Keeping the spark

By on September 30, 2011
For Emma Avery* and her husband John, regularly scheduled date nights are absolutely sacred. So is travelling. Alone. Away from their two children, aged four and six, who are happy to stay with a doting babysitter.“We jump on every opportunity to go out as a couple,” says Avery, who has been married for 12 years, during which time she’s managed to indulge in weekend escapes, as well as longer, more exotic trips to Thailand or Bali. All sans kids.“Honestly, our relationship still feels new and exciting,” she says. “We have achieved the perfect balance between work, kids, self, and us.”

Unfortunately, lots of couples with kids aren’t as successful at carving out intimate couple time. Sometimes, lack of time and energy get in the way. Other times, partners may take one another for granted.

Luckily, re-igniting your love life can be achieved with a little understanding and a few simple steps, says Dr. Laurie Betito, a psychologist and sex therapist for a radio show about sex, love and relationships (

But first, it’s time for a serious reality check.

“A lot of people think they have to go backwards and find the spark that was there in the beginning, which is impossible,” says Betito. “People always say, ‘I just want it to be like it was’; they don’t feel satisfied unless they feel those feelings they had in the beginning. So adjust your expectations, and be aware that throughout the life cycle of a couple, sexuality changes. It goes through ebbs and flows; you can’t avoid that.”

Betito notes that many couples think they’re the only ones whose love life isn’t Hollywood-perfect, and says it’s more common than people would believe.

“You can have one partner who is particularly stressed out, or depressed, or something is going on where their libido is gone,” she says. “Libido is the thing that tends to go away when other things are going on, particularly for women. Whenever I see couples that have libido problems, or difficulty connecting, I look at the underlying issue. Often, it’s a couple issue — old resentments that pile up. So the first thing you have to do is address the resentment.”

Betito adds that often, perking up women’s interest in sex is more complicated. “Many elements affect a woman’s libido. Women need a context for sex. Everything around them has to be in synch in order for them to feel open to it.”

And since many busy parents are used to multi-tasking, juggling and scheduling, the key is to apply those skills to intimate couple time, suggests Betito. “If we plan it, we’re more likely to do it, because we have time to prepare, and we can free up our minds. When our minds are free, our bodies are free. Women’s desire is not as spontaneous as men’s; they need actual stimulation for the desire to kick in. But they have to be open to being receptive of that stimulation. We’re really talking about receptivity to sexuality.”

Like Avery and her husband figured out a long time ago, taking time away from children is extremely important, stresses Betito. “You can’t be a strong family without being a strong couple first. So take the time to have a date night. Go to a hotel, or send the kids to Grandma’s for the night. A lot of women are very reluctant to do this, and then their men feel neglected, and it becomes a problem.”

What about ways to combat the mind-numbing exhaustion that takes over around dinnertime?

“The thing that turns women on the most is to watch their partner taking over,” says Betito. “Women have to be better at asking for what they need, and men have to recognize that if they would just do more of their share, and say, ‘Here’s a glass of wine, go relax on the couch, I’ll take it from here’, she’s a lot more likely to hop into bed later and feel amorous towards him.”

Don’t forget that it’s not just about quantity, adds Betito. “Every couple has their own beat. For some couples, once every two weeks is enough for them; neither person complains, and they feel good about it. Sex is important because it connects couples, makes them feel good and energizes them.”

Avery believes that devoting an equal amount of time to your partner makes for a very romantic relationship.

“We always seem to spend half of our couple time talking about the kids,” she admits, “but at least we’re doing it over a glass of wine at an amazing new restaurant or lying on the beach!”

About Wendy Helfenbaum