We celebrate Valentine’s Day this week; a day when we acknowledge love and romance. It seems natural then to discuss a topic that doesn’t come up as often as it should in our special needs community: the logistics involved in sustaining some sort of intimate connection with our partners. How does a couple prevent their relationship from succumbing to the stress and overwhelm of parenting a child with special needs and medical fragility? The fact is, our sex life is often the first thing to hit the road when sleep deprivation and unrelenting stress take up residence in our relationship.
Making time for one another is as important as the tremendous care given to our children. Carving out even one hour/ week can change the tides in a relationship that is suffering. Many of the skills we have honed as parents of children with special needs can be applied to our relationships. Things like efficiency and efficacy, for example. It turns out that you can have satisfying, mind-blowing sex in 8.5 minutes. Who doesn’t have 8.5 minutes to devote to their relationship even once per week?
One thing for certain, if you don’t make time for your significant other now, you’ll have to make time for the divorce that is a definite possibility if too much times passes with disconnection. Creativity is key and having the courage to just do it no, matter how much time has passed and how awkward you feel at first. Trust me: buried beneath those yoga pants and that t-shirt splattered with stomach content is a wild beast that desperately needs to be laid.
For some parents, this is not feasible due to sick kids, in-laws from out of town, partners away on business, staff and therapists coming in and out of your home and frankly, some couples are just not able to commit to putting energy into their relationship. They may have been in an extremely long dry spell or have a buildup of emotional anguish between them. Baby steps might be required in these instances to warm up to the idea of an 8.5 minute sex fest. On the outside, it may appear to be a watered down, poor attempt at intimacy. You can’t just get naked and jump in the sack and expect miracles.
For those of us who have been walking this road for any length of time, it goes without saying, that intimacy is about connecting and that happens in all kinds of ways. Of course, sex is not the be-all-end-all of intimacy. If it were, most of us wouldn’t have made it through the first year intact. As a result of our situations, we have all had to get very creative and rely on a thousand other ways to be intimate with our partners when sex wasn’t an option. Although my husband and I have a healthy, vibrant sex life, like all other couples, it is very easy to put that part of our relationship on the backburner and let everything else take precedence including Netflix and texting friends.
Rejuvenating or increasing your sexual escapades has some great benefits. It is a natural mood enhancer and often spills over into other areas of your life. It’s amazing what a regular release of oxytocin and serotonin will do to your willingness to participate in your relationship even more than usual.
When I was a breastfeeding counsellor, there was a technique that we would sometimes use to treat stubborn breastfeeding problems. It was called the 24 hour cure and involved tucking the mama and babe into bed for 24 hours. They would wear as little clothing as possible and would spend that time snuggling skin-to-skin, resting and bonding. The mom would only get up to use the bathroom and visitors were not allowed unless they were bringing the mother food or drink or any items of comfort she required.
Sometimes, as a couple, we need to force ourselves away from the daily, ongoing distractions, peel away the layers (physical and emotional) and climb into a warm bed and rest skin-to-skin with our lover. Doing so for 24 hours would be impractical and impossible for any parent but perhaps a commitment to three days in a row of a little time together, might be the key to lasting intimacy. It would be a monthly guarantee that if nothing else, there would be three days in a row of sex and closeness.
Of course, anything beyond that is great and recommended but if life seems overwhelming, having this one little commitment to look forward to could make a world of difference and lead to even more intimacy. And, for those who are not there yet, commit to setting aside three days in a row per month where you spend even 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with one another away from devices, other people and your kids. If all you can manage is to sit together and hold hands that is better than not doing it at all.
We each have to determine what works for our relationship and our particular situations. If anything, shining a light on this topic that is sometimes taboo in the special needs parenting world forces it out of the shadows. The trick is to keep that light shining.