Oops: I've totally accidentally abandoned my partner in favor of my child

Joanna Goddard recently posited an interesting question on her blog A Cup of Jo: Who gets the best kisses? She just finished reading Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity, a book about sex and marriage (before and after having kids):

Without realizing it, she said, women can end up getting their emotional intimacy and physical satisfaction from their children, instead of their partners, said Perel. They give their babies tons of wonderful affection — and then don't have anything left over for their spouse. The marriage can become an afterthought.

Perel's points sound strange (and a little disconcerting), and at first I was like, Oh, not me, never! But, Perel asks, when you have a baby, at the end of a long day, "Who gets the long languorous hugs, the playfulness, the fun, the fashion shows, the teasing, the multiple kisses? The child!"

Oh, wait, that sort of rang true!

I distinctly remember one night when Toby was about eight months old. Alex and I were in his nursery putting him to bed. The lights were dimmed, and we were sitting on the double bed together, and Toby was in my arms. We were having a sweet moment singing lullabies, and I was smothering Toby with kisses — his cheeks, his forehead, burying my face in his neck. Alex was humming along and waiting patiently for me to put Toby to bed, when suddenly I realized, Oh my goodness, I should plop my baby in his crib and go kiss my husband! It struck me, like a lightbulb moment.

Something I think most people in committed relationships eventually have to hear is that the longer you're with someone, the less sex you have. People give you all kinds of reasons for this: you get used to each other, you have kids, you… just stop. Frankly, this has been something that's always kind of terrified me, because I like having sex with my husband and hope to keep liking it as long as we're together. There was totally a period (like the whole first year) after our son was born that our sex life took a serious dip — between getting used to having a kid, new jobs for both of us, and just being really fucking tired it took a lot to even say good night. We didn't mean for this to happen… but it did.

My own marriage has recently had a pretty rad revelatory experience: my son started skipping naps two weeks ago. I thought this would be the death of my awesome work-from-home situation (since I usually spent his two-to-three hour nap time getting a lot of work done), and while it's taken some shuffling, it's also brought about a full-on revival in my husband-and-wife situation. Since Jasper is skipping naps he's going to bed every night at 6pm, which means Sean and I have between four and six hours of time together four-to-seven nights a week — something we haven't had since our son was born.

It's been awesome for the most part. Not only when it comes to sex, but just for us — we're hanging out again, and I didn't realize how much I missed really hanging out with him, uninterrupted, until now. We actually have the time to ask each other about our days — and I mean really ask, not just throw the question out there because it's required and "uh-huh" through the one-word-long reply ("Fine."). We talk to each other about people we both know and don't know, we bullshit about possible Grey's Anatomy scenarios (because we have TIME to watch it! WHAT.), and get to learn more about the people we are and who we're becoming.

In Mating in Captivity, author Perel brings up the idea that sex requires a little mystery — even if it's with the same person year after year. She believes couples need to have separate interests, activities, groups of friends — not that they need to cut each other out of their lives, but that they need to maintain an element of aloneness to keep their togetherness hot. Basically. To me, this makes sense — but I get that it might not work for everyone.

So riddle me this: how do you make sure you and your partner have time for one another? What do you think about Mating in Captivity?

  1. Let me preface by saying that I have not read this book.
    I will say that the idea that the mother is abandoning the father for the child makes me feel kind of icky. My husband kisses our baby just as much. We both dote on our son like CRAZY. So why is the mother automatically the overly affectionate, spouse neglecting parent? I believe that Dads have just as much responsibility in keeping the sex going as Moms do.
    just sayin'.

    2 agree
    • Totally agree that Dads or partners have just as much responsibility in keeping the sex going. I haven't read the book, but from what I gather, the blogger is talking more about times that she's spent a really long time at bedtime with her kid, rocking or holding, which is FINE — but it's also time she could have spent with her spouse. I have no idea if the book puts this ALL on the mom or not. This one part was just interesting to me.

    • Feeling "touched out" is definitely NOT just limited to mothers.

      1 agrees
  2. this book was recommended by our marriage counsler when my husband and i were having early marriage intimacy issues (it was crazy as soon as we said 'i do' sex felt like an obligation to me and i don't do well with expectations, our once awesome sex life was non existant for awhile there). i don't know that the book helped us with our issues but four years later we're stronger and happier then ever and trying to start our family has sent our sex life into over drive. i hope we're able to maintain our sex life as parents, because we've already worked on intimacy issues i'm confidant that we will and i'm even more confidant that my partner and i will be willing to work on any issues that come up.

    1 agrees
  3. I find this is definitely true – I will bring the baby into the bed without ever thinking that maybe my husband wanted some of my love, affection, and some monkey business we can't have with the kid around. It's a hard habit to break! And I can say, both parties can be guilty, but in my specific relationship, it's me, the lady.

    2 agree
  4. I've heard from multiple people the sentiment that, "The best gift you can give your child is a happy, healthy relationship with your spouse." Along with this, I've also heard the philosophy that your relationship with your significant other should remain your top priority, even over your children. Not meaning that you should neglect your kids to hang out with your spouse alone all the time (obviously), but that your kids will be fine if they don't have your undivided attention 24/7. In fact, they'll probably be HAPPIER in the long run if you focus a huge chunk of that energy on having a happy, fulfilling relationship with your spouse.

    To me, this actually makes a lot of sense. I see so many people (and, unfortunately, it IS usually my women friends that are the culprits) become obsessed with their babies to the point of borderline-insanity. Like, a friend of mine who hadn't gone on a single date with her husband (not even two hours alone for a movie) for the almost two years since their kid was born because she couldn't handle the idea of not having her kid with her at all times.

    I don't have kids yet, but if my partner and I didn't go on a date or spend any quality time alone together for YEARS, I would go completely insane. So, yeah, when the time comes my big goal is to focus on the fact that we are not only parents, we are still a couple that likes hanging out and spending time together just as much as we did before there was a baby in the picture.

    P.S. The "you'll stop having sex eventually" thing freaks me out too. We both love sex, and we do it a lot… so the idea that that might stop some day is a little scary.

    2 agree
    • I sometimes wonder if "you'll stop having sex eventually" isn't just a myth propagated by people who are scared of marriage.

      My octogenarian grandfather managed to bust out of the Alzheimer's ward (electronic ankle bracelet and all) in order to sneak into bed with his wife, who was in the ICU. So clearly, there are people who are still making it happen after years of marriage. 😉

      6 agree
      • It's not propaganda because it's very realistic that you will stop having sex at times. For example, consider that a woman's libido can and often does drop off the cliff when she becomes pregnant, not to mention the physical and emotional discomfort of being pregnant getting in the way of enjoyable sex. In case you are wondering, being preggo can feel like there's a tampon applicator or something left up there pushing on your hooha (that thing is your embryonic sack) making intercourse feel incredibly…crowded. Then after pregnancy for obvious physical and environmental reasons, sex is not a priority. You can't keep up the college aged momentum forever.

        1 agrees
    • My longtime boyfriend and I haven't been on a "proper" date ever. There has always been at least one kid with us. It is not by choice but rather a lack of support and resources to acquire someone to watch our child(ren). This, however, doesn't mean we lack anything in our relationship as we make it a point to carve out time to be together, even if it's at home at night. It helps that we are two creative and imaginative minded souls. I guess we "date" during the week several times when we feed the kids dinner then after they go to bed we enjoy our own dinner together. Next we watch shitty b-horror movies on Netflix or try to find other movies on there we might enjoy together.

      For us it's all about the effort of putting everything into our relationship as we know it'll trickle down to the relationships with our children.

      2 agree
    • Ugh. The friend you described is, pretty much, me. My girl is almost two and the longest I've been away from her is 2 hours. I'm trying to figure out now how to get the intimacy back on w/ my man semi-like we had it before but I'm also halfway through a pregnancy and unfortunately I'm the 'touch me and die' kind of pregnant lady :((

      So sad. But I really do want to figure it out. Have you ever seen Away We Go? That scene where the pregnant lady is crying and says "I miss having sex." and then her dude is like "Well, you wanna have sex?"

      "no."

      LOL. Too true…

      2 agree
      • Hahaha, I got ridiculously excited to see that you commented since I now subscribe to your blog.

  5. I have seen this happen with other moms that I know. In one case, it ended in divorce.

    My son is 5, and I love being affectionate and playful with him. The way we even it out is, I get to spend one-on-one time with him between when he comes home from school and when his dad comes home from work. Dad spends time with him until bedtime — he does his homework with him, they hang out and play, and he gets him ready for bed. Once he's in bed, we get our alone time. We may not be doing something together (for instance, maybe I'm at my computer and he's on the PS3) but we are sitting near each other and keep up a pretty good conversation. We try to have one date night — dinner and Netflix on the couch together — every week.

    Our particular challenge is falling into the idea that we know everything about each other. We've known each other for 20yrs, so it's hard to remember sometimes.

    3 agree
  6. guh. this terrifies me. i think it is the main reason i am reticent about having children (having recently trumped the part about forever and commitment).

    1 agrees
    • I'll just submit for consideration that "bed death" (lesbian or not) is a risk of any long-term relationship, regardless of whether you have children.

      11 agree
  7. My partner and I have been together for nine years. In this time the steaminess has waxed and waned. But the dip in sexy time post baby was probably the driest. I think a big part for us to get back what I consider normal to wonderfully high amounts of intimate time had to do with two things. My son turned one and started sleeping better. Second my husband never gave up making the sexy moves on me. In the beginning it was just cute. But I was to tired and emotionally exhausted. In the middle I will say it was almost annoying. But by the end of the dry spell I was starting to see what he saw. His hot wife was inside. She was still there! I have been thanking him extra well lately for his persistence!

    13 agree
    • I am currently in the "annoying" stage of my husband's comments and attempts to get our sex lives up and rolling again. I used to really love sex, and was by far the more driven in the beginning. I blame part of my lower interest on the low estrogen caused by breastfeeding. It has dried me out down-below and when I do have the time/energy/interest, it really hurts without lots of lube and patience. And then, just when things start working, the baby wakes up and starts crying. So, here's to hoping that this phase will pass and my husband will hang in there, and we will be rolling again one day.

      1 agrees
      • Sex hurt like hell until my fertility returned, almost 10 months post partum. I am still breastfeeding quit a bit, but everything seems to have returned to normal down there. I still have almost no sex drive, which sucks. I feel like I should be putting so much more effort into my marriage…I am just so damn tired.

      • My husband and I are having painful intercourse problems, too, and we aren't even pregnant yet. Our solution was to simply remove penetration from the equation as much as possible. Assuming you aren't trying to get pregnant again, you might try cutting out penetrative sex altogether, and just have oral and manual sex.

        I hope that wasn't TMI. It was just a huge "oh, duh" moment for me when I realized that we didn't have to have intercourse to have a satisfying sex life.

        Devoting a bit of time now and then solely to your care and pampering can help as well. It's a lot easier to feel sexy if you look and smell sexy (by your own standards of sexy, natch).

        2 agree
        • If intercourse is painful, I really recommend going to a doctor to see what's up. I'm not meaning to imply that oral/manual sex isn't satisfying, but the pain from penetrative sex may indicate something is wrong down there.

          4 agree
    • I hate saying this but in the past when I got super busy and stressed my significant other's sexy talk could be pretty damn annoying. BUT after a few years of soul searching and self discovery and most importantly meeting the right man, I've discovered that if I play along a little, even if I'm not feeling it, I actually rebound a lot faster back into sexy mode. AND even if we don't have sex for a while my hubby still knows that I find him attractive and yes, we will have sex again! This may or may not help anybody else but it has been a huge thing that's helped me do my part in keeping our sex life going.

      1 agrees
  8. Cali and Kelly, those comments were amazingly helpful and comforting to me, thank you! When I'm online properly tomorrow I thin k I might print them out and read them daily. Thank you!

  9. I haven't read the book so I'll just respond to the content of what Stephanie wrote about it. Andrew and I are equally present with our girls, that is we're each home about the same amount of time over all have similar amounts of time solo with one or both girls and similar amounts of time away doing our own thing – work, school, or socializing. The challenge is finding time away from our kids together, but it's possible.

    I've never felt like he was giving love to our girls that I wanted for myself or that I was giving love to them that he should have because we're in it together. I would literally fail as a parent if he were not in this with me. I need him and parenting with him has only increased my awareness of how awesome it is that we are a team. I feel like a success when I see him loving on our kids and I hope he feels that way when he sees me mothering them.

    That being said, one of the tensions of parenting for me is first the deep awareness that my daughters are full and complete human beings right now (as opposed to incomplete because they are not adults) and deserve all the relational and interpersonal love, care and respect I would give any adult I was in an intimate relationship with (or any human being for that matter). BUT – second – because they are (my)children and not adults the means by which I demonstrate that respect, care, and love is sometimes different, as are the expectations for intimacy and reciprocity that I would have approaching a relationship with an adult. I'll catch myself at times forgetting the first thing, and then sometimes the second.

    I hope it makes sense how this is related to the topic.

    1 agrees
  10. I haven't read Mating in Captivity and my husband and I don't have kids yet. However I wanted to speak to the last part of this post about maintaining some alone-ness and mystery in long term relationships to keep the sex level up and prevent bed death. My husband and I observe the jewish practice of taharat hamishpacha, which means we don't have sex for a good chunk out of any given month. We decided to begin observing it together at one point in our relationship before we got married and wooooweeeee. It's been a couple of years and it's totally transformed our sex life. I feel like a horny 15 year old again – so hot. I know this isn't everyone's experience and it's not why we do it, but for us having some time where sex was not only not expected but not allowed each month really sent both of us in to hyper-drive for the rest of the month. I don't know what the author suggests for preserving alone time and sense of separate selves, but based only on our own experience I'd say it's advice that has some wisdom to it.

    2 agree
    • Hey that's really interesting! It sounds like an experiment I would like to try out!

      1 agrees
  11. Due to our bed sharing/co sleeping arrangements, my partner and I rarely sleep in the same bed together. The key is, that you don't need a bed to have sex in!

    2 agree
  12. Just want to caution against the tendency to place blame on the woman as not being able to divide her time between baby and partner. I sense this sometimes, and it feels ever more like I am just dividing myself up to give to others, not that I am trying to give to a relationship that we both want and that supports me, and loving our child in a balanced way in the process.

    3 agree
  13. why can't we be distracted from everything else for a while? Like some of you guys said above its also biological and hormonal I think its natures way of resting us focusing us and maybe helping us raise one before we make another.

    I think the person missing out if you think there is one is the mama who feels guilty one way or the other. I gave up on being spread too thin and started enjoying my tiny baby she wasn't small for long and my partner and I are back to our post baby fun now. Life comes in stages.

    Why are we are always so hard on ourselves? We don't have to 'have it all' and 'do it all' – all at once and all the time!

    4 agree
  14. i agree with so many comments here, even the ones that disagree with each other! CatsPJs, you have such a good point. all the post-baby craziness is just a blip on the radar of a long marriage/partnership. i think that's part of why my husband and i are doing OK with it–we're ancient (42 and 44), so our perspective on time is different. maybe if we were 25 we'd be freaking out about how little sex we've had in the last year.

    it can be stressful and weird, knowing you're not getting or giving the usual amount of booty, but not the end of the world. i think it's important to consciously check in and get sexual on a regular basis but maybe there's a long interval. (for me, letting three weeks go by feels like too long.)

    a few days after we got back from the hospital, i (TMI alert!) curled up on an armchair, baby sleeping in his moses basket across the room, and pulled down my husband's shorts. he was totally surprised and pleased. let's just say that what i did to and for him was extremely pleasurable, and it didn't matter that i was recovering from surgery and my boobs hurt and i wasn't feeling sexual. i did it for him, and it was hot hot hot. and pretty fun, too. i think he kept that in mind over the relatively dry months that came after.

    1 agrees
    • Hi etccetera funny enough i am 25! haha still totaly agree about the blip on the radar 🙂

      1 agrees
  15. I'm a full time student, so I'm mostly a stay at home mom/wife which means that when my husband is finally home I want to lock my daughter in the closet and have some fun! Haha! (I jest of course, but I am always waiting/wishing for her to sleep!) Even when I didn't have much of a sex drive right after she was born, I still just wanted to be held and loved by him for awhile, since I felt like all day I was doing all of the loving!
    This is just to say, that being the mother doesn't mean you turn into a baby slave. I love my daughter to death, and I love when she sleeps! In fact she's sleeping right now, and even though I sent my husband off to work, it feels good to not have passed out when I was putting her to sleep, and I can spend some time alone watching Parenthood and reading OBM… wait a minute! haha!

    1 agrees
  16. I totally identify with this. My husband stays at home with my son, so when I'm home, I really try to spend a lot of time with him to make up for not being there the rest of the time. It makes it hard to go on dates/sneak in whoopie during nap times/etc. But since I started back on birth control, I really try to be more receptive to my husbands numerous (really, really numerous) advances, to the point that I try not to say no at all unless there is a possibility of contagion for both parties. Don't know if that's what they meant by "mystery", but it seems to work well for us.

    1 agrees
  17. As a divorced mom who's lack of sex was a major contributing factor in her divorce, let me say that "YES IT IS THAT IMPORTANT!" I had no idea, and yet I hear from men and women that it is all too common for women to not want to have sex once marriage and kids happen. It's so easy to rationalize – we are busy with the kids, with work, we're exhausted (and all of this is indeed true) but we also have to really really try to put our partner first. I have also heard the phrase that "the best present you can give your children is a strong relationship with your spouse". That should come first IMO. My new fiance also had a marriage end partially due to a lack of sex as well. I have determined to never let that happen again. After all, when you think about it – how long does it take? Sad but true, it can be 5 or 10 minutes or less, and even when you're tired, can't you spare even that much? It will make a world of difference, I promise!

    3 agree
  18. After my daughter was born, I didn't have difficulty with my libido. I was actually the one who asked the OB when I could have sex again. I don't know if it's because my daughter was early or because I have an abnormally high sex drive, but it hasn't been an issue for my husband and me.

    1 agrees
  19. I have never read the book but I have seen marriages end dew to one parent (In almost every case the woman) placing all there affection onto the baby and completely side lining the partner. This takes a huge toll in time. I am pregnant now and with my hub working away, sex is not on the table for another month. I really don't have any drive, so this will be a challenge we will have to work on. One thing I hope that will get us back into rhythm is that I stand by my personal belief that the baby is to never enter the bed with us. It also seems safer as I seem to elbow my hub in the head, kick him in my sleep at least once a week, and he steals ever blanket on the bed. Its like a war zone of sleep. I forget who gave me the advice to keep the bed a intermit place for just us two, and if a little one is scared sit in there bed till their asleep.

    1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.