Ladies, here's a secret: you don't have to have sex to keep the romance alive.
Most men -- most good men, that is -- can have their "sexual needs" satisfied with something much different. And no, I'm not talking about oral sex or porn or anthing like that.
I'm talking about affection. Pure, real, loving affection.
We mamas get so caught up in our babies after giving birth that we often (usually) forget that our husbands, have needs, too.
And NO, I'm not talking about THOSE kind of needs! To repeat: I'm talking about affection...
"Affection" is not a need that we typically associate with men. The conventional wisdom holds that men need sex, while women need affection. Period. But as is so often the case with conventional wisdom, this is overly simplistic.
I asked marriage and family therapist Dr. Julie Anderson (whom you will see more on more here on NB) to clarify what is really going on. She explained that of course, men tend to have higher sex drives than women -- we can thank good 'ol testosterone for that. Men simply have more of it. It was Nature's original way of ensuring robust reproduction.
I can hear the howls from some of you right now. Women need sex, too! That is such a stereotype!
No disagreement here. And... As with most stereotypes, this one is grounded in truth. It's particularly true after childbirth: postpartum women, and especially nursing moms, have an overabundance of progesterone, which is associated with lower sex drives.
Dr. Julie, one of the original feminists who marched for women's rights in the 60s and 70s, explains that after 40 years in practice, the pattern is predictable. Men complain about the lack of sex. Women complain about the lack of attention and support.
But she's also convinced they're actually talking about the same thing. Both are frustrated by the lack of affection. It's just that men tend to equate sex with love and affection, whereas women tend to get “filled up” with love in less physical, but more emotional ways. (Again, hold the howls, ladies. We’re talking generalities here.)
And, just like you, when your man’s cup-of-love runneth over, he’s more likely to be loving, understanding, patient and helpful. Believe it or not, most partners want to be helpful and supportive of you. They’re far more likely to be all of these things when their emotional needs have been met.
And this is the point. Ultimately, it’s not about sex: it’s about ensuring that your partner feels loved...
Understanding this is critical to keeping the romance alive in your relationship for the long haul. Dr. Julie was emphatic on this point. Life is long. Hopefully, your relationship will be just as long. There will be times when you and your partner are busy like bunnies, as well as “dry” years when sex is just not a priority (or possible.)
For most couples, the first few years of parenthood is an especially dry time. In fact, she notes, couples with young children report the lowest level of sexual satisfaction of any age group. So you and your partner are not alone.
Needless to say, finding ways to fill each other’s emotional cups is especially important in those sexless weeks and months after your baby arrives.
The challenge is how. How do you fill his cup when you’re still healing from childbirth, or when you are both so exhausted that neither of you want to do it? Again, for most men, physical sex is the most direct path to emotional satisfaction. But after your baby arrives, even he may not want to engage. He’s tired, too. But now you’re in a bind: on the one hand, your partner doesn’t really want sex but if that was his main source of his affection, then he’s likely to feel frustrated… even if he can’t articulate why.
So wrap your head around that. Next week, we’ll talk about how to fill your partner's affection needs in the absense of sex... AND we'll talk about you, and how you can work with your partner to ensure that you feel as loved by him as you really are.
How do you keep the romance alive, when sex isn't really an option? Share your tips below!
Also see: Protecting your Marriage After Baby