A mom of two and parenting expert shares simple ways partners can close any emotional distance after they have kids.

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Illustration of woman and man cuddling on a yellow couch
Credit: Kailey Whitman

On Valentine's Day one year, I stopped by a neighbor's apartment to drop something off for her kids. As soon as she opened the door, I recognized the red, glassy glare of pink eye. "Oh no. Of all days," I offered sympathetically. She raised an eyebrow and said, "Are you kidding? This is the best get-out-of-sex excuse I've ever had."

This entire notion of the sexless marriage has been the butt of standup routines, TV shows, and movies for decades and for good reason. It's as comical as it is common. At some point, most couples notice they just don't have as much sex as they used to. Add in kids to the equation and the number takes a deeper dive. I won't go as far as to say that having kids is the death of sex, but it can certainly lead to the death of sex as you know it.

A 2018 study of 1,000 parents exposed a pretty troubling picture about coitus post-kids. Nearly half of moms said that having children made their sex lives worse, and most reported an overall decrease in libido. Though I should note, 40 percent say their sex lives were unchanged, and 13 percent say their sex lives improved since becoming moms. If there was ever a reason to be jealous of another mom, that may be it.

First, we should talk about what is considered "normal" in our culture. According to the General Social Survey, the average married couple has sex 58 times a year, which is around once per week. That number elicits various responses from women. Some think it's spot on; others think it's too much, and others too few. The number doesn't really matter. What is most important is what is normal for you and your partner—and whether that changes after kids in a way that is destructive to your marriage.

Our first instinct may be to think that a sexless marriage can create a host of issues in a relationship. But what is clear from my conversations is that it is more of a symptom of something than the cause. Experts say as many as 15 to 20 percent of married couples are rarely having sex, if at all. What constitutes "sexless," you are probably wondering self-consciously?

Some say you've earned the label if you have not been intimate with your partner within the last six to 12 months. Others assign a specific number: 10 times or less in the last year. Here is the thing I want to prepare you for: that once hot and heavy bond (the one that probably led to that kid of yours in the first place) may turn a bit frigid in the months after your baby is born, and that's perfectly normal.

But that doesn't mean it's gone for good. Here are simple ways to close the emotional distance with your partner and reclaim intimacy.

Work On Being Friends Again

I always say getting time away with my husband reminds me why I liked him in the first place. Alone time is a nice reminder of who we truly are, as opposed to the nagging eye-rollers who manifest most days of the week. Now, when I look at the overflowing trash can as he is sitting on the couch watching CNN, I try to visualize that beach in Aruba that brought us so much peace, and then I remind him to take the garbage out.

Create New Ways to Be Intimate

Being close to your partner isn't just about intercourse. Modern parenthood requires a new or, at the very least, an expanded definition of intimacy. It doesn't take a herculean effort to make your partner feel important or appreciated. Something as simple as saying good morning every day (I have talked to couples who don't say a word to each other in the mornings), a quick kiss good-bye (no tongue if you are not in the mood), flirt (compliment each other, make each other feel desired), and ask how their day was when you reunite, and wait for the answer.

Experiment

Now is the time to breakout of the routine. It's not just about frequency, but also what you do with the time you have. A high number of moms who were able to rejuvenate their intimate relationships told me they did so by watching porn, experimenting with sex toys, and exploring new positions.

Make Time to Take Care of Your Body

This doesn't necessarily mean losing weight, though that is often a goal. Feeling better can come from doing things that make you feel better, whether that be running, yoga, meditation, taking classes to learn a new skill, or spending more time with friends. What is important is to reclaim or create activities that make you feel joyous and confident.

Speak Up

Some things have to be spoken plainly to effect change. Unfortunately, we often express this kind of need during moments of rage, like when they pass the basket of unfolded laundry for the twentieth time. But you want a conversation, not a grudge match. Tell your partner what you need and let them tell you what they need in return. The goal should be for you both to feel seen and heard.

Put Yourself First

Our strong cultural bias toward accommodating and anticipating our kids' every need not only creates spoiled, impatient brats but also leaves us little energy for anything else. Instead of planning out the weekend so your kids are enriched and entertained every minute of the day, why not plan some grown-up time, something you as a couple will enjoy? Take time to talk to each other and, most importantly, listen. Every conversation doesn't have to be about the coming week's family calendar. Make space for you as a couple.

Excerpted from How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide by Ericka Sóuter. Copyright ©2021 Ericka Souter. Published by Sounds True in August 2021.