It was something my oldest child said which made me realise my husband and I had reached a troubling point in our marriage: “You two are always fighting! Stop it NOW!” he roared from the back of the car. I snapped my head around and was confronted by a five and a three-year-old, shaking their heads and wearing enormous frowns of disgust. My spouse and I fell silent, chastised like toddlers. And we deserved it. We’d been squabbling in shrill voices like petulant children, playing a silly game of one-upmanship to determine who’d had the roughest week. This bickering had been happening more and more ever since we became parents.
In our pre-sprog days, we would stop for a cuddle whenever we passed each other and spend hours daily just giggling and talking freely. Plus we had sex. Whenever, wherever, and as loudly as the mood inspired. Now we just rushed past one another whilst dropping someone off at school, picking someone up from a playdate, throwing dinner in the pot, or buying more bread and bananas. Our communication had been reduced to grunts about school notes, bath times, and dirty laundry. And sex? On the odd chance it was just the two of us in bed without any small feet kicking us, we usually opted to catch up on sleep. Even soaking stains out of school socks took priority over nurturing our relationship.
We couldn’t go on this way. The scowls from the back seat showed how much our sons detested watching us go at each other like feral cats in a sack. And my arms were aching to cuddle the man I used to laugh with again. But how could we start focusing more on ourselves?
I put this question to my husband one evening, and all we came up with were obstacles. There weren’t enough funds to go on a romantic getaway. My mother-in-law, the only grandparent who helps with childrearing and housework, wouldn’t be in town again for months. We couldn’t afford a regular babysitter and although we have a friend who wouldn’t mind watching the boys, we didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity just so we could have weekly date nights. Seemingly bereft of hope, my spouse and I sighed and smiled weakly to mask the disappointment.
The next morning when a little elbow jabbed me in the eye and woke me from yet another sexless night, a voice in my head screamed “ENOUGH.” I leapt out of bed with an urgent need to do something for myself. So for the first time since having children, I cranked up the stereo to a station of my own choice. It sounds like such an insignificant thing many people do every day. But after years of having my eardrums lambasted by squeaky-clean tunes about twinkling stars and hot potatoes, I actually wept when I heard the lusty, soulful voice of Pink belting out her awesome song that celebrates underdogs. And to my surprise, the boys boogied along instead of demanding their music.
Feeling emboldened, I then enrolled in a short course I could study online as my little one napped. With every lesson, more neurons in my brain which had been unused for so long began firing up. It was as electrifying as any orgasm and put a spring in my step.
I also bought box sets of Castle, a great show I’d only seen bits of on television because it had clashed with the kids’ bedtime. For weeks, after the boys were asleep, my husband and I would curl up on the sofa and drink beer while watching DVDs. We felt like the couch potatoes who’d skipped lectures together back when we first met at university. I remembered what had initially drawn me to him and thought about the jobs, friendships, foreign places and everything else we’d experienced together over the years. We laughed about it all.
Then we had sex. After being pent-up for so long in what experts would call a “sex-starved relationship,” it was mind blowing. So much so that we began seizing every chance to do it again. We learned it helps us be more relaxed and patient parents. And we can accomplish a fair bit in that window of opportunity between the kids falling asleep and the moment one awakens screaming for comfort or the toilet. Also, sex on a makeshift bed created out of sofa cushions on the bathroom floor (because it was the only lockable room) is a lot more fun than it sounds.
Two years later, with an added lock on the bedroom door, our marriage is still in a better place. It’s not just the sex. It’s the hand holding when we’re watching television, thoughtful texts during the day, or singing along to our music whilst shuttling the boys somewhere. Sometimes my husband even races home during lunch just for a cuddle. Every day in simple ways we turn the focus away briefly from our children and onto ourselves. And rather than resenting this, our sons appreciate seeing the grownups who love them enjoying each other.
Like last night when my husband slumped through the door, glowering after a rough day of corporate battle. I was frazzled from trying to salvage a burned lasagne while grumbling at my oldest to do his homework and refereeing a screaming match over bits of Lego. Although on the verge of snapping “You think you’ve had a rough day?” I bit my tongue, breathed deeply, and simply wrapped my arms around my husband. And for a comforting moment it was just us, braving the chaos together. Then our oldest child looked up, stopped yelling at his little brother, and said with a knowing grin “I think Mummy likes you Daddy.”