Same Story, Different Planets
Meet Janet and Kevin, parents of three young children. Janet stays home with the kids. Kevin’s job requires him to travel a few times a month. Here’s how they both described a recent evening at home:
Kevin: “I was thinking about Janet on the flight home. I’ve been traveling a lot lately and we haven’t seen much of each other. And, of course, I’m wondering if she’ll be in the mood later on—after all, it’s been eight days, five hours, and twenty-eight minutes since we last had sex. When I got home, she gave me a big hug so I started feeling optimistic. But I hadn’t even gotten my tie off when she starts laying into me with my ‘assignments:’ ‘Can you get the kids bathed? Did you remember to call the bank? Did you pick up the dry cleaning?’ She didn’t even give me time to breathe. Who needs that crap? I should’ve flown directly on to Phoenix instead of coming home.”
Janet: “I was so glad when Kevin got home. Finally, some relief! I thought that after he got the kids to bed we could sit down with a glass of wine. But what does he do? He rolls his eyes at me. I just needed some help. You’d think I’d asked him to rewire the house. And it’s not like I went and put my feet up—I was cleaning up the kitchen and doing yet another load of laundry.”
Kevin: “So I’m waiting there in bed. I was really glad to see her, you know? It’s like ‘Ah! My woman is here.’ I’m imagining the stress of this crappy day on an airplane melting away as I reach over to touch her.”
Janet: “Joey wet his new big boy underpants as soon as I got him into bed and the baby vomited on me—yet again—after his bedtime bottle. After cleaning up all that crap, I didn’t even have the energy to change my puke-stained shirt. As I was finally sinking into bed, my radar went off. Kevin had that look in his eye and “it” started inching over from his side of the bed . . . the paw! Here comes the Ten O’Clock Shoulder Tap (which might as well be accompanied by the Jaws theme).
At that moment, here’s what ran through my head: ‘Does he think that’s a turn-on? He does jack squat to help me out, then expects me to take care of him? We hadn’t even had a conversation! What am I, a 7-Eleven? Open for business at his convenience? But if I say no, he’ll get all bitchy. Maybe I could just lie here for five minutes, but God, I don’t have another ounce of energy. Is that spit-up in my hair?’ ”
Kevin: “Well, what do you know? Bam! She lowers the boom right on my head. Second time in a week. I’m just this robot working stiff to her. She never wants to do it. I’m sick of this. I feel like I have a roommate, not a wife. What am I supposed to do? Rent Spank-a-Vision in my hotel room?”
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there.
How many times have you asked yourself, “How did this happen?” Sex used to be so natural and mutually satisfying. Why is it suddenly, now that there are babies in the house, a flashpoint for conflict and stress?
No one talks about this, but everyone goes through it: most -couples experience a radical decline in the frequency and quality of their sex life during these early childhood years. THIS IS NORMAL. The problem is, where there is no sex, or where there is sex that is desperately asked for and grudgingly given, a marriage is reduced to a soulless domestic partnership. Without it, we can feel, as Ethan Hawke says in the movie Before Sunset, “like we are running a small nursery with someone we used to date.”
Why Does This Happen? Blame It on Biology
Well, apparently there is a good reason: it’s the small matter of the propagation of the human race. Biology sets us up as mirror images of each other, as polar opposites, to promote the continuation of the species (he wants to spread his seed), and to maximize the survival of our existing offspring (she focuses on the baby). Men are hard-wired to want sex baby or no baby, and women are hardwired to focus on the health (feeding), day-to-day development (milestones) and the ultimate survival (is there a sabor-toothed tiger around the corner?) of the baby. Our modern day frustrations (known in scientific circles as the Hound-Dog/Ice-Queen Vortex) are, more than we will ever know, hardwired.
What Can We Do About It?
Understand that this is completely normal. No need to run out and draw up those divorce papers. Most people go through this stage. With a little patience, understanding and effort, hopefully this will pass.
- Redefine foreplay. It is no longer blowing on the nape of her neck. It’s rolling up your sleeves, getting in the kid assembly line, and lightening up your wife’s load so she can take an hour for herself to get out of Mommy Mode (change out of the spit-up stained clothes, take a bath, shave her legs) and feel, at least somewhat, like a woman again.
- Stop the Tap. Use words instead. Guys, women still need to be wooed. We still need you to make an effort in the romance department. Just because you bagged the deer doesn’t mean you just strap us to the hood and call it a day. Try to have a conversation with us. Tell us how you feel about us. Your chances will go way up.
- Try to understand how important sex is to your husbands. When we asked men what it is like to go longer than, say a week, without sex, they say “the wheels are coming off,” “the sky is falling down,” and if they are rejected more than once, “it’s soul destroying.” For men, sex is their pathway to intimacy and communication. So we tried to make an apples to apples comparison – sex for men is like verbal communication for women. What if we went out to dinner with our husbands and he read a book through the entire meal? What if he didn’t talk to us for a month? How would we feel?
- Date Night. You both need mental and physical distance away from the kids. It’s counter intuitive, especially for women, when the baby is crying and you have a toddler clamped to your leg, but the best thing you can do for your kids is to reconnect as a couple. A happy marriage equals happy kids.
- Weekend away. Women can get out of Mommy Mode and into Wife Mode much easier when there’s no chance of a kid banging on the door looking for the teddy bear.
When you are sharing your home, and your spouse, with small kids, sex may fall to the bottom of your to-do list, but in fact, you need it more than ever. It’s the pathway to true intimacy. It’s the glue that keeps your relationship intact. It’s the best way to Babyproof Your Marriage.
*Illustrations by Larry Martin