Desire Discrepancy in the Early Parenting Years, Part TwoOct 11, 2023
The Higher Desire Partner’s Side
Last time, I wrote about a desire discrepancy in the early parenting years from the side of the lower-desire partner. This time around, I’m going to discuss this with the higher-desired partner in mind.
Being a higher-desire partner isn’t easy! It can involve a lot of rejection. You might feel stuck, powerless, or trapped. You might be wondering if your relationship will ever be the same, or worrying that your partner isn’t attracted to you in the same way they used to be before kids entered the picture.
On top of that, all of a sudden you’ve got a lot more stress with all the new challenges of parenting, and a lot less sex. If sex helps you unwind, this is a difficult equation to balance. And if sex is a way you love to connect with your partner, you might be feeling less connected, too.
It’s painful, and it’s tough – but there’s good news, too. First of all, you and your partner are adjusting to a whole new world. It’s very understandable that, with less time and more on your plate, it’s hard to fit in the same sexual connection you’ve been accustomed to. But you’re just at the beginning of this grand adventure, and you’re tackling it as a team. There’s lots of time and opportunity to adjust, to learn more about your new patterns, and to find ways to stay connected.
Nothing is guaranteed in this world, and I certainly can’t promise you that if you follow my advice you’re going to have a bunch of great sex. However, here’s the key insight: relationships are a collaborative endeavor. Every partner contributes something to the relationship dynamic. And if you can figure out what you’re contributing, you’re much more likely to see a shift in the entire dynamic.
Here’s where I’d start:
Don’t panic and don’t catastrophize. Seasons in our lives come and go, and some seasons are not the time for our best sex ever! Especially in a huge adjustment period like this one, when you and your partner are both learning all the complexities of how to manage an expanding family, it makes sense that your usual routines will get thrown out of whack. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or your relationship, and it won’t last forever.
Notice your own meaning-making. When we feel rejected, it’s easy to spin out with stories like “I must not be attractive anymore” or “They must have their eyes on someone else” or any number of panic-inducing narratives. When our emotions are running high, it’s easy to convince ourselves that the scariest possible interpretation of the situation is the truth. Be mindful of this tendency, and if you find yourself spinning out a lot, it might be worth checking some of your assumptions with your partner.
Be your own best erotic partner. If sex is your stress release, make sure that you have a fulfilling and empowering self-sexual relationship. I think we often think of self-pleasure as being somehow lesser than a partnered sexual experience. But you are your own first, best, and closest erotic partner, and this is a good opportunity to honor that.
Tap into your most gentle, generous self. Be mindful of your emotional reactions when you feel rejected. Of course, feeling rejected is painful. It’s completely understandable if you feel a little wounded, and it can be hard to manage those emotions. So, ask yourself: What kind of self care will enable you to bring your best self to your complex life? Can you challenge yourself to practice curiosity about your partner’s experience and let empathy carry the day? Often, staying in touch with your values helps; what kind of parent do you aspire to be? What kind of a partner? Why are those things important to you? What will they require of you? What will be the benefit to you when you show up in alignment with your values?
As I said before, I can’t guarantee that anything you do will make your partner want to have sex; that’s just not the way the world works. But I can pretty much guarantee that putting pressure on your partner–even if it’s subtle, even if it’s unintentional–will make them have less desire. I’ve seen it a million times in my therapy room: if one partner doesn’t feel completely comfortable saying “no,” they start wanting to avoid any situation that could lead to intimacy. Often, over time, it’s not just sex that’s off that table; it’s cuddling, kissing, anything that could lead to an experience of feeling even very subtle pressure for sex. On the other hand, if you can stay calm, warm, and kind, even when it's hard, you’ll be doing your best to foster an environment where it’s fun and easy to connect intimately, and much easier to reconnect when time allows.
Consider rethinking some of your sexual habits. The sexual routines we fall into over time can also accidentally create pressure. Penetration, for instance, is a pretty high-stakes sexual activity. It can require quite a lot of time and emotional bandwidth, and everyone’s body needs to be functioning really well in order for it to work. If you can have sex in a way that doesn’t require penetration, for instance – or whatever other activity might be making things a little more complicated than they need to be – you might be able to take a lot of the pressure off any given sexual interaction, and as a result, enjoy your time together a lot more.
How can you connect intimately in a way that doesn’t require quite as much time or bandwidth? Be creative and don’t get bogged down in cliches about what counts as “real” sex. For example, many people get through tough times with mutual self-pleasure, or even one-way self-pleasure side by side, all of which can be extremely sexy.
Strengthen your teamwork. Being completely overwhelmed, exhausted, sleep deprived, and stressed out is not a recipe for great sex. If that’s part of what your partner is feeling, it’s worth taking a hard and honest look at your household contributions. Are you pulling your fair share? Are there ways you can lighten your partner’s load? Can you afford to hire some help? Now is a great time to put time, effort, and resources into anything you can think of that will lighten the load.
Originally published on Psychology Today.