Although the hard work of a newborn helps parents fall in love with their baby, it's not usually the most romantic time for them as a couple. Here are some suggestions to help women work with their partners to stay emotionally close during the postpartum recovery period.
Understand the rejection he may be dealing with. As we all know—and yet, as some guys occasionally forget—sex requires emotional as well as physical readiness. What's not as obvious, however, is that the empathy needed to reestablish emotional closeness must come from both partners. New mothers are subject to feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, not to mention ungainly and unappealing after the pregnancy. Yet it's also vital for women to realize that guys too can feel unattractive once the baby is born: after all, sex is a very powerful form of reassurance for them, and its six-week unavailability may make them feel vulnerable—especially as the baby commands so much of their relationship's resources.
These feelings of vulnerability and rejection are hard for guys to acknowledge—they're real and powerful, and yet we feel immature and selfish for feeling them. Though this may sound juvenile, guys really can benefit in this difficulty by being reminded how important they are to their spouses. Obviously this entails special treatment of the favorite-meals and nice-notes variety rather than bedroom gymnastics, but it doesn't hurt guys to be reminded that we're still desirable. Having our new-mother partners say that they can't wait to make love to us paradoxically makes it easier for us to wait until their bodies are ready. In other words, it helps guys to feel that we're not waiting for our women, we're waiting with them.
Tell your partner what you need to hear. As the husband of a mental-health therapist, every so often I get free coaching in how to express empathy. For example, during the first trimester of her first pregnancy, my wife Leah helped me learn to acknowledge the extent of her morning sickness. She felt nauseous and would gag occasionally, but because she didn't throw up or become bedridden, I tended to underestimate her level of discomfort. After a few of my unintentionally dismissive comments, she half jokingly made me repeat the phrase, "Poor Leah. She's sick." Of course it felt silly, but hearing and repeating it every so often—even as something of a joke—was more effective in helping me empathize with Leah than merely listening to descriptions of how she had been feeling.
Realize that he may be initially apprehensive about reapproaching your vagina. After viewing the birth of their child, some guys are a bit traumatized by seeing the vagina in such a different shape and context. The following posted message from an online fatherhood forum sums up both the fear and its typical demise:
"Fact is, the vagina that your child emerges from will look nothing like the vagina that you're accustomed to. Even if the sight of it during birth lingers enough to cause initial problems, and the presence of your amazing child doesn't completely erase your sexual desire, take comfort in the fact that your wife probably isn't going to let you near her for several months."
As comforting as that thought may not be, challenges also bring opportunities, and the disruption in the couple's intimacy gives guys a chance to admire their partners in a different light. For example, by the time I'd mostly come to terms with my wife's postpartum recovery, I found I'd been developing a deep and simple affection for her that typical feelings of sexual attraction wouldn't give room to grow.
Also, there's the added dimension of seeing your wife in action as a mother and working alongside her as a dad, and of course, the entirely new relationship you'll form with your child. Yes, your sexual calendar will be empty for a while, but embracing your new roles will keep you too busy, exhausted, and fulfilled to notice it that much.