Question: My husband and I have three preschool children and very stressful jobs. When I was breastfeeding the youngest, he moved into the guest room. It’s been two years since I last fed and we’re still in separate rooms. We don’t talk about it, but we’re both pretty much okay with it. We haven’t had regular sex since having kids — and while we avoid talking about it, I think we’re both happy with it, despite the fact that we worry it might be weird. My sister says separate rooms are the death knell of a relationship. What do you think? The idea of not getting a full night’s sleep scares me, and if we’re happy what’s the harm?
Allison replies: If we stop for a moment and read your first line again, I can feel the exhaustion and the pressure you are both under. Then your last line talks about the fear of not sleeping through. I hear and acknowledge where you are is beyond difficult.
But neither your sister nor I have any say in what works for you as a couple. When I work with couples, I make sure I’m not privy to them in their quiet, private moments – a warm knowing smile, a gentle soothing touch on your arm – those are the things no one else sees. Because of this, making black-and-white comments about a couple as to what is “good” or “bad” is short-sighted, as no one sees the full picture of what goes into making each couple unique. What works for one, doesn’t work for the other.
There are some components that are unique to being a couple that differentiate it from a friendship, for example. Being physically connected is unique. It creates a bond and chemical connection thanks to the love hormone oxytocin. I hear two productive parents doing their best. When sex becomes another chore, it’s an indication that the daily stress is taking a heavy toll on both of you.
Intimacy in a couple can also show itself as support: “You look tired, I’ll put the kids to bed tonight” or understanding: “It’s been hectic here today, I’ll take the kids out for a quick spin and give you a break.” .’ It’s that deep knowing of each other when you’ve reached your limits but feel like you’re on the same team. Many parents easily fall into the natural trap of “I’m more tired, more stressed, more exhausted than you”. As parents who take care of everyone else, looking out for each other is romantic. It’s love in action.
They both have their hands full with three young children and a stressful career. The clichés about parenthood are sadly true, especially when it comes to the torture of not getting enough sleep and racking up sleep debt the equivalent of standard mortgages. I understand why sex is last on your list.
However, I would gently suggest putting it on the to-do list by starting to talk about how this is for both of you. It sounds like you’re both happy and maybe a little apprehensive about bringing up this topic. We can have different feelings at the same time, and in an ideal world you might want to have more sex but are so tired and exhausted that you are afraid to have sex.
That’s the whole point: there isn’t enough time or energy for either of you in your relationship. There is no blame or judgment here, and in my view, this is evident in far too many people. Looking around, I see the tremendous effort that couples put into their time and energy every day trying to keep their heads above water. Juggling is a struggle for many.
With ever-increasing financial demands, there is a high price to pay – and the price is parental burnout. Exhaustion and sex don’t mix well. As with many of the pillars of health in life, waiting until you have the energy will make you wait a long time, and sometimes it can break the habit of having sex. I could mention that it’s like riding a bike – and in a way it is. Most of us don’t want to exercise, but the oxymoron is that the more you exercise, the more energy you get. Being physically together can also get this consensual ball rolling.
It is said that adult bed is for sleeping, resting and sex. I would add that it can be a place for midnight chats and giggles to be playful and/or supportive and a place to connect even just touching the soles of each other’s feet. The bed can provide a space and an opportunity to physically connect and be a couple, not just mom, dad and all the other demanding roles you play every day.
I’m anticipating your weary parenting responses like “I don’t have the energy for sex” or “I’m so touched at the end of the day,” and you’re right – so what can you do to adjust? Some room for both of you?
As you look at the allostatic load that builds up day after day from unrelenting demands, ask yourself how you’re going to carve out some time for yourself and as a couple: It can seem like you’re going for an hour or so Getting a babysitter, preferably going to bed with the children, going for a walk or cycling together, eating an ice cream and laughing.
The lack of intimacy can indicate other problems or at least a feeling of being separated from each other. Avoidance and acceptance don’t help find answers about what works and what doesn’t work for both of you. I can’t answer your question, but you can certainly use some of these questions to have connected conversations. It’s always good that you asked the question — give yourself the credit you deserve for showing up for your relationship.
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https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/ask-allison-my-husband-and-i-sleep-in-separate-rooms-is-our-relationship-doomed-41847205.html Ask Allison: My husband and I sleep in separate rooms – is our relationship doomed?