Relationships change. We all know this. But do we really understand what that means? Relationships can change for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest ones being after a child comes into the family. A couple can go from having sexual encounters many times a week….to none at all (at least for the first few weeks). This can result from waiting the typical six weeks after childbirth, healing from birth, having a baby in the bedroom with you, and don’t forget about sleep deprivation! Even the most well rested couples can go through times where sex is not the priority. And that can be ok….at least while things are calming down.
After pregnancy, there can be body image issues to work through as well. A woman’s body changes so much during pregnancy and may not always go back to “the way it used to be”. And that is ok!!! Your body grew a human, which makes it magnificent in its post baby glory. Once there are children in the mix, most of the time the focus turns away from each other and oneself, making it difficult to get back to “normal”. Ever heard the term “Dad Bod”? I hear it’s making a comeback in the bedroom!
Something that also can happen after pregnancy/birth is postpartum depression or anxiety. Most new moms and dads go through an adjustment period, both physically and mentally, but for some it can be more intense. We tend to focus on the new mom and her mood (for good reason), but new dads can go through changes in mood as well with all the new responsibilities. It is very important to discuss this with your healthcare provider, and in some cases a psychiatrist, to determine if medication is necessary. If this is the case, medication may have adverse impacts on the sexual relationship as well. But, have no fear, taking care of yourself will do wonders for a better sex life in the long run. I always love the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass”. That being said, talking to a therapist can help you get your feelings/frustrations out, and hopefully help you deal with the changes a little better. Just remember, give it time! Big changes take some time to adjust to.
So, what does this do to the relationship? Well, that depends. If a couple is used to having sexual interactions regularly (whatever that means to each couple), going to nothing and focusing on a new addition, can be extremely hard and can sometimes lead to issues outside of the sexual relationship. Communication is the key to success here in most cases. I encourage couples to communicate what each partner expects/wants when it comes to sex. This can help find a compromise that hopefully makes each partner happy….or at least take steps to get there.
All of this being said, a change after children may not be negative! A new addition can also lead to more and stronger positive feelings towards your partner…..which can all be a form of foreplay to bringing the main event back after a few weeks off. It can mean getting creative on new places/times/ways of enjoying each other sexually. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention! You may find a new respect for your partner and for what you both are capable of. Child rearing is hard!
It will also be important to think about ways to connect again after children. As mentioned earlier, this may look different. Date night may be on a Tuesday, instead of a Saturday. Foreplay may be washing bottles. The possibilities are endless. The takeaway is that every couple will need to find what works for them to reconnect as a couple. I like to use the “Dual Control Model” with couples in situations like this. According to The Kinsey Institute, “The Dual Control Model of Sexual Response reflects the idea that sexual response in individuals is the product of a balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes”. It is a fantastic way to look at what everyday things that go on in a relationship help or hurt the attraction. I find that couples typically have aspects of their relationship that can really hurt their sex life, as well as really help…but sometimes their partner has no idea! For more on this concept, I direct couples to go to https://kinseyinstitute.org/.
Changing a relationship is hard. But it can be exciting…and just maybe the start of something that can make the relationship even better!
–Meagan Thomas, MS, LCMHCA
The Kinsey Institute. (n.d) The Dual Control Model of Sexual Response. https://kinseyinstitute.org/research/dual-control-model.php