How do we make time to be together as a couple once we’ve had children?

I think that’s a really crucial question, and it’s something lots of people are struggling with, whether they have children or not. We lead really busy lives, and there are so many competing things for our time that sex can often fall to the bottom of the list and get forgotten.

That can particularly be the case once we have children. Our previous timetable goes out of the window, sleep is a rare treat and we seem to spend all of our time exhausted. But it’s really, really important that we are intentional about making time for sex with our spouse.

The most important thing that contributes to a good sexual relationship is, without a doubt, communication.

We use a technique in sex therapy called ‘the timetabling model’, which is exactly as it sounds. I get couples to sit down and work out when they are most likely to want to be sexual. When are they most likely to feel rested and in the mood for it? Sometimes that means being a little bit creative. So it might be in the morning or at the weekend. It might be when the children are out if they are old enough. It might be that they’ve got little ones and they sit and watch a film, and the couple earmark some time for themselves.

Why is it important that we make time for this?

Because as Christians we know that God created sex, and sex is really good. And I think that there is a bond that happens between two people through sex that can’t really be created or recreated through anything else. When we are close to our spouse we make ourselves vulnerable, and I think we have a deep bond through that process. That is really important. And it’s something we have to really be intentional about, to ensure we maintain that.

Apart from a lack of time, why might couples struggle to have sex post-children?

I think it can be a number of things. The couple is very tired. They don’t have as much time to just enjoy each other’s company. Having little ones around often changes the dynamic. Sometimes I work with couples where a baby has been born and they become the sole focus, to the exclusion of the partner. That can be a difficult and painful thing that the couple has to work through.

Sometimes sex after childbirth can be painful, and it might be that one or other is suffering with a sexual problem, such as erectile dysfunction or painful sex. Neither partner knows what to do, so they bury their heads in the sand and don’t address the issues. The longer this goes on the harder it can become for the couple to address the issues, and intimacy can be quickly lost.

Can body image affect a relationship?

Yes, I have seen men and women struggling with low self-esteem issues to do with their body, and it’s not always connected to having children. It can be because of weight gain or illness, such as breast or prostate cancer. Self-esteem can also change during and after pregnancy, because obviously a woman’s body changes quite significantly over this time. Sometimes I meet couples where a woman has loved her pregnant body and her partner may not have done, or the other way round, and that can be quite painful.

There may be lots of adjustments that need to be made, and I think one of the things that can be difficult is that we often internalise these feelings and we don’t find a way to gently share these as a couple. We keep things in and this can feel quite lonely.

It’s really, really important that we are intentional about making time for sex with our spouse 

Are there other practical ways of making time for our relationship post-children?

I think it’s just talking about it, really. I get asked this question all the time: “What is the single biggest, most important thing that contributes to a good sexual relationship?” and it is, without a doubt, communication. But talking about sex can be really difficult. That can be because two people may have grown up in very different family backgrounds. One person might be able to talk about sex comfortably. Perhaps they grew up in a family where their parents were happy being naked and comfortable in their own skins. Perhaps they’ve married someone where the opposite was the case; where sex was talked about in a shameful way; where they weren’t able to expose their bodies without feeling shame, and it was a very taboo subject. Or both could find it a hard subject to talk about.

I encourage couples to talk about sex right from the start of their marriage and not to wait until there are problems. Talk about what your hopes are, what your fears are. If this is a really difficult subject for you, just verbalise that. Say: “This is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me. It’s not something I’m used to doing, but I know that if we’re going to build a good sexual relationship the foundation of that has to be talking about it.”

If you talk about it early on, four years down the line if you get pregnant you have the language that will make that conservation easier. “I’m feeling really uncomfortable about the fact that my body has changed so much. How are you feeling?” “I really like the way your breasts look, but I have noticed you don’t seem to want me to touch them since we have had the baby, and I feel sad about that.” “I feel that you only seem interested in the baby now and I feel hurt about that. It feels like we have lost something between us. Can we talk about it?” If you’ve already started that conversation it’s just a continuation of a process that we need to be doing throughout our married lives.

Time for a chat

Emma raises some really big questions for couples, and talking it through might be difficult. Here are a few questions to get you started:

How did you learn about sex?

If you could change one thing about your sex life what would it be?

What is the most romantic or intimate film you have ever seen and why?

What is your favourite love song and why?

The time I most feel like being intimate is….