10 Ways to Reignite That Lovin’ Feeling*

As an avid researcher, and mom of two kids, I read a lot about the impact of children on relationships, including this tidbit:

A baby’s birth reduces couple-time by two-thirds. The remaining third dwindles further, as we now devote precious moments to discussing kids.

Is it any wonder that, in the first year or two or seventeen after children arrive, finding time for sex feels like searching for The Holy Grail? Want it. Can’t get it.

Despite the challenges parents face, connecting with spouses—sexually and otherwise—sustains us. For some, sex begets sex; for others, closeness inspires passion. Either way, unless sexual satisfaction is the price we agree to pay for parenthood, nurturing intimacy—even when exhausted or disconnected—contributes abundantly to personal and relationship fulfillment.

Here are 10 ways to ignite love between, and beyond, the sheets:

(1) Invite passion through compassion: Some (new) parents compare sex to a battlefield. Contrasting desires spark conflict and trigger shame, e.g., moms feel overwhelmed and judge their partners for sexual urges, while partners feel rejected and shame moms for their decreased desires. When this battle surges, intimacy disappears.

What to do? Turn on compassion. Ask each other to share sexual feelings, or lack thereof, without finger-pointing, and listen empathically. Try to understand your differing—no better, no worse—desires, and acknowledge the pain and frustration those differences generate.  

How can you listen dispassionately when passion is what you yearn for? Imagine you’re listening to a close friend share their feelings, someone whose wellbeing is important to you and whose expression of their innermost yearnings, fears and struggles is something you invite because you care deeply about that person.

In other words, remember your friendship with your spouse, and call forth the parts of you that understand both of you are right about what you feel, because feelings (and thoughts, beliefs and opinions for that matter) aren’t up for debate. They just are. In that way, you’re both right about what you feel. This isn’t a contest about whose perspective is superior; it’s a conversation designed to inspire mutual trust by deepening mutual understanding.

Then, do your best to:

(2) Nurture twosomes: In the transition from couplehood to parenthood, babies often override romance. Yet celebrating your relationship remains important. The National Survey of Marital Strengths (2000) discovered that parents in happy (versus unhappy) relationships are much likelier to declare:

“My partner focuses as much on our marriage as our children.”

To support your twosome, consider these questions:

What’s important to me about feeling close to my partner?
How would feeling closer enhance our relationship and our family?
In addition to sex, what other shared experiences encourage connection?
If intimacy depends on teamwork, how do we cultivate teamwork together?

(3) Role-play in a new way: We all assume roles and responsibilities based on skill, personality, social expectations, comfort-zone, temperament, e.g., introvert/extrovert, sexual initiator/responder. Reversing our sexual roles supports innovation and prevents role-resentment, e.g., “I’m sick of always asking for sex!”

Trying new things together—sexual or otherwise—inspires closeness. In addition to shifting sexual roles, what other new experiences beckon you as a couple?

(4) Make small gestures: When sex evades us, we presume we need a big remedy: hours together, weekends away. Yet small gestures deliver results. Kiss each other as each day starts and ends. Send your spouse an email about what turns you on about her. Slip a note into his pocket detailing a steamy memory from before having kids.

What small gestures get you hot and bothered? Jot down three or four ideas, including at least one that’s not overtly sexual, and share them with each other. Choose one together that you agree to try out.

(5) Cultivate time alone: If you’re a mom acclimating to your post-birth body, or navigating sleep deprivation, take time to revisit your sensuality. Get a manicure or massage, take a candlelit bath, do something that reconnects you to your body, including self-love. Too often we try to unite sexually with spouses while disconnected from ourselves. Nurturing your sensuality is foreplay to intimacy with your beloved.

What grounds you in your body? What sensual delights will you try in the next few days?

(6) Kick up dust: Despite changing gender roles, moms still perform at least twice the housework and childcare as dads, while research on same-sex couples suggest greater parity in these areas. The 2008 National Survey of Marital Strengths reported that the #1 factor differentiating happy from unhappy couples-with-kids is their satisfaction with how childrearing is shared. A 2009 study in The Journal of Family Issues found that couples that labor together, including on household tasks, enjoy more sex.

Approaching housework and childcare with teamwork in mind, and building consensus about your respective roles, not only brings partners closer, it inspires intimacy.

Dissatisfied with the division of labor at home? Share this info with your spouse and, together, explore how a new approach to teamwork offers more intimate rewards.

(7) Get naked: Portland-based parents, Sue and Mike,** decided months ago to wear birthday suits to bed twice a week. They took sex off the table on those nights. Without sexual “pressure,” skin-on-skin cuddling reconnected them. Within a few weeks, they stripped down more frequently and ditched the “no sex” rule.

When considering intimacy strategies, one size doesn’t fit all. What sparks intimacy for you and your beloved? What weekly or nightly agreement do you want to make?

(8) Cultivate gifts: Sally, mom to a 20-month old in Phoenix, admits that while she misses sexual spontaneity, she enjoys sex with her husband more now. For her, motherhood inspires greater sexual freedom and sex feels more precious.

Liz and Mike, parents to a 15-month old in San Diego, consider reduced time together a challenge. They one-up each other with creative ways to get intimate. In other words, parenthood offers sexual opportunities if we look for them.

How can you rise to the challenge, and devise fun, sexy things to do or say in 10 (or 5 or 2) minutes to spark connection? Set your timer and go!

(9) Schedule Intimacy: One of the biggest losses of parenthood is spontaneity, sexual and otherwise. Yet with so few moments together, unless we schedule connection, we defer sex and expand distance between us. Karen and Susan, parents to a 2 year old in San Francisco, responded to this dilemma with Intimacy-Time, evenings when they unplug from media and focus on each other.

In her experience with new parents, Mari Oxenberg, MS, CNM, a Birth and Postpartum Doula and Certified Nurse Midwife based in Los Angeles, suggests:

“Schedule time for intimacy, even of it doesn’t involve having sex, just time to be together and have grown-up conversation.”

What kind of Intimacy Time works for you and your spouse?

(10) Go for it: Too tired to talk about connecting? Too over-scheduled to calendar intimacy? Then, jump each other’s bones. Never underrate the power of kissing deeply and touching suggestively, the value of a quickie, to reignite your sex life or, at the very least, remind you of what you miss about each other and yourself.

No matter what strategy or technique you try, honor yourself, your relationship and your family by reconnecting with your spouse. Children learn about relationships from the adults around them, so unless you model the importance of relationship fulfillment, your kids will likely grow up devaluing it. Brings a whole new meaning to “doing it for your kids,” doesn’t it?😏

* An older version of this post was originally published in ParentMap magazine in 2013.
** Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Why Starving Your Relationship of Romance Is Hurting Your Kids

“The best thing a society can do for itself is to promote and support healthy couples, and the best thing partners can do for themselves, for their children, and for society is to have a healthy relationship.” – Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want

Seriously?!?! The “best” thing we can do for our kids is to have a good relationship with our partners? That’s fine in theory, but what if our relationship is just okay, or sometimes good with long periods of mediocrity, or mostly bad with occasional moments of happiness? What then? 

Plus, how can I find time to nurture a happy relationship when I barely have time to parent my kids?

Many of us once dreamed of having a family with our partners. Now that our children are here, we spend so much time dealing with their needs, with work demands, and day-to-day life, that we have little or nothing left over for our spouses (not to mention ourselves). Relationships often become secondary, even dispensable. For many parents, romantic relationships just aren’t all that “romantic” anymore.

Yet research consistently shows that parents with better quality relationships have better-adjusted kids. The poorer the quality of our relationships with each other, the more negative developmental outcomes we see in children and teens across a range of variables, e.g., physical health, academic success, psychological and social outcomes. There’s research to suggest this holds true across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

That brings us back to the question: How can we find time to cultivate a happy relationship when we barely have time to parent our kids?

By doing both at once or, more precisely, by understanding that the positive outcomes in one area (relationship fulfillment) support positive outcomes in the other (parenting and our kids’ wellbeing).

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, we live in a culture obsessed with prioritizing and analyzing parenting–as evidenced by the sheer glut of parenting books out there. Don’t get me wrong; conscious, positive parenting is a wonderful and important area to focus on…but not when it creates or reinforces discord in our love relationships.

I believe that the importance, indeed the centrality of our relationship happiness to our kids’ wellbeing is one of our society’s best kept secrets. As Dr. Stephanie Coontz, Director of Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, said at a ParentMap Conference a few years ago:

“Research shows that couples that attend a relationship class together report a more positive impact on their parenting than those who attend a parenting class together.”

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Now, I don’t believe you have to be in a relationship to support your children’s health (I see you single parents!)), or that all relationships are worth saving, or that all parents treat their relationships as secondary to parenting. Some of you are honoring both amazingly well.

I do, however, believe that for the vast majority of parents raising kids with a partner, there’s room to improve your relationship with each other. I also believe that doing so will improve your parenting.

How can you start to improve your parenting? 
Here are 3 quick tips:

  1. Start small (a.k.a. “The 10% Rule”) 
When thinking of ways to enhance relationship fulfillment, instead of aiming for a big activity or gesture, something that demands 100% focus and effort on your part (e.g., planning a romantic vacation without kids) expend 10% of your precious energy to come up with something you can do now, or soon, something you will actually make happen (e.g., a candlelit takeout dinner after the kids go to bed). The goal is to set yourself up for small wins that infuse your relationship with positive energy immediately. And to create changes that are easy enough to repeat often.
  2. Ask: “What’s important to you about that?” 
It’s a simple yet powerful question, especially when you and your partner disagree. Instead of rejecting his or her opinion, or arguing for yours, just pause, take off your judge-and-jury hat, and get genuinely curious about what s/he is saying. This is especially helpful even, and especially, when you’re convinced you’re right and that your approach is vastly superior. When we get curious about what’s important to our partners, we’re more likely to avoid arguments and better understand their perspective. Fewer fights and greater mutual understanding usually lead to more warm and fuzzy feelings for each other.
  3. Get to the heart of your complaint 
I think of complaints as the hard candy that protects the yummy chewy center of a tootsie pop; complaints cover the sweet spot. By focusing on complaints—“you don’t help enough with the kids,” “you work too much,” “you never compliment me”—we further alienate our partners by pointing fingers and criticizing. If we get to the core of what’s upsetting us, if we figure out the need, request, or hope that our complaint points to—“I want us to be a parenting team;” “l miss you and wish you were around more;” “I’m feeling insecure and would appreciate your input so I can feel more confident”—then we’re both far more likely to get our needs met and feel more understood.

Now for the (slightly) bad news—as great as these tips might be, there is no quick fix to relationship dissatisfaction, and no one-size-fits-all way to maintain relationship fulfillment.

The good—no wait, the great—news is that devoting time and energy to improving and, then, maintaining our relationship quality delivers payoffs to us and our kids. Over and over again.

So if you need a “good parenting” excuse to rekindle the romance in your relationship, and reconnect with the partner with whom you dreamed of having a joyous family life, take the time to reconnect with each other. If you won’t do it for your relationship or for yourself, then do it for your kids! They’ll thank you in the long run.

[A revised version of this post originally appeared on YourTango and was reposted on PsychCentral.]

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Holistic Fertility: An Interview with Kara Rowley

 

Kara Rowley.jpg

Kara Rowley

It was a pleasure to interview Kara Rowley, a Licensed Midwife and Fertility Specialist, who helps women and couples across the United States find the root causes of fertility challenges, and maximize women’s health prenatally, during childbirth and postpartum. Kara shares quite a few gems about her unique process–which includes working with labs across the country and testing clients for factors often overlooked by other fertility professionals, One such gem is that there’s a link between the severity of a woman’s PMS symptoms and the severity of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, like postpartum depression. Click here listen to my interview with Kara. To contact Kara for a complimentary 20-minute consult, visit her website: Vibrant Health Healing.

 

 

 

My Non-Birth Story Is A Story Of Birth: A Tale Of How (Some) Women & Men Become Parents

I was honored when Thrive Center for Birth & Family Wellness invited me to join their storytelling event–Stories from the Birth Room–in 2015 and, again, in 2016. As if that weren’t fabulous enough, Thrive is publishing a magazine, in which my story will appear. I recorded an audio version to celebrate the occasion. Click the arrow to listen. Enjoy! Keep scrolling for free resources for expecting couples, parents, and birth professionals.

Expecting a baby? Devoted to nurturing your child and your relationship? Type “FREE tips on Surviving the 4th Trimester and Beyond!” in the Comment box.

Already a parent? Worried your relationship is the price you’ll pay to raise kids well? Type “FREE phone or Skype strategy consult” in the Comment Box.

Are you a birth or parenting professional looking for more resources to help your clients and enhance your practice? Type “FREE professional resources” in the Comment Box.

Motherhood Unlimited

As a blogger, I do my best to live up to one of my grandmother’s pearls of wisdom: “It’s easy to say things. It’s hard to say things that people will listen to.”

Long way a0259ea4-b993-49b7-ab88-4a2b694db5c0of saying–so to speak–that I believe that both interviews highlighted in today’s post are well worth your time. The first is with yours truly  by mom-coach Valerie Friedlander of Motherhood Unlimited, a FREE online event that runs from September  19 to October 11. My interview–“How To Nurture A Thriving Relationship And Why Your Kids Need You To”– airs on September 26. Valerie has put together a stellar group of parenting professionals, all of whom share insights designed to make parents’ (with a special focus on moms’) lives easier and more satisfying. Sign up for the whole interview series at Motherhood Unlimited.

One of my favorite interviews for Parent Alliance was with Austin-based couples therapist, John Howard, who studied with Dr. Stan Tatkin, the author of Wired for Love.

John Howard, MA

John Howard, MA

In John’s work with couples, with a special focus on parents, he applies the latest research in neuroscience to relationship dynamics.  Not only does our interview confirm that John is accessible and informative,  he’s also generous with some great tips for couples to increase intimacy and fulfillment, and better understand the individual baggage we bring to our love lives. Enjoy:  The New Science of Relationships with John Howard.

Why Putting Parenting Before Your Relationship Can Hurt Your Kids

I read this quote recently:

“The best thing a society can do for itself is to promote and support healthy couples, and the best thing partners can do for themselves, for their children, and for society is to have a healthy relationship.” – Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want

Seriously?!?! The “best” thing we can do for our kids is to have a good relationship with our partners? That’s fine in theory, but what if our relationship is just okay, or good sometimes with long periods of mediocrity, or mostly bad with occasional moments of happiness? What then?

Plus, how can I find time to nurture a happy relationship when I barely have time to parent my kids?

While many of us once dreamed of having a a family, now that our children have actually arrived, we spend so much time dealing with our kids’ needs, with work demands, and with day-to-day life, that we have little or nothing left over for our spouses (not to mention ourselves). Our relationships become secondary, even dispensable. For many parents, romantic relationships just aren’t all that “romantic” anymore.

Yet research  shows consistently that parents with better quality relationships have better-adjusted kids. The poorer the quality of our relationships with each other, the more negative developmental outcomes we see in children across a range of variables, including physical health, academic success, and psychological and social outcomes. And this holds true across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

So, that brings us back to the same question: How can we find time to cultivate our relationship when we barely have time to parent our kids?

By doing both at once or, more precisely, by letting the positive outcomes of one (relationship fulfillment) lead to positive outcomes of the other (good parenting).

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, we live in a culture obsessed with prioritizing parenting, which is wonderful but not when it creates, or reinforces, discord in our love relationships.

In fact, I believe the critical importance of our relationship happiness to our kids’ wellbeing is one of our culture’s best kept secrets. As Dr. Stephanie Coontz, Director of Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, said at a ParentMap Conference a few years ago:

“Research shows that couples that attend a relationship class together report a more positive impact on their parenting than those who attend a parenting class together.”

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Now, that said, I don’t believe you have to be in a relationship to support your children’s health (I see you single parents!), or that all relationships are worth saving, or that all parents treat their relationships as secondary to parenting (some of you are balancing both amazingly well!).

I do believe, however, that for the vast majority of parents raising kids with a partner, there’s room to improve your relationship with each other and doing so will also improve your parenting.

So how can you start to improve your parenting? 
Here are 3 quick tips that I offer the couples with whom I work:

1. Start with small efforts (a.k.a. “The 10% Rule”) 
When thinking of ways to enhance relationship fulfillment, instead of aiming for a big activity or gesture, something that demands 100% focus and effort on your part (e.g., planning a romantic vacation without your kids) expend 10% of your precious energy to come up with something you can do now, or soon, something you actually make happen (e.g., a candlelit takeout dinner after the kids go to bed). The goal is to set yourself up for small wins that immediately infuse your relationship with positive energy. And to create changes that are easy enough to repeat often.

2. Ask: “What’s important to you about that?”
It’s a simple yet powerful question, especially when you and your partner disagree. Instead of rejecting your partner’s opinion, or arguing for yours, just pause, take off your judge-and-jury hat, and get genuinely curious about what s/he is saying. This is especially helpful even, and especially, when you’re convinced you’re right and that your approach is vastly superior. When we get curious about what’s important to our partners, we’re more likely to avoid arguments and better understand their perspective. Fewer fights and greater mutual understanding usually lead to more warm and fuzzy feelings for each other.

3. Get to the heart of your complaint 
I often think of complaints being like Tootsie-pops; they’re the hard candy that protects the chewy center, which is what we want to get to; complaints cover what matters most. By focusing on our complaints—“you don’t help enough with the kids,” “you work too much,” “you never compliment me”—we often further alienate our partners by pointing fingers and blaming. By contrast, if we try to get to the core of what’s upsetting us (or them if they’re the ones complaining), to the need, request, or hope that complaint points to—“I want us to be a great parenting team;” “l miss you and wish you were around more;” “I’m feeling insecure and would appreciate your support to feel more confident”—then we’re each far more likely to get our needs met and to feel more understood.

Now for the (slightly) bad news: As great as these tips might be, there simply is no quick fix to relationship dissatisfaction, and no one-size-fits-all way to maintain relationship fulfillment once we’re lucky enough to achieve it.

The good—no wait, the great—news is that devoting time and energy to improving and, then, maintaining our relationship quality delivers payoffs for us and for our amazing children.

So if you need a “good parenting” excuse to rekindle the romance in your relationship, and to reconnect with the partner with whom you dreamed of having a happy family life, try out one of the tips suggested. While I hope you do it for yourself and for your partner, at the very least, please do it for your kids!

Discover how to thrive in your parenting & your relationship!

A slightly revised version of this post first appeared on Your Tango.

Are You Frustrated With Your Partner’s Parenting Style?

Discover how to thrive in your parenting & your relationship!

If there’s ever a time in life when it helps to be on the same page with your spouse, it’s when you have kids. Faced with frequent decisions that impact our children’s wellbeing, parenting is hard enough without spending precious time and energy disagreeing. Yet even if we both start off wanting kids, once our children arrive, parenting styles and priorities sometimes diverge.

Why do we part ways around parenting?

  • The very differences that drew us together, as a couple, pull us apart as parents. For example: You love your wife’s free spirit, but think she lets your kids get away with way too much.
  • Based on the information we had before our kids arrived, we thought we were aligned but weren’t. For example: You agreed not to spoil your future-children, but forgot to define your terms. You believe spoiling is about things—toys, clothes—whereas your husband equates it with emotional coddling.
  • We discover parenting strategies after we have kids. For example: When you were pregnant, you agreed to sleep train your daughter at 6 months. After she arrived, you thought sleep training barbaric, while your spouse saw it as crucial to everyone’s survival.

Perfectly matched parenting styles sound great in an ideal world, but in reality we disagree. The goal isn’t to always be in sync, but to handle differences effectively.

How we deal with our parenting differences is important to, well, our parenting. Because our kids often witness our disagreements, they learn how to argue from us. (Yes, yes, it would be great if we fought beyond our kids’ earshot, but that isn’t always possible.) It’s our job to teach them how to disagree respectfully.

My favorite tool for tackling different parenting styles is: Curiosity.

While it might have killed the cat, genuine curiosity has saved many a marriage. I wrote genuine because curiosity is only effective when sincere, when combined with a real desire to understand your spouse’s perspective and a willingness to suspend judgment, especially if you don’t agree with that perspective.

What’s important to you about your parenting strategy?

I love that question. As simple as it sounds, the more we focus on what’s important to our spouse about his or her choices and suggestions, the greater our chances of finding a shared way of talking about our differences. Related questions: What outcomes do you expect in using this approach? How do you hope our kids will respond to it?

In most cases, we either agree about what’s important about a particular approach or, at the very least, we’re capable of understanding why it matters to our partners. Understanding allows us to get to a place of compromise far faster than trying to prove that our way of doing things is right.

Let’s say the issue you’re facing is that your 7 year old goes to your spouse if she doesn’t get the answer she wants from you and your spouse sometimes contradicts you. To remedy this problem, you propose that, as the parent who spends the most time with your daughter, you should take the lead making decisions. Your spouse thinks you should confer more.

What outcome are you both looking for? That your child gets a consistent response from her parents and that you act like a united front.

You differ in how to get there and what’s important to you about your proposed strategies. You want to respond to requests because you have more information about your child and, as a result, know what will work for her; plus with so little spare time, the quickest strategy is the best. Your spouse wants to be more involved in decision-making, to feel as if parenting is a collaborative venture and that he’s also responsive to your kids’ request. All understandable perspectives. All worthy of respect.

Now that we understand what’s important to each of us, what do we do?

Here are three options:
1) Pick one strategy and test it out for a period of time. Then, try the other for the same length of time. Discuss how you think each strategy worked for your child and for you and your spouse. Continue with one of the approaches or see (2).

2) Create a hybrid strategy. Focus on satisfying what’s important to both of you, while keeping your eye on the prize of the outcome/s you want.

3) If you’re still passionately opposed to your spouse’s parenting strategy—meaning, if this is a sword you’re willing to die on—try to keep judgment at bay and explain what you’re worried will happen to your kids, or your relationship with them, or both, if you adopt your partner’s approach. Ask your spouse to either help you get through that fear or to respect it enough to let your strategy stand for the time being.

It would be wonderful if our individual parenting styles always matched. But it can also be wonderful to turn our differences into a joint parenting style, one that we create together and that teaches our kids the power of collaboration and respect.

This post first appeared on YourTango.com

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