When integrating your parenting life with an intimate one, being aware of potential pitfalls is key. Here’s how to NOT let your kids destroy your intimacy.
—See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World—
I remember so clearly how wonderful things were with my wife and I for the first three years of our marriage. Though we were working ungodly hours every day building a successful business together, we loved every minute of it. And, we NEVER fought.
I also remember telling her, as we prepared to have children, we must always be aware that it is our special bond and relationship that is bringing them into the world. This beautiful, essential thing we have together must never become diminished in any way just because we are having kids.
So romantic, so idealistic, so… wrong.
EVERYTHING Changes With Kids
Right. Well that pep talk went right out the window with a whack on the bottom of our beautiful first born daughter as she cried out in no uncertain terms that she has just arrived in our world. And things just went downhill from there.
Like most new parents, we had no idea on what to expect with this new bundle of joy (despite all the books we read). On top of all that refined cluelessness, our new daughter made things so much more interesting by being incessantly colicky. She just would not stop crying unless one of us held and gently rocked her—like all the freak’n time. Just perfect for those come-hither glances I gave my wife when I was feeling frisky (which was all the time too) only to have her return with the “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!” stare. One that included the oh-so subtle but supremely effective subtext of “You selfish bastard—how can you possibly be thinking about sex when our daughter is in distress!.”
*As a side note to new dads, never EVER argue with or even try to calm your wife down when she hears the baby cry. Her mothering instinct and hormones are in overdrive and she will simply run you over as if you were some insignificant rodent innocently crossing the road as if she were driving madly to put out a fire.
I know, I was a complete idiot for even thinking about having sex during the day. The only problem was, the nights were worse. You see, for the first 18 months, our daughter would not sleep unless she was in our bed—seriously. And by the time we figured out how to have her sleep quietly in her own crib, the cracks in our relationship already started to form.
Progeny 1, Relationship 0
All it takes is a bit of unresolved wounding within your relationship that turns your little rug rats into intimacy-sucking black holes of 100% focus on them. When your wife and mother of your children starts feeling separation from you, count on her putting most of her attention on the kids. It’s only natural, socially sanctioned and almost always the beginning death-knell of your intimate relationship.
When this happens, it is not unusual for the dad to start feeling resentment toward the kids, for hogging all of the wife’s attention, leaving almost none for him. And, if he is foolish enough to even hint that his needs are not being met (emotional or physical), then his chances of being labeled the world’s biggest jerk just increased significantly. Here’s the thing. When your kids become the primary (or in many cases, 100%) focus of your relationship, it is in deep, deep trouble before you even realize it.
And it doesn’t get any better as the kids mature. There’s school, sports, birthday parties, extracurricular activities etc. Trust me, there are nearly infinite ways to focus exclusively on your kids, turning your relationship into a mere shadow of its former, glorious self.
Despite intellectually understanding what was happening, my resentment continued to build. Including through the process of having our second wonderful child. It finally got to the point where I just threw myself into my business to support the family. A behavior that was socially sanctioned, practical, and the final nail in the coffin of our relationship. I finally ended our marriage after 26 years, where things got so bad that the last 11 of those years we were 100% celibate. Unfortunately, not a very uncommon outcome.
How to Avoid the Almost Inevitable
I believe we actually started out on the right foot by declaring the importance of our relationship despite having kids prior to having them. Where things fell apart was in the execution once we did. There was no disciplined follow through to make it real.
If I were to do this over, I would insist that my wife and I have a date night at least once a week no matter what. No distractions of any kind allowed unless it is an emergency. As her husband, I would also be much more cognizant of her needs during this time, not be so quick to rush into sex. Instead, I would spend a great deal more time being fully present for her and giving her plenty of time to “warm up” to the point where she wanted physical intimacy. And during this special time together, we ideally would reaffirm our commitment to each other as the nucleus of our wonderful family—one where our relationship demonstrates every day what genuine intimacy (emotional, physical etc.) looks like, so our kids would have a good model for when it is their turn. This includes displays of affection between my wife and I so that the kids also see that Dad has a special relationship with Mom distinct from theirs.
The other thing I would do differently is insist that we maintain complete authenticity in our communications. If there is ever a charge between us (which you can expect almost daily with kids) we would always be willing to talk about it authentically and vulnerably. This way, small wounds don’t turn into gaping ones that become further wedged by over focus on the kids.
Someone once said that having children is the most wonderful and awful thing that can happen to your life. And it has been my experience that there is more than a bit of truth in that.
Just remember this. Someday your kids will grow up and leave home. How you look at each other in a now otherwise-empty home can run the gamut from “Now what?”to “Yahoo! Let’s just you and me have some fun!” Where your relationship fits on that spectrum totally depends on how consciously you both worked to preserve the spark and beauty of your joining together within the context of noisy, demanding, poopy, snotty-nosed kids who also happen to be the other joy of your life. With conscious discipline it really doesn’t have to be either / or.