Show Transcript for Episode 4: Parents Still Lovers

Laurie Watson: Hi, it’s time for Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with sex therapist and author, myself, Laurie Watson and my cohost, Tony Delmedico, our psychotherapist. And we are here to talk to you about all things sexual and all things intimate, hoping to help you get the most out of your sex life.

Tony Delmedico:  You can check us out on the web at ForeplayRST.com. Let us know what you think and let us know what you want to hear about, sex talk with Laurie and Tony. Laurie, where is Foreplay going to lead us today.

Laurie Watson: Today, Tony, we’re going to talk about parents being lovers still. I write a blog about married and still doing it. Because so many people become sexless after just two years, I might add. But parenting, as you’ve noted in the past, you know, is kind of the lowest period of sexual satisfaction and the lowest period of marital satisfaction as well.

Tony Delmedico: Parenting is not foreplay.

Laurie Watson: And parenting is not for the faint of heart.

Tony Delmedico: It is exhausting.

Laurie Watson: It is a difficult time in life.

Tony Delmedico: And I think just the topic itself, Parents and Still Lovers is a really tall order. Thinking about the topic, in some ways it made me think about two distinct periods as a parent and a lover, myself. Two periods of incredible stress and confusion, one is I think with the beginnings of the first pregnancy and the coming of the first child. That’s a huge shift for a couple.

Laurie Watson: It is.

Tony Delmedico: You go from being boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife all of a sudden to being a family and a mother and a father. And that’s a big shift and a big burden on the sex life.

Laurie Watson: Talk about what you remembered, sort of the angst that you went through as become a new father.

Tony Delmedico: I don’t know if we want to talk about this. I’ll be in the fetal position in the studio here with my thumb in my mouth. It’s probably the most difficult period I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know if there are other guys out there, as fathers, that go through this as well. But the lack of sleep, I was actively involved. But the lack of sleep, the never ending demands of the baby. Which on one hand you’re full of joy that they’re here. But on the other hand, you’re really exhausted.

Laurie Watson: Right, we love you kids. We really love you.

Tony Delmedico: And if you’re struggling as a couple with intimacy anyway, I think it continues to exacerbate things and really lay both people, you get splayed out and laid bare with the deepest wounds that have already been there.

Laurie Watson: I think it’s, you know, what you’re saying is so important because, you know, we want our kids and we want to be considered good parents and we want to be good parents. And this disappointment and these feelings of exhaustion and the parts about parenting that are difficult. You know, you’ve just admitted that. And I think so many people try to keep it all inside. They can’t admit it. And maybe they both feel it. I mean, I know for young women it’s an exhausting time being pregnant, you know, kind of this alien growing inside you. And many women, especially your best girlfriend who runs around and says, you know, “Well, this is the best time ever. I’ve never felt any better.” And you know, she doesn’t gain an ounce. And you’re feeling dowdy at two months. And I mean it does a number on yourself image. Your body really changes as a woman, you know, your breasts change. And sometimes that can be great and sometimes it cannot be great. I mean there’s all this fear about the body as a young woman. And then let alone nursing a child, which is physically exhausting. A baby being up all night. Parenting is super difficult, and I think, you know, we want to say that, you know, because we want these children and love these children, it’s hard to talk about. And we also want our partner to be the strong parent and the parent we think they ought to be. I will say, personally, I remember with my first child that I got pregnant and you know, children was something that my husband and I really wanted. We were definitely just about ready for children, but we were six months too early. Which, you know, looking back, that’s so crazy to be worried about this six months. But we had just bought a house and there was this fear. And I told my husband, I came out and said, you know, it’s blue. “The stick is blue. We are pregnant.” And I remember him saying, “I’m going to go for a run.” And you know, I remember the disappointment of a young mother, like I had expected a clasp of joy. And wasn’t prepared for his anxiety to emerge so quickly. And you know, now that we’ve talked about it for that many years, you know. I know that he was feeling this tremendous financial stress because of the house and all that. And he was just suddenly overwhelmed. And what does that have to do with sex? I mean, does that — what does that — how does that impact us as a couple when suddenly we’re filled with a huge difference? You know, the two become three. And it impacts every part of our life, our bodies, our energy levels, our finances, our time together.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. It’s, it’s a tough time. We’re sympathetic to you out there.

Tony Delmedico: We’ve been through it. Sounds like both of us have our own versions.

Laurie Watson: We have kids.

Tony Delmedico: I’m thinking about in some of our previous episodes we’ve talked about the cultural stereotypes or the fantasies or the fairytales that if we’re wonderfully living happily ever after. And now we have a child and its sort of onwards and upwards. That’s the fantasy of it. And the reality is at this time in particular for couples, it is really hard to stay connected sexually. And I think the biology is against us too. You’ve mentioned breastfeeding, and healing.

Laurie Watson:  And breastfeeding actually there’s a hormone, prolactin that is produced that literally lowers her desire. And it also makes her vaginal tissue drier and thinner. So, women, if you are postpartum, definitely go back to your physician, your gynecologist and say, “Hey, how about a little estrogen.” Vaginal estrogen before you start sexual intercourse again, use it for two weeks pre-sexual intercourse. And that really helps. And doctor’s kind of tell me, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a great idea. But you know, it doesn’t really hurt her that much.” I’m like, “You know what re-entry into sexual intercourse, why should it hurt at all? If we have a medication that is safe, it’s safe for the baby, you know she could use that. And women often tell me, “Gosh, I wish I’d known that because it really did hurt me.”

Tony Delmedico: And the men’s hormones are shifting as well. They’re not as sexually active or on the edge with their testosterone. Their levels have dropped as well too during this period. So, even nature is telling the couple slow down. It’s not time to procreate again. And so, how does a couple stay together intimately through this, I think is the most exhausting period that you go through. A hundred years ago, you would have had three or four generations of family under one roof on the farm. There would have been people to take the babies. And there would have been time for you to take a walk with your partner and reconnect. And now we’re sort of isolated. It leads to time to get away from a screaming baby for just a little bit.

Laurie Watson: Right.

Tony Delmedico: And now we’re sort of isolated and on our owns and are really called upon to do all of it. And it’s really tough. So, I think before we jump into how you stay connected, just take a minute and saying, “Gosh, this is tough.”

Laurie Watson: I would say practically one thing is, you know, expect, try to hire out as much non-essential tasks as you can. Get a housekeeper, you know, get somebody to make those meals and bring them in. Or there’s often, I know in my area there are meal making places that you can go and pick up four dinners. You know, when your friends ask, “How can I help?” Say, “Bring us a casserole, bring us a meal.” I mean give them a practical something to help. Many people do not live near extended family, you know, so it’s okay to hire a little bit of help. Hire a mother’s helper that comes and maybe, you know, just does some cleanup. Maybe they don’t take care of the baby because they’re too young or you don’t trust them yet or you don’t know them. But they do things like dinner prep. And picking up in laundry. I will remember, in my brain sitting in front of a mountain of little things to fold. You know, and just cleaning. I’m thinking, I went to college for this. I’m folding thousands of little things and it’s just your whole self-image and who you are is turned on its head when you become a parent.

Tony Delmedico: And as a psychotherapist and I’m thinking to Laurie about how we conceive of ourselves as we go through that.

Laurie Watson: Right. And becoming parents is really a process. I know your best friend, makes it look easy. But for most of us, becoming a mother is not something that happens at birth. You know, it’s happened progressively. Becoming a father, it happens progressively. It’s natural I think for the mother to be very preoccupied with the child. In fact, it’s good. You know, for a couple of years that attachment that she has for the child is necessary for the child’s emotional health. And fathers, I say, are often arms around during those first two years. And then later on, they become more involved in the personality of the child. And mothers are disappointed, you know. “Why doesn’t he get as involved as I do?” And sometimes fathers are disappointed. “I’m shoved out.” You know, I used to be central. She used to fuss about me and now she’s fussing about the baby.” I mean, this is so complicated.

Tony Delmedico: Yeah, I would agree.

Laurie Watson: Sex is fragile.

Tony Delmedico: It is. And it’s fragile even before this. And so, the idea of parents and still lovers, I think again, psychologically most couples in general take the relationship and themselves and put it far down the list. And so, even if you have some people coming in to do some things to help relieve the physical burdens. Psychologically, I think it’s all hands on deck for the baby, 24/7. So, we’re all in towards that. And in order to rekindle this love or this lover part of your relationship momentarily, you need to take it and move it up the depth chart. And put it at the top just for a little while. And it can feel very selfish to get away just for an hour and a half.

Laurie Watson: Right.

Tony Delmedico: Or two hours just to get away just for yourselves is tough. And it’s a lot easier just to stay in the vortex of new baby, new familydom, and not really spend a lot of time talking about something that may have already been awkward going into the pregnancy in the first place.

Laurie Watson: I think the point you’re making is proven by research. You know, we know what family structures survive better than other family structures. And our current, you know, culture says that the child centric family is the best family. Revolving all our resources, all our time about making and creating a happy childhood for the children is kind of the present day norm. But it is not necessarily the happiest family structure long term. Actually, a structure that honors the merit as top priority is the best structure. Because the love between two people then flows out of that. The coupleship onto the children. We can’t get it back. And especially mothers and sometimes fathers saying, “You know, but they’re only little once. And so, we just got to nurture them and love them up.” And I’m like, “I know. But if you get at the end of that period and you don’t have a marriage. Or you don’t have a resource that generates care and tenderness for you to keep giving to the children. You know, it isn’t a sustainable structure.” So, the structure has to be the couple first.

Tony Delmedico: I would agree Laurie, and a lot of the couples that come in are right up, bumping up, right against that very thing.

Laurie Watson: So, let’s come back with some more tips and really some practical advice about how they can do this as a family and prioritize, you know, the coupleship once you become parents.

Tony Delmedico: Great. This is Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy with author and sex therapist, Laurie Watson and I’m Tony Delmedico, psychotherapist. We’ll be right back

Commercial: Wanting Sex Again, how to rediscover desire and heal a sexless marriage by certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson. Each chapter is designed to fix one of the problems that caused low libido from early marriage through the childbearing years, even all the way through menopause. I’ve also had men read it and tell me that for them it was the most helpful thing they read about resolving sexual problems. Look for Wanting Sex Again on Amazon.com. You can also talk to Laurie Watson for therapy in person or via Skype. I offer couples counseling and sex therapy and I think about both aspects of the relationship, emotional intimacy, and sexual technique. And that combination together helps marriages be happy. Improve your sex. And improve your relationship with awakening center for couples and intimacy. Find out more at AwakenLoveandSex.com and sign up for their next couples retreat weekend hosted by Laurie Watson. AwakenedLoveandSex.com, awaken what’s possible.

Tony Delmedico: Welcome back to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy. I’m a psychotherapist Tony Delmedico. And I’m here with Laurie Watson, author and sex therapist. Today, we’re talking about a most, most difficult topic, How to Be Parents and Still Lovers. And Laurie, the first part of the show we’ve been talking about parents with small children in a very precious time in their lives for sure. But also, a very vulnerable time for the relationship.

Laurie Watson: And statistically the most difficult time. I mean this is oftentimes couples break up at this time just because of the stressors on them. I would also say that couples say, you know, “We got stressed sexually when the children came along.” I think about, and I take a good sexual history on my patients, that oftentimes the couple has tiny little cracks in their sexual life earlier. But then it’s exacerbated by the stress of the children. And so, things that they didn’t work out, ways they didn’t communicate, the ways that they didn’t maybe learn how to talk to each other, then the children come and that widens into kind of the Grand Canyon between the two of them.

Tony Delmedico: And they’re confused because they think the baby is going to bring so much happiness and so much joy. And it’s going to be more cement for the marriage instead of something that’s going to be a divider, unfortunately.

Laurie Watson: Right.

Tony Delmedico: So, there’s a lot of mixed emotions and feelings on both sides of the spectrum.

Laurie Watson: There is, you are right. Absolutely. I mean, one of the things that happens sexually I think is, the whole Madonna syndrome. And I want to talk a little bit about this, what it means. Because sometimes men look at their wives and once she becomes pregnant and her body changes, they see that change as you know, she’s becoming a mother. And particularly, I think as a woman’s body changes, sometimes she’s heavier, you know, her breasts are more pendulum. And it reminds him unconsciously of his mother. And so, he literally turns off desire. I mean, he doesn’t feel it anymore. And I would say women split themselves. They find themselves the Madonna. I have to be all good. Be all giving. All the time. I don’t have time for the party girl anymore, the sexual self. And it isn’t necessarily that she’s out of shape or, I mean sometimes she can be. It isn’t necessarily just the body. It can just be mentally.

Tony Delmedico: Or I know, I would say it has very little to do with the body at least from some of the men that I visit with. But I think it is definitely changing. And you hear it in their language. He doesn’t call her by her first name. He calls her mommy.

Laurie Watson: Oh my gosh.

Tony Delmedico: And she calls him daddy.

Laurie Watson: I hate that.

Tony Delmedico: And you can tell something is going on there that’s far beyond just the two of them in the room.

Laurie Watson: Don’t do that.

Tony Delmedico: The archetype of mother and father is in the room and they’re playing at that and it is confusing.

Laurie Watson: And I had some patients today who came in and said, you know, “When mom does this and that.” And I’m like, “Was your mother over?” I mean he was talking about his wife. And I’m just thinking psychologically, you know, he wants her to be the sexual woman. And she doesn’t see herself that way. And it’s like, why would you reinforce that by saying, you know, mom.

Tony Delmedico: She’s never going to see herself as a woman again if you keep calling her mom.

Laurie Watson: I think that that’s a fatal flaw. There’s something about being named that is problematic in that. I really highly suggest against it.

Tony Delmedico: So, if you’re listening, think about what you’re calling your partner and when and why. And begin to think about what it would be like to be calling them by their first names or the pet names that you have for them. Again, that opened up some intimate space for you.

Laurie Watson: But you were saying with your clients, your male clients that you see this Madonna split, not necessarily just about the body, but maybe more psychologically.

Tony Delmedico: I think it’s both. And I think, and also be driven home, and this may be a little edgy. I know that the current practice is to have the man in the delivery room playing center field as it were, cutting the umbilical cord. And I think that ties him closer and closer to the family. But I also think it implants a whole lot of other images that the guys in the fifties and sixties didn’t have to deal with. They were sitting in the waiting room passing out either passing out blue cigars or pink ones. So, it’s a tough then to hold the images of a child being born, even though it is beautiful, and it is a miracle. And people get defensive when I talk about this. But is it is an image that is not–

Laurie Watson: Sexy, necessarily.

Tony Delmedico: At all.

Laurie Watson: And can be anxiety producing for some men. And I think you’re right. It’s not probably politically correct to say that. I think some men do express that feeling of, you know, “Wow, her vulva is distorted. And that I hadn’t really thought I would see that. And it’s scary.”

Tony Delmedico: This is what dilation means.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. And you know, we expect a lot from young couples in the birth experience. They’ve never had a birth. And we expect them to go in there and the man should be the coach. You know, he should be able to get her through this. And she’s never been through it. They’re both frightened. He’s never seen her in that kind of pain. She’s never been in that kind of pain.

Tony Delmedico: Right.

Laurie Watson: They’re in a foreign environment. I think the way we set couples up for birth, while I do believe, for me particularly, having my partner present, my husband was really supportive and really helped me. I think it’s a huge setup. And I think some of those discussions of what the man feels about it, you know, are not talked about very much. Because of, “I’m supposed to feel this and I really felt that.”

Tony Delmedico: And I’m just going along with whatever the program is. And believe me at ForeplayRST, we’re not advocating not being a part, an intricate part of the birthing process at all. I think what we are saying is, just have a conversation about it or just have a thought. You may not want to be down watching, you may want to be up top, but just having a way into how you would like to have this be as important rather than just being unconsciously dragged through the process. I don’t think it’s a big thing particularly. But I think it speaks to just how hard it is to get back to feeling sexual and intimate with a partner. So, it’s just a piece of it.

Laurie Watson:  I also think that nursing is another thing that I hear men react to that is part of the split. You know that sometimes for them it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. And I would say 80% of men think, you know, their wife nursing their baby is the most beautiful thing in the world. But for that other 20%, you know, it’s like, “Oh, you know, those breasts used to be mine. My play things. And suddenly they belong to the baby.” And sometimes for the woman, you know, she’s touched out, she’s nursing. She doesn’t feel like her body has belonged to herself for a very long time. Let alone sharing it sexually. Let alone the fact that you know, when you’re sexual, sometimes your milk lets down. And we know a lot of women have kind of that ikk factor thing going on. They worry about all the potions and lotions and senses and fluids that happen during sex anyway. And this is one more. And they had an unexpected that. You know, so there’s some problems. And I think talking to couples about that, maybe helping them talk through it could be very, very helpful.

Tony Delmedico: As a point of caution, I think the man in general does feel like a third party. Even though he’s witnessing something very beautiful and natural and timeless. It is, what about me? What do I do now as this third wheel? How do I integrate into this new threesome? And it’s tough to do.

Laurie Watson: It would be wonderful if these men had their extended families. Like we’ve talked about, their fathers who say, “Hey, you know, just give it a little bit of time.” I mean, I think sometimes men have been told and we all think, “Okay, six weeks she’s going to be ready to be sexual again.” And sometimes she’s not.

Tony Delmedico: Most often the flip, the switch doesn’t flip. A pattern is being set up that gets very hard to pull back out of very quickly. She may be pregnant again with a second or third child. And so, a dynamic that’s going to carry on, you know, make it go and run unabated for the next seven, eight, ten years.

Laurie Watson: And I think there’s like this low grade depression, you know, “Oh my gosh, you know, sex has dropped off this far and now we got baby number two on the way. When are we ever going to get back to each other?” And I think I have a solution for that. I really do tell couples that once their parents, they need the four, four, four, solution. And what that means is that on the weekends you need four hours to yourself, four hours for her, uninterrupted and not about chores, four hours for him, uninterrupted, not about doing stuff, not about the kids. And four hours together that you take time away from the baby or the children that is about couple time. I mean, I think one of the difficulties for young mothers to be sexual is they feel like they don’t have any autonomy. Their purpose, especially if they’re a stay at home or even if they’re working and then doing childcare on top of it. Is their purpose, their work, their separateness is about the children. That’s what they are doing. Even though it’s a relational work, it’s still going out, you know, energy going out. And so, they don’t have anything for the self and they often don’t give them themselves permission to take time for the self. And I’m saying, if you’re going to be sexual, you have to have at least four hours of time, all that’s your own. You know, so work to build that bottle, supply that milk supply in the freezer, so that you can get away for four hours with your girlfriends to the park. Or say, you know what, you take the baby in the morning, let me sleep in for four hours. And take the baby out on a car ride or whatever. And he should have some time too that is unaccounted for. I mean, essentially, where he can go for a long bike ride, meet with his buddies. I mean we all need kind of a little bit of ourselves back when we have children. You know, because we give so much to the kids. And then we absolutely need to prioritize four hours that are just about the couple. A date. And it doesn’t have to be, you know, Saturday night, it might be Saturday morning because your energy is better, your kids are happier. And your kids need you to put them to bed at night. Okay, so go out Saturday morning. And couples tell me, “We don’t have any money, we don’t have any time.” When I was a young parent, I went to, you know, some fast food restaurant with my husband. And we sat for four hours and talked and did the, you know, refillable cokes. Which was brand new, which says how old I am at the time. And it was a cheap date. And we wandered through bookstores, which don’t exist anymore. So, I have no more ideas for you. But we did cheap dates and spent our money on the babysitter.

Tony Delmedico: And you committed to getting that time alone every week.

Laurie Watson: And we did.

Tony Delmedico: I think it’s wonderful. And I think that’s sound advice whether your children are six months old or 16 years old.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

Tony Delmedico: So, I think it’s just fabulous. The four, four, four rule. And if you can throw the 20, 20 rule from our previous sessions, I think you’re well on your way to get into the mountaintop. So, Laurie, as we wrap up this session for parents and trying to stay still lovers, do you have a tip for the day?

Laurie Watson: Yep, I do. And I think that along with the four, four, four rule. I would say designate a period of time one night a week that is intimate time. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be sexual, but you know, you’re going to put the baby down. And you’re not going to jump back on the computer. You’re not going to do work. You’re not going to look at your phones. You’re going to have a glass of wine together, debrief, talk, and hopefully something will lead to itself, and you will have sex.

Tony Delmedico: Wonderful. I think my tip, I just want to be a giant yellow warning sign that this is the most fragile time that you will have as a couple. And is fraught with danger, the potential for affairs, the potential for divorce. And if you don’t make the effort to break the pattern that very naturally sets up, you’re going to be in for trouble, whether sooner or later. So, keep your eyes open.

Laurie Watson: Couple comes first.

Tony Delmedico: You got it. That brings us to the end of this episode. I’m psychotherapist, Tony Delmedico, and I’m with Laurie Watson, sex therapist and author. You’ve been listening to Foreplay Radio, Sex Therapy. Join us next time for some more Foreplay.

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