Q: My husband and I both work full-time, and it’s everything we can do to get home and squeeze in some time with the kids. Meanwhile, the house is a mess and there are piles of laundry everywhere. My husband doesn’t understand that when I finally fall into bed at the end of the day, really all I want to do is sleep. I know I should make more time for intimacy, but how? And what if I don’t really want to?
A: In young families, there are three jobs – child care, household management and financial provision – but only two workers. Often energy, time, money and appreciation are in short supply. Income is low or building, child care is expensive, and mountains of laundry come at the end of long days.
Worse, instead of offering renewal, the partners’ emotional and sexual connection is threadbare. Why? Many young mothers in my practice say they are angry over the unfair division of labor. Fifty percent of the couples I see struggle sexually because resentment is the monster under their bed.
Certainly some men are pulling their fair share, and others experience this traditionally female resentment as stay-at-home dads. Sole providing men also can feel anxious in an economy that usually demands two wage earners. In my experience as a sex therapist, however, these conflicts do not generally interrupt the male sexual desire. And obviously, low libido in a woman needs to be directly addressed by her for marital happiness.
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Problems arise when families unconsciously model the gender role division of their families of origin without regard to modern responsibilities. Often, neither mom nor dad is even home at a decent hour to cook dinner. Take-out and a rushed bedtime for the kiddies is more likely. Still, young mothers find themselves elected directresses of the family, in charge of remembering the doctor appointments, arranging the birthday parties, buying the gifts, and writing the thank-you notes.
Different standards of clean are in constant dispute. She wants to vacuum the dog hair every day while their baby learns to crawl; her husband thinks that’s obsessive. He walks by the garbage and does the laundry but leaves it unfolded. She wants him to see what needs to be done but, infuriatingly, he resists participating by saying it looks clean enough to him. Samantha complained, “He wants a parade when he pitches in to do the chores I simply do as a matter of course.” Likewise frustrated, her husband, Brian, can’t understand why her to-do list keeps her from relaxing in bed.
The chore wars disrupt the harmony of a young family, adding to stress and decaying the good feelings between the partners. Here’s how to free libido and resolve the struggle:
Say thank you all the time – for everything. The honeymoon is over when appreciation ends.
Make a mutual decision about whether one parent should stay home to care for the children. No agreement? It’s not a good decision.
Have a budget that includes a hammered-out balance for long-term savings and more immediate feathering of the nest.
Two working parents need to hire out the housecleaning, the laundry, and the yard work so weekends can be spent with the children and each other. Less money resulting in more time during this stressful season equals more happiness.
The 4-4-4 solution: Each parent needs four consecutive hours of alone time and they both need four hours of couple time without the children every weekend. Autonomy is a necessary prerequisite for sanity and libido.
List every chore imaginable with associated timeframes for completion. Full-time child care is a full-time job. Divide the chores in half.
Agree on an “all hands on deck” policy from 6 p.m. to bedtime. Together cook, clean up and pick up, bathe the children, do homework, make sandwiches for the next day and read stories. Nobody rests until everybody rests.
Quit work. For two hours every night, put down the phone, don’t check email, don’t watch the news, don’t post on Facebook, and let the world go by while you are with your family. Women usually need focused connection to feel sexual. Children need focused time, period.
Laurie Watson, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, is the author of “Wanting Sex Again,” released in 2012. She writes the Married and Still Doing It blog for Psychology Today and is the clinical director of Awakenings Center for Intimacy and Sexuality (awakeningsctr.com) in North Raleigh. You can follow her at AskLaurieWatson on Twitter or on Facebook.