My #1 Sex Tip for Busy, Exhausted Couples Seems Really Unsexy ...Until You Try It
Remember the good old days when you and your partner were just dating and your sex life was hot? Back when it just seemed to happen spontaneously without too much effort?
Ah, yes, the days before life got so busy with babies and kids and taking on more responsibility in our careers and taking care of our aging parents.
Back then, it seemed like all the fun parts of a relationship--the butterflies, the romance, the mystery, the bedroom activity--just happened spontaneously or with little effort. There was time and space for it all. Our relationships had room to breathe.
Now, we’re BUSY. We’re tired. We’ve got a lot on our agenda and so many people need us.
Now, there isn’t much our partners could do to surprise us. Or us them, really. We have our routines and habits. Our expectations. And in a way, the stakes are higher. Our babies need us. Our aging parents need us. Our coworkers and clients need us. It’s not all fun and games anymore.
So, given all that, I totally understand why my #1 tip for improving sex and intimacy in most committed relationships is not the thing busy, exhausted couples want to hear.
Still, I think it’s really important, so I’m just gonna put it out there for you right now.
If you are:
feeling disconnected from your partner,
noticing your sex life has dwindled down to nearly nothing,
trying to reconnect with your sexual self after birthing a baby,
feeling overloaded and overwhelmed in all or any other area of your life right now,
then here’s what I want you to do:
Try scheduling time for intimacy with your partner.
This scheduled time doesn’t necessarily have to result in intercourse. You can use that time to have an uninterrupted conversation with your partner, to cuddle without talking at all, to play a board game together--whatever you like! (But of course, if sex does happen, then great!)
OK, now that I’ve said it, let’s tackle head-on the #1 resistance I often hear when I suggest this:
“I don’t want everything on a schedule. This sounds like just one more thing I have to do.”
I completely understand this perspective. And if you’re feeling this way right now, I want to validate you in that. Only you can know if this is the right advice for you.
But wait! Before you write my suggestion off, I want to explain 3 reasons why scheduled intimacy is still worth considering.
#1. I believe that couples need both spontaneous quickies and what Drs. Julie and John Gottman of the Gottman Institute call “gourmet sex."
The problem is, when life is busy, gourmet sex isn’t typically going to happen on it’s own. We have to be more intentional and make space for it.
More often than not, what gets scheduled gets done. What doesn’t make it on our calendars gets deprioritized or forgotten about entirely. That’s why I recommend for all new parents, anyone with a crazy schedule, or anyone who has lost touch with who they are to schedule “me time” or “white space” on their calendars. This is Self Care 101.
We need that time to do the activities we enjoy--spending time participating in the passions that make us feel alive or being with the friends who help us to reconnect with who we are. Or, to simply have that time blocked off without having any real plan for it.
Turns out, our relationships need this too.
#2. We tend to think that scheduling intimacy is boring or that it makes it a chore, but I beg to differ.
For one thing, sex should never be a given. We always reserve the right to say no. Scheduling intimacy doesn’t mean you consent to anything. It just means you consent to showing up and reducing distractions for the time scheduled.
For another, let’s revisit your dating life one more time… How spontaneous was your sex life then really?
Think about it. You make plans with your love interest and get a date on the calendar. In the time leading up to your date, you:
Consider what to wear. Maybe even borrow something from a friend or buy something new.
Shower, shave, style your hair, put on makeup, put on perfume, etc etc. (You want to make an impression and send all the right signals!)
Maybe eat something light beforehand so you’re not ravenous/bloated/lethargic for your date.
Daydream about it. How will it go? Will you both spend the night at your place? (You do a quick tidy-up, in case!) Will you spend the night at his/her place? (You stick a toothbrush in your bag in case!)
Whew! That’s a lot of prep you did “just in case”! Seems to me, there’s a lot of anticipation-building happening and a lot less spontaneity than previously thought. In this scenario, most of us already know how we want the night to end before it happens.
Even if you didn’t have a date on the calendar, but made plans with friends to go to that one bar in the hopes of bumping into him/her again (because come on, we don’t live in a puritan society!), I’d venture to guess you still went through a lot of the same steps.
In other words, it was all premeditated all along. So, why not get intimacy time on the calendar now and let the anticipation start building?
#3. It doesn’t have to be this way forever.
If there’s one thing that my adult life has taught me so far, it’s that things change. Maybe scheduling intimate time is just the way it works for you right now. Maybe when the kids are a bit older or when the demands on your time and attention lessen, maybe you’ll find that you just naturally have more time and energy in your life and you don’t need to schedule it.
Sometimes the habit of scheduling intimacy consistently for a few months is enough to reawaken something in you both and then, before you know it, sex and intimacy just start happening in between your scheduled times.
It’s kind of like digging into a good book. If you haven’t picked up a good book in a while, you might find you have to be intentional about finding time to read—so you commit to reading a few pages on your lunch break or while the baby naps. But once you get hooked on the story, you make time (even if you’re busy) to get lost in the pages… before bed, with your morning coffee, reading aloud while you rock baby, an audiobook while you cook dinner. You just needed to break past that inertia to get started.
In that sense, scheduling is just training wheels. It’s never the goal to use training wheels forever, right? But they’re here for you when you need them.
Still not convinced that scheduling intimacy is right for you? Start with these baby steps instead:
Make everything feel like a treat. Prioritize pleasure of all kinds, not just sexual pleasure. Use your senses. There are ways to do this even when you’re busy. Light candles for no reason. Wear a fun apron when cooking and taste-test as you go. Make your favorite chai and get cozy before you start budgeting your finances. Open up a fresh new bar of soap for the bathroom or rearrange your skincare products, your bookshelf, or your spice cabinet, so it looks aesthetically pretty to you. Notice the sun or the moon on your drive home. Hold your partner’s hand whenever you get the chance.
Re-acquaint yourself with yourself. What do you desire? What feels cozy/sexy/sweet/luxurious/satisfying/loving? What you desire now might not be what you desired before baby or when you were in your 20s/30s, etc. That means there’s always something new to discover.
Learn when and how to mentally “clock out." Our nervous systems need down time. Find a way to shift your thoughts away from all of your responsibilities and toward yourself, your partner, to leisure, to pleasure. This can take some practice. Try incorporating a ritual to signal to your brain (or to your partner) that you’re done with getting things done for the day. It might be changing into lounge wear, blowing out a candle, dimming the lights in your home, or putting your cell phone away. Experiment to see what works for you.
Self care! Make sure your basic self care needs are being met first and foremost. Eat good food. Do one thing to ensure tonight’s sleep is just 10% better. Take a shower. Drink a glass of water. Take deep breaths now and then. Once those needs are met, what do you need next? How can you ensure your needs are being met?
Once you feel like you’ve felt some improvements to your stress levels with these tactics, then come back to the idea of scheduling intimacy and see if you’re ready to give it a try.
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