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Challenge: Romance After Kids

Sex, parenthood, and communication, why sometimes what she says, and he hears, are two different things'

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Sex, it's one of the most important parts of a relationship. It pulls you apart and brings you together like nothing else. Here is my take on the subject after four kids and seventeen years in a happy marriage, courtesy of a conversation I had with a friend who has been struggling in her own relationship.

I sit with my girlfriends, close girlfriends, and we talk about our children, our families, our work, our failures, our fears, triumphs and our joys. But rarely do we touch upon the subject of sex. We should, because guess what ladies and gentlemen, we all experience similar doubts, guilt, struggles and misunderstandings at times in our relationships when it comes to sex.

How did we get here? This story book of life begins when two people fall in love. In the beginning of our relationship we can't seem to keep our hands off of each other. It's easy and free spirited. We hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes. Sex, well, it happens where ever and when ever, and it's like you are the only two people in the world.

Becoming parents for the first time is the most amazing miracle that you've ever experienced. Here is the product of your love. A living, breathing, selfish, needy, disaster inducing, time consuming, joyful, amazing, product of the love you and your partner share. And suddenly, you find yourself spending more time gazing into another pair of eyes. You experience a new kind of love. This perfect little person you've made stares at you with that loving, trusting gaze of theirs and suddenly you know you will move heaven and earth to provide for them and protect them. You do. You do your very best, daily, to fulfill that unspoken promise to your child.

Suddenly, your story book of life has changed. Parenthood is more fulfilling and more draining than anything you have ever experienced. Responsibilities take on a whole new meaning. There is added pressure to provide financially. You have a daily to-do list that seems never ending and overwhelming. Your list of priorities shuffle and suddenly you are always on the bottom. But somehow the love and laughter of parenthood make it all worthwhile.

Yet, in the craziness of this adventure call parenthood, it's sometimes hard to see the needs of your partner. We mothers are so busy doing so many things for our children and our household, that when our partner comes to us seeking love, affection and sex, sometimes we become resentful. It's like you've finally made your way up that long list of priorities, you're finally ready to have time to yourself, and suddenly there is your partner wanting and needing you, and all you can see is that once again your being knocked down that list of importance.

It has nothing to do with your partner's desirability. It has nothing to do with how good they are at sex, or how much you enjoy the act of sex. But that doesn't matter. What she says and he hears are, often, two completely different things when it comes to sex. Our ability to connect with our mate is hindered by our different styles of communication, and it can lead to a lot of frustration and/or resentment.

Recently, I was discussing this communication lapse with a male friend of mine.
In the beginning of a relationship men and women are in sync, because in the beginning, sex is happening pretty frequently. For a man this is usually their preferred method of communication, words are nice, actions are better. Telling me you love me is nice, but physically showing me means a lot more. For a women, the words are just as important as the actions. In fact, words are often times even more important. Call it mental foreplay.

The man will do the dishes, put the kids to bed, take out the trash, and suddenly his partner is wrapping her arms around his waist and kissing his neck and he's thinking, 'Why is it that I have to do things around the house to get my wife interested in sex? Do i have to earn sex? Why doesn't she just want me, for me?' Meanwhile, his wife is thinking 'He really cares about me and my feelings. He's just shown me that he sees all that I do and has gone out of his way to help whittle down that daunting to-do list that was stressing me out. I love him so much.'
So the following encounter leaves the wife feeling happy and with a sense of unity with her partner, and her husband is left doubting why his mere presence isn't enough to warrant the effort of initiation.

"I'm too tired." Ladies have you ever said this to your partner? I'm guessing you have as it seems to be the punchline of a lot of jokes. You said it because you were, literally, too damn tired. You were too tired to cook dinner, so you fed the kids chicken nuggets. That pile of laundry that's been on your bed for two days waiting to be folded? Well, it's getting moved to the floor again because your too tired to fold it. You are literally, too damn tired to do anything. But what he hears is "I'm not desirable enough, she doesn't want me."

Or, have you ever said "Okay, but can we just make it quick?" My male friend just shakes his head as he repeats this to me. "She acts like she doesn't even want to have sex, like I'm some chore she wants to get over with as quickly as possible." I just had to laugh because I'm totally guilty of uttering that same phrase in the past.

As I explained to him, it has nothing to do with his wife's desire for him and everything to do with her own desire to just be her for a time. To just sit with no one wanting or needing anything from her. To not have to think, not have to make any decisions. To just be herself, not a wife/mother/friend/employee, for just a short time before a new day starts and she's thrown into action again.

But never doubt that she has guilt about rebuffing you. And the truth is, sometimes that guilt makes her bitter. It may sound unfair, but it's true. You see, us mothers, we are masters of guilt. We are juggling so many things on a daily basis that it is inevitable that we drop something, or at the very least, fumble some. And it weighs on us. And the guilt, and the doubt we carry, about doing enough, and being enough, is ever lingering. Sometimes it's that guilt over wanting to be a 'me' instead of a 'we' that makes us angry when you act disappointed by our rejection.

What women need to take into account is that as hard and stressful as our days are, the men are also feeling stress and pressure. They too are worried if they are providing enough, successful enough, being present enough, for their family. And they come to you seeking that reassurance. But remember, for most men, words don't mean as much to them as actions do.

And men, you need to elevate your game a bit more often in the romance department. That doesn't necessarily mean going through the list of cliche acts of romance, such as bringing flowers, or taking us out to dinner. Although sometimes that is really appreciated. I am talking about helping out around the house more, giving her a shoulder rub, watching the kids while you send her out of the house by herself for an hour alone. (*note* grocery shopping is NOT to be considered alone time) Or maybe just curling up and spooning when you first get in bed. (*note* don't make any attempts to turn spooning into forking. Although, the fact that you are tenderly cuddling improves your chances that it will go in that direction.)

What I'm saying to you is that all couples go through this at times. Don't forget where your story began, with two people who fell in love. We need to remember that while we will always be parents, we won't always have kids around. It's so important that we find that time to make each other a priority. Talk to your partner and make sure that you understand each other. Take the time to ensure your story ends with two people in love.

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