Remember when you were first expecting and feeling more in love with your sweetheart than ever? You probably cuddled close on the sofa and blissfully swore that parenthood wouldn’t change your relationship or love life. After all, you know that it’s important for couples to maintain a sex life even after having children. Then the baby actually arrived and you discovered that it’s a lot easier to make those romantic vows than to actually keep them. I mean, how often should couples have sex, anyway? If you went on to have another child (or two, or more), the promise to keep things hot in the bedroom has probably become even more of a distant memory. So if your love life has been flagging, you might be worrying whether your relationship is in trouble, and asking yourself if you and your SO are getting intimate enough.
Relax. When it comes to lovemaking, there’s no perfect number that every couple should aim for, lest something terrible happen. “[How often to have sex] is really going to depend on the couple,” New York couples therapist Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, tells Romper. “But if it’s been weeks and weeks, or if you can’t remember the last time you made love, that’s something to look into. The longer you go, the harder it can be to talk about it or to make a move.”
Let’s face it: As any parent will attest, having a child changes your priorities, and sex tends to slide way down that priority list. “Life gets pressured and busy when you have a child,” says Amatenstein, author of The Complete Marriage Counselor. “Your primary focus is your kid, and it can be easy to let sex go by the wayside.”
Maintaining the energy for a love life can be daunting when kids enter the picture, whether it’s a newborn with 3:00 a.m. feedings, a toddler who runs mom ragged, or a 5th grader with an endless schedule of playdates and sports practices. Add in other stressors, like finances and health, and it’s no wonder that couples are too tired to get busy. “Parents are exhausted,” says Amatenstein, “And it’s the wife more often than the husband, because she’s usually the one who has more parenting responsibilities.”
The good news: You don’t have to get your sexy on every single night in order to have a satisfying marriage. One recent study from the University of Toronto found that couples who have sex just once a week are just as happy as ones who get busy more frequently.
If even that once-a-week figure is more than you and your honey currently manage, Amatenstein offers some tips to rev up your love life:
- Start communicating. Sex is one of those topics that can be tough to talk about, even for long-married couples. Still, it’s vital to open up about your concerns and needs. If you don’t want to get into a long discussion, Amatenstein suggests trying a playful approach to get the point across. Leave your partner a sexy note, or flirt at an unexpected moment.
- Up your intimacy. It’s intimacy, rather than intercourse, that keeps couples bonded. Even on days when you’re too tired to make love, you can stay connected in little ways. “Kiss each other in the morning and when you come home from work,” says Amatenstein. “Hold hands. Go out to dinner. Make time for one another.”
- Compromise. When it comes to lovemaking frequency, what constitutes “all the time” for one partner may be not nearly enough for the other. If you and your spouse have different sex drives, “you have to see if you can balance things out,” says Amatenstein. “Cuddle one night and have sex the next. Again, intimacy doesn’t have to be intercourse.”
- Show some PDA in front of the kids. “It’s healthy for kids to see you being affectionate with each other,” says Amatenstein. Don’t be shy about hugging and kissing when your children are around. It’ll help remind you that you’re as much a spouse as you are a parent — and it might help spark the desire to take things further at bedtime.
- Maintain boundaries. When your children are old enough to understand, let them know that there are times when Mom and Dad need some privacy, and one of them is bedtime. Establish a do-not-disturb-except-for-emergencies policy, and stick to it.
- Recapture those romantic memories. If you can’t recall a time when you weren’t parents, get a refresher by visiting the restaurants, bars and other places you used to go pre-kids. (Sadly, one recent British poll of 2,000 parents, as reported in Parents, found that more than half never go on date nights.)
- Get your calendar out. Making a definite date for sex may seem like just another chore, but it helps put your love life back on top of your priority list. Besides, when done right, scheduling lovemaking can even be fun.
So don’t fret. There’s no perfect number for any couple, but there are plenty of ways to make sure both you and your SO are happy with the frequency of sex and intimacy in your relationship. Keep communicating with each other, and don’t let an arbitrary number get stuck in your head.