Some parents worry that prioritising their relationship with their partner could be seen as selfish, especially when their children are very young. Research shows that children feel more secure when the family unit around them is stable and loving – and parents are better able to maintain that stability and love when they are receiving it themselves. So if you don’t set aside time to re-connect as a couple, to work at that side of your family, and to nourish other sides of your identity beyond being a parent, your relationship will come under strain – which isn’t great for either of you, and it’s definitely not great for your children.
Luckily there are lots of easy ways to keep the flame burning:
I believe that couples would do well to compete with each other in the kindness stakes. So pay attention to your words, your tone of voice, or your timing so that you speak to your partner with kindness. It will make you feel loved, your partner feel loved, and it’s a good model for your kids as to how to treat other people.
Also, do kind things for each other. For some people, this will be a big deal, because doing chores or doing acts of service for others is their way of showing love to someone. Even if putting out the bins or doing the washing-up isn’t your idea of showing love, it shows you care about your partner, to keep the wheels of a relationship oiled.
From sending flirty messages to each other randomly throughout the week, to actively suggesting future sexual activities, flirting keeps you communicating with your partner – plus it keeps it fun and non-parenty. It’s a reminder of why you got together in the first place, the desires, the naughtiness, the playful banter, and a re-creation of a time before the major responsibilities of parenting. The laughter and fun of such messages, and maybe the unexpected nature of their arrival, fosters renewed intimacy between the two of you.
Small gestures, like holding your partner’s hand when out for a walk, or patting their bum when you’re doing the dishes in the kitchen, are all gentle acts of intimacy. Physical contact and kissing stimulate our brain’s pleasure and reward system, so be alert for moments when you can connect physically. Having a shower or bath together can make you feel connected, while the skin-on-skin contact helps lowers stress levels. This can also improve your sleep, which is great news if you’re sleep-deprived.
The more you maintain the playful side of being physical with your partner, the quicker it will be to get in the mood when you do find you have time. And if your children are young enough to be going to bed early, lay some blankets in front of the fireplace, light some candles, put on some smoochy music, have a little wine or feed each other ice-cream, and just hang out together at home.
The two of you
It’s very important to maintain what I call your erotic connection, so the first thing I often suggest is for parents to get a lock put on the door! Over time, other people in your life – whether that’s your children or house guests – need to understand that you place a priority on your intimacy. If you are serious about maintaining passion in the long-term, you need to maintain healthy boundaries around when you get together.
This is why Date Nights too must be taken seriously. They must go in the diary and not be postponed or cancelled. This is where it is ok to be selfish, because if you don’t put a priority on your relationship, no-one else will.
Take time during the day to use your flirty emails to plan what you’re both going to do at the next date night. The forward planning works for two reasons: one, it’s titillating to think ahead about what the two of you might get up to. And two, it means there isn’t a mad dash at the last minute to plan the date, which runs the risk of the date being cancelled.
Speak the code
Spice up your sex life by openly talking about it in front of your children – but in code! I knew of a couple where one person would say, I think the shower on the top floor is playing up again, can you come and help me fix it?’, and then the two of them would go off for some naughty action. And I know another couple where one of them pins a photo of a giraffe to the fridge as a reminder of the time they were having sex on safari and opened the doors to their room to find a giraffe quietly munching leaves outside their room. The action of bringing out the giraffe is a sign for their partner that sex is on the cards.
Invent your own code with your partner, or maybe use objects to hint at sex without your children twigging. It’s a playful way of remembering that sex is meant to be both fun, and often spontaneous. So shake up the routine, with sex toys, position dice, or memory triggers of happy experiences. Because of the shared sense of secrecy and naughtiness, you’ll find it really easy to get in the mood.
Lucy Beresford is a psychotherapist, TEDx speaker, Agony Aunt for ITV’s This Morning and author of “Happy Relationships: at home work and play”
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