In today’s post, we want to continue this week’s theme of commitment by discussing the importance of committing to your friendship with your partner. When you really break it down, better friends make better lovers. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of nurturing your friendship in maintaining a lasting and fulfilling sexlife, especially after the birth of your first child.
We know that sex, romance, intimacy, close friendship and emotional connection are all of the same fabric. We know, from a study by our late friend Bernie Zilbergeld, that couples who have a satisfying sex life do two things:
- They stay good friends.
- They make sex a priority.
We know from our studies that we conducted on partners who were expecting that babies have a big and very negative effect on intimacy, passion, courtship, and sex. However, there were significant differences between the parent couples who continued to have a great sex life compared to those whose sex life wasn’t good enough.
The great sex life couples stayed good friends, and made sex a priority, just like Bernie discovered. However, they also were very flexible. They had a good way of asking for sex, a good way of saying “no,” and they were able to talk to one another about sex. That ability to talk to one another about sex is very important. In the couples’ area it’s probably the most reliable finding of all about what makes for great sex.
In our own studies, even three years after the baby was born, men wanted sex (meaning intercourse) on average about 3 times a week, whereas women wanted sex on average about once every two weeks. On average, men and women differed by a factor of six. That meant that the typical young couple with babies had a problem they had to deal with: horny guys whose libido never changed at all as they became fathers, paired with women whose libido was greatly reduced. Of course, this is a special population.
For many couples both people were sleep deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the transition to parenthood. Fun had come here to die. Life was an infinite To-Do list. Women in particular did not feel very attractive or seductive. They were businesslike, determined, efficient, and constantly on edge.
Compared to other couples, great sex couples were very varied in what they did sexually. Since sex was a priority, the women often tended to go along with their men’s requests and do something sexual even when they weren’t in the mood. Not that they didn’t say no. They did. But they also had quickies, as well as occasional gourmet sex that was more like making love than a physical release. They were accepting of masturbation, and these women gave their men hand jobs as well as blow jobs sometimes even when they weren’t in the mood for intercourse but not too tired to even think of sex. They were often “convince-able,” meaning that they said “okay, let’s cuddle, embrace, kiss and see where this goes.”
Also, both men and women did a very interesting thing. They communicated (occasionally) that their partner was very attractive to them, handsome or beautiful, and at times irresistibly sexy. We were surprised to find that men who were having great sex had been communicating to their pregnant women that they thought that they were incredibly beautiful when they were pregnant. Our “pregnancy oral history interview” in the last trimester had revealed that the men who found their pregnant wives beautiful and sexy had great sex and romance during the pregnancy and great sex later. Clearly, these were emotionally-intelligent men.
The other finding that was very important in our studies was that the parents who had great sex lives were nurturing their friendships. They were staying good friends, specifically by staying emotionally connected. How were they doing that? What they were doing was very interesting. As scientists and workaday clinicians, we have to be very precise about what “nurturing their friendships” means:
- They were talking to one another. They were having interesting and very personal intimate conversations, taking one another’s emotional temperature by asking questions. These questions were open-ended questions, like, “How are you doing, honey? How is life treating you? Talk to me.” Of course, a lot of their conversation tended to be about the baby. They were changing as people since they had become parents, and there was a lot to talk about. As a result they stayed emotionally connected.
- They noticed when their partner needed something without having to be asked, and they stepped up to the plate to meet these partner needs, even if it was at their own expense. In other words, they became a team, and they sacrificed for the relationship. They were in fact each moving dramatically from a “me” to a “we.”
- They allowed themselves to become very dependent on the family for their happiness. The family became the place they went to for getting their needs met, for fun, playfulness, adventures, sex, conversation, cuddling, socializing, and so on.
- They were building a culture of appreciation of one another as parents, and as partners. Their habits of mind were very positive rather than critical. They seemed to search their world together for things to appreciate and admire about one another. They were building an emotional bank account in the relationship.
- They repaired emotional injuries quickly when they hurt one another’s feelings.
- Probably the most important factor was that they were both very involved with the baby. These fathers were not excluded, they were welcomed by their women and by the in-laws to be an active part of the baby’s life. Men learned that ordinary moments like soothing, feeding, bathing, or diapering a baby are moments of potentially great fun and intimacy. As a result, both partners were making a philosophical transition together, asking deep questions about their cultures, their separate family histories, the legacy they wanted to give their children, and so on.
All for now,
The Gottman Institute