emotions did a full 180 from scared to proud. From confused to happy.
Your feelings around postpartum intimacy can also do a 180 as you learn to accept that it will simply be different. Not worse or bad, just different. It's different and that’s okay. It might even be more than just “okay.” It can be exciting as you get to explore new ways of building intimacy with your partner.
Let’s face it. Having a new little one limits the time you get to spend with each other. Changing diapers, rocking babies, and trying to figure out how to collapse the undefeated and non collapsible stroller all take time! They take the time that previously could have been spent on dates or simply relaxing together cuddled up under a blanket as you force your man to watch the new season of “The Bachelor” (I have been that man).
So at this point, we can agree that time is not on your side as a new parent. If you measure intimacy as being equal to time spent together, you’re going to be disappointed. I suggest changing your view of intimacy to one that is less focused on time and more focused on connection.
Connection is that bond between the two of you that makes you feel loved, seen, and safe. Connection can happen by intentionally asking those meaningful questions that cause you and your partner to pause and think about how amazing it is that you created a life together. It can be created by holding your partner in your arms as they hold your new baby in theirs. Connection can even be built as you work together to change that diaper that would shock even the most seasoned crime scene detectives. You can create these moments by intentionally making them happen. You can also simply notice these moments as they happen naturally while mentally turning up the volume on connection through gratitude and focusing on them with loving intention.
It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you can’t connect with your partner as you did before the baby came along. It's easy to feel the anxiety to perform when things start to get sexual. You can easily walk away from a sexual moment with your person feeling like you aren’t good enough or like you’re a disappointment. Sex is not going to work as it did before the baby, at least not for some time. As sweet as they are, your little bundle of joy came into this world like a wrecking ball and your body paid the price. It will take time to heal. It might be a while before you are “in the mood.”
This is all normal. This is also why I suggest setting expectations together about sex. You need to talk about it explicitly. Setting the expectation that there are no expectations with your partner can help relieve performance anxiety. When the only goal is connection—not orgasm, penetration, or anything at all—the anxiety to perform and the fear of not being good enough begins to soften.
Setting expectations for what sex looks like also helps you and your partner to avoid that silent and awkward “so are we gonna do it?” dance. Talk with your partner about how the two of you still can be sexually connected. Clue them in on the changes that have happened to your body if they don’t already know. Your body will heal and your baby will develop. These changes will also bring changes to your sex life. Keep checking in and have these conversations about expectations over and over again.
Remember my friend, it’s okay to take time to work on your intimacy. It’s not just okay but it's critical that you do. You and your partner are the foundational pillars for your new baby's development. Your relationship with each other can set the stage for their future psychological, social, and emotional development.
Take in a deep breath, accept that things are a bit different now, focus on connection, communicate expectations, and have some fun. There will potentially be a day when you look back on this time in your relationship with tenderness and gratitude. The hard memories often hold the most lessons, purpose, and meaning. You get to live those days together today! That sounds pretty intimate to me.