This was my family doctor's idea for a marketing slogan when I told him about my sleep-coaching business. He's a funny dude (and thankfully a top-notch doctor).
He was speaking from experience of course.
There's nothing like a little person in your house waking up every few hours, or a not-so-little person insisting you lie down with them in order to fall asleep twice a night, to send your libido into the basement and totally kill your marital sex life.
I remember feeling like I finally understood what it was like to be a man, thinking about sex every 10 seconds; in the initial post-partum months, all I ever thought about was sleep. It became an obsessive, invasive thought that would cast a glaze over my eyes whenever someone spoke to me. I would nod and say an appropriate number of "mm-hmm's", but would be really thinking, "When can I sleep? When's the next nap time? I hope she sleeps in her crib so I can nap.... I need more sleep. I'm soooooo tired. Mm-hmm."
Now, there's no avoiding this bleary-eyed sleep obsession in the earliest stage of your baby's life. Your sex life will (and probably should) take a hit; there is a pretty significant physical recovery that has to happen for Mom, not to mention your top priority is keeping a new little human alive. But often months and even years can go by without that shift back; couples can drift apart in the absence of intimacy when their child isn't sleeping through the night.
Those precious hours between 7 and 10 p.m., when a healthy, happy baby or young child is fast asleep, give Mom and Dad time both for themselves and each other, and that time can save a marriage.
I've had more than a few moms who've called to ask for my help tell me they haven't shared a bed with their partner in months or years. One mom of three said the extent of the quality time she and her husband have is "high-fiving each other" when they meet in the hallway. Another mom told me she finally understood why so many of her friends got divorced when their kids were two and three years old (at the time, she and her husband were in marriage counselling).
Intimacy isn't a luxury. And it isn't something we can afford to sacrifice after having children. Yes, our children need us and sometimes their needs outweigh everything else, but a wise friend told me years ago (several years after her own divorce), that children need parents who love each other. I would add that they also need parents in love with each other. A healthy, happy relationship between a child's parents gives them security and a happy home environment, not to mention a shining example for their own future relationships - these little people are modelling us in every moment and will continue to throughout their lives.
Now I'm not talking about neglecting your baby's needs for your own or your spouse's. This is about keeping your whole family thriving. There's just no question that a healthy sex life is one of the cornerstones of a healthy, happy marriage. (If in doubt, ask your spouse.) When we're too tired and too busy and we let intimacy slip - the same intimacy that brought you together to create this beautiful family in the first place - everyone suffers: one or both partners aren't feeling happy or fulfilled, tension builds and dissatisfaction seeps in.
And your children will pick up on the tension; they always do.
Now, back to my doctor's idea: so what are the three steps to a better sex life? I'm fumbling through the early parenting years with two kids myself, but let me take a stab at it:
1. Decide that your marriage / partnership is a priority and a critical part of your whole family's happiness.
2. Help everyone in the family develop healthy, independent sleep habits so you actually have the time, privacy and energy for sex.
3. Once your child is consistently, happily fast asleep at 7:30 p.m., carve out time for each other, and bring back those connections that brought you together in the first place. Then settle down for your own 8 hours of sleep.