"Sex ... I could go the rest of my life without it!" I said to my husband, Mark, as we drove up to the bed-and-breakfast we had reserved for a two-day getaway. "I have no desire. I'm so tired, and I can't seem to ever meet your needs!" After spending the past four years either pregnant or nursing, I couldn't even remember what it was like to be a lover.
From Mark's perspective, it seemed I had changed once kids entered the picture. He told me that it felt like I had become emotionally and physically unavailable to him.
The one thing we did manage to agree on was how unprepared we both were for the changes to our love life that came with having kids.
That B&B scenario played out between Mark and me many years ago. Since then we've raised five children and readily admit that during the parenting years, our sex life was a source of frustration, a point of growth, a place of healing, a form of recreation and a foundation of joy in our marriage. Our commitment to relational growth required that we find creative solutions to our differing sexual needs. And believe it or not, we discovered how to be both parents and lovers.
If you are struggling with some of the same frustrations that Mark and I wrestled with, take comfort in knowing that it doesn't have to be this way. Consider the following strategies for experiencing the fullness of God's gift of physical intimacy in marriage.
Start with God's perspective. This whole sex thing was God's idea in the first place. Explore His three purposes for giving the gift of sex: Genesis 1:27-28 addresses reproduction; Genesis 2:25 implies deep intimacy; and in Song of Solomon 7:1-6, you'll discover God's desire for married couples to experience satisfaction, enjoyment and pleasure. When I realized that God created sex to be a form of recreation in my marriage, it went from being a task to being a treat.
Stay marriage-centered. When kids enter the family picture, it's easy to put marriage on hold. While it may be a natural response, it's also the worst thing we could do for those kids. Children find stability in knowing their parents' marriage is healthy. If Mommy and Daddy are OK, their world is OK. Take time for each other. Hire a sitter or trade date nights with another couple. Plan an overnight getaway. My taking time to enjoy being with Mark helped build our emotional intimacy — which made a difference in the bedroom, too.
Take a nap. For a couple with kids, exhaustion is one of the biggest barriers to lovemaking. You're up throughout the night with a little one, or maybe you're waiting for a teen who's coming and going at all hours. In every stage, you'll need to find solutions to this challenge. Consider an afternoon nap that assures some evening intimacy, or try making love in the early morning. How about a lunch date during the kids' naptime? A little self-care is not selfish — a bath could get me in the mood, or a nap could provide an energy boost.
Unpack your baggage. Some of us bring the weight of sexual abuse into the bedroom; others of us carry the guilt of promiscuity, abortion or pornography into bed with us. But God does His best work in our brokenness. In our situation, Mark got serious about repairing the damage pornography had done to his perspective about sex. He found a counselor and arranged accountability with friends. With the help of a Christian counselor, I put to rest the guilt I carried from my own promiscuity before marriage.
Start outside the bedroom. Physical intimacy is designed to be the culmination of emotional intimacy. Do you know your spouse's hopes and dreams? What are the biggest stressors in his or her life? Turn off your computer, step away from life's distractions and make time to talk. Just 15 minutes of focused conversation each day made a huge difference in the way Mark and I connected to each other.
Talk about it. For many of us, we'd rather have a root canal than actually talk with our partner about our sex life. Why is that? Mark and I believe it's because most of us don't have a model for communication about sex. In our own marriage, we created a new normal by following Solomon's model for communication about sex. Take some time to read the Song of Solomon with your spouse. Although it may at first feel awkward talking about making love, you will eventually get more comfortable with the topic.
Embrace your differences. Every married couple is incompatible in some way. The key to navigating those differences is to identify them, understand them and then meet in the middle. Mark and I were able to stop a cycle of conflict in our relationship once we made an effort to better understand each other. Respect for each other increased — and that positively affected our love life. You may desire physical intimacy more or less often than does your spouse — that's normal. Because marriage is about serving one another, embracing your differences outside the bedroom can deepen emotional intimacy and strengthen physical intimacy inside the bedroom.
Schedule it. While it contradicts the common belief that sex should be spontaneous, putting sex on the calendar is one of the smartest things parents can do. By agreeing on a regular schedule that is less often than the person with more desire wants and more often than the person with less desire wants, conflict and rejection can be taken off the table. Mark and I found that putting intimacy on the calendar actually helped increase my desire for it. Knowing that "tonight's the night" kicked my brain into gear and built anticipation. We've learned that while spontaneous sex may have its place in married life, scheduled sex always has its place on our calendar.Jill Savage is the founder and director of Hearts at Home and the author of nine books, including No More Perfect Moms.