5 Ways to Create Intimacy Without Taking Your Clothes off

While it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it.

By the time your kids are asleep, your mood is exhausted, not erotic. In theory, you want to connect with your partner. In reality, you’re too tired to make the effort. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
It is totally normal for your sex life to take a dive when you have kids, says Dr. Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute. But that doesn’t mean you can’t – or shouldn’t – seek intimacy in other ways. According to Dr. Skyler, the definition of intimacy is quality connection and it is essential to a healthy relationship. And while it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it. In fact, Dr. Skyler co-created a model that identifies eight different spheres in which couples foster intimacy – and only one of those spheres is sexual.
Opportunities for intimacy might be less scarce than they seem – if you know where to look.

1 | Talking

Experts and couples agree uninterrupted conversation is an excellent way to create intimacy. While the first step is finding a sitter, putting the kids to bed, or scheduling a lunch date while the kids are at school, the second step is just as important: Put away your phones. “We’re so busy replying to texts or checking social media that we hardly hear the one we’re with. This is toxic to relationships,” says marriage therapist Jill Whitney, LMFT.
Once you create a distraction-free space for a conversation, you might be surprised where that conversation leads. Sarah Protzman Howlett, a mom of four-year-old twins describes a simple ritual she and her husband share. He says, “So tell me things,” and from there, they might discuss anything from work to travel plans to politics well into the night. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland says research confirms, “couples who share with each other more, like each other more.”

2 | Kissing

Kissing (with all your clothes on) is something you can do virtually anytime, anywhere – even in front of the kids – and it’s incredibly intimate. I’m not talking about the chaste kisses Mike and Carol Brady exchanged before bed. I’m talking prolonged kissing with tongue. Skyler recommends what she calls a “kissing date,” in which kissing is not a means to sex, but rather the main event. Kelly Burch is a strong proponent of kissing. Though she and her husband have always enjoyed it, now as parents of a three-year-old and working opposite shifts, it has become much more important to them. Burch explains,“Kissing only takes a minute and builds that connection and intimacy.” As Natalie Rotelli recalls, she grew up thinking kissing was “first base” or just something to cover on the way to “home plate.” Now married with two children, she finds kissing is in fact, “the most intimate thing [my husband and I] could do.”

3 | Touching

The power of touch is huge. “Whether it’s a kiss hello or goodbye or holding hands, even non-sexual touching builds connection between partners,” says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW.
David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, explains this phenomenon in terms of neuroscience: “Any form of longer-duration cuddling and touching causes a release of oxytocin in the brain. This is the chemical that bonds couples together. So, any type of cuddling or hand-holding (just make it longer than 20 seconds) will build intimacy.” While Bennett maintains nothing beats intercourse when it comes to releasing oxytocin, touching is the next best thing.
Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of Relationup, agrees that while touch is no replacement for sex, it’s incredibly valuable. While many new parents are plain old tired, there is limited privacy with little eyes and ears at home. This is why Milrad recommends foot and hand massages as a way to connect: “Being touched and nurtured is sensual and connecting and can feel like the two of you are sneaking a guilty pleasure.”
Some couples just have a habit of touching. Chase McCann, the mother of a 17-year-old says she and her partner have a habit of holding hands whenever they’re out. “We hold hands on the street or in parking lots (also sometimes in the mall, if he’s afraid I’ll wander off). Sure, in our case it’s a practical thing, but it also means that even on days when we’re busy and not thinking about intimacy, we’re maintaining that touch connection.”
Marc and Stephanie Trachtenberg swear by the extended hug. With two sons, their home is busy, but there’s always time for a hug, whether it’s in the morning, after work, or any random moment. What matters is that the embrace lasts “at least seven seconds” according to Marc. (Stephanie estimated their hugs last a minimum of 10 seconds).

4 | Engaging your senses

If you’re not in the mood to be touched, or if physical affection just isn’t your love language, Skyler reminds us that the five senses include not just touch, but also sight, hearing, smell, and taste. She says sharing a sensual experience is an excellent way to connect. This could be listening to music together, enjoying a meal together, or looking at something beautiful. When a couple sits outside to watch the sunset together, all kinds of good things happen. “Stress decreases, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, neurotransmitters are released and your mood becomes calmer,” says Rhonda Milrad, LCSW. “Consequently, you both are more open to connection and communication.”
It doesn’t take much to create a sensual experience in your home. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland encourages couples to use dim lighting, candles, and music. According to Loveland, “This is a great way to create a warm and romantic environment without doing anything physical.” Many couples I talked to enjoy sharing a meal after their kids are in bed. Amy Bailey, a mom of three, says she and her husband of 16 years look forward to their “date nights in.” Whether dinner is a meat and cheese plate or a steak dinner, they savor the food and each other’s company.

5 | Sharing a hobby

As parents stretched in many different directions and with a “scarcity of resources” as my husband is fond of saying, it’s easy to forget what attracted you and your partner to each other in the first place. Doing a hobby together can be an excellent reminder.
Especially when time together as a couple is at a premium, “sharing something novel helps keep your relationship from getting stagnant,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT. Julie Burton can attest to this. With two daughters, now ages 11 and eight, Julie felt that she and her husband Scott were moving in separate directions, until they started fishing together. Living in Kansas, it’s never inexpensive or convenient, but “it’s always like falling in love again.”
A hobby doesn’t have to be novel or exotic to create intimacy, though. Jacob Brier and his wife have a young son and a shared passion for fitness. For the Briers, working out together equals “heart rate up, sweaty, out of breath … clothes on. Plus, you’re helping to stay healthy together.”
Natalie and Matt Rotelli have a nightly ritual of doing the Sunday New York Times crossword together. “He knows all things mythological, vocab, history (US and world), locations and cute little plays on words,” she says. “I generally figure out the algorithm for the long answers associated with the theme of the crossword and all things pop culture.” Natalie says their mutual admiration for each other’s skills is a source of connection.
Intimacy encompasses so much more than sex. It’s about connection – whether it’s a game of tennis, a conversation, or a hug. It’s natural for kids to put a damper on your sex life, at least for a period of time. And while you can expect your kids to ruin certain things, (e.g., your sleep), your connection with your partner doesn’t have to be one of them.

I Wouldn’t Wish Labor Pains on My Worst Enemy, But I Would on My Husband

Without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires.

I wouldn’t wish labor pains on my worst enemy. But I would wish them on my husband.
To be fair, I don’t have that many personal enemies. The mean girl in high school? Ex-boyfriend? They don’t deserve 12 hours of back labor that leaves them feeling like their hips are stuck in a vice. That jerk who cut me off in traffic? I hope she never knows what it’s like to vomit between blood-curdling screams.
The blinding pain, the all-encompassing agony – I don’t think anyone should have to go through that.
Except my husband.
What I wouldn’t give for him to experience labor just as I did.
Here’s the thing. He’s a good husband. The best, really. This isn’t some personal vendetta against him. It’s not like he was off romancing a mistress while I sweated through contraction after contraction. He held my hand, told me how well I was doing, and texted family with updates for hours.
And I hated him for it.
It was the same throughout each of my pregnancies. I was grateful when he gave me a foot rub, but what I really wanted was for him to know what it felt like to have swollen, throbbing feet. Sure, he was sympathetic as he hoisted me out of bed each morning. But I would have preferred that he fully understand the humiliation I felt at not being able to accomplish such a simple task myself.
When my breasts ballooned to triple their normal size, I was grateful for the cooling cabbage leaves he ran out to get (even if they were purple and stained my chest). What I truly needed, though, was for him to know what it was like to have a tiny life solely dependent on something you still weren’t quite sure how to give them.
My husband doled out sympathy for every pregnancy, birth, and postpartum ailment that came my way. But what I really needed was empathy.
Everyone knows that empathy is the trendy version of sympathy. It’s the one you are supposed to offer. But without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires. My husband could believe me when I told him my pregnancy and breast-feeding struggles, but he had no idea what they actually felt like.
Unfortunately, even talking to other moms doesn’t often provide us with the deep understanding we so desire. Conversations tend to head in one of two directions.
The “I had it way worse – why would you even complain?” exchange:
You: “I was in labor for 16 hours and pushed for another three.”
Playground mom: “Oh I wish I was in labor for only 16 hours! I was in active labor for six days, had back labor the entire time, and one contraction that lasted a solid 24 hours. I pushed for five hours while on a conference call for work. You don’t know how lucky you are!”
Or the “I can totally relate! Except I can’t.” exchange:
You: “Bed rest is really mentally and physically difficult for me.”
Other playground mom: “Oh, I know how you feel! My husband would cook me breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings and, honestly, sometimes I just kinda got bored laying there waiting for him. So hard, but such a blessing!”
You: No comment.
We crave someone who can fully share our experiences, and in turn, validate what we have been through. At the same time, we want recognition of the pain and difficulties that are uniquely ours, without having them watered down by comparisons.
More than wanting to be understood, even, we want to be appreciated. And on some level, we know that even the most sincere “thank you for all that you do” feels a bit inadequate when we think of all the aches and pains we didn’t even bother to clue our partners in on.
My husband will never fully understand what I went through with each of my pregnancies and births. But he knows the rest of the story: the sleepless nights with a child who wants to be walked up and down the halls, the panic the first time you rush your child to the E.R. with an undiagnosed allergic reaction, the pride and nerves you feel when they first hoist a backpack onto their shoulders and wave good-bye.
Occasionally my blood boils when I think of how he technically didn’t have any parenting responsibilities between the moment of conception and the moment of birth (and enjoyed a significantly lighter workload than me for the first few months thereafter). But the more years that come between the birth of my first son and the present day, I realize what a small percentage of parenting that truly was.
My husband might not ever be able to grant me true empathy. But I’ll be okay as long as he believes me when I tell him how difficult it all is.
And, yes, I plan on telling him about it for many years to come.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

Top 10 'Must Haves' for First Time Dads

This list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life.

There was shit all over the walls of our one-bedroom New York City apartment. My two-week-old son managed to simultaneously pee all over me and poop on our crisp, white, living room walls.
Aside from being somewhat impressed, I immediately realized that I was an unprepared and overwhelmed first-time parent. If you’ve ever seen the State Farm commercial where the main character keeps repeating “I’m never… (insert random life event here)” – that is basically me.
Marriage and parenthood have been the best experiences of my life. Our son was born a year ago and, after countless of sleepless nights, ‘learning experiences,’ and unnecessary doctor visits, my wife and I have at last become familiar with the territory.
Admittedly, I assumed but did not know what to expect. Today’s your lucky day, though, because this list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life:

1 | Birthing classes

My wife was a marketing director prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her ability to plan for the future keeps our little family in check and prepared. One of the most important things she did before our son’s arrival was to sign us up for a birthing class.
We were lucky enough to have an energetic instructor whose ability to combine Enrique Iglesias’s “Greatest Hits” with Lamaze breathing techniques kept us constantly entertained. You can only imagine the look on our faces as the yoga-pant wearing, granola eating, tenured nurse of 30 years straddled her living room coffee table illustrating how to squat and deliver a baby.
Not only did the classes bring us together in a comical and very informative way, but we were prepared for every step of the birth process.

2 | Photos

Leading up to the birth of our son, we basically relived our childhoods through pictures. Our families did not hesitate to share every photo of our youth that had ever been taken. Looking at our priceless memories made me realize how important it would be to create our own to share with our son someday.
Whether it’s a camera phone or a DSLR, just make sure that you capture all the moments you can. I captured my wife’s pregnancy and made a great photo book memento. I’m also compiling an album to share my son’s embarrassing photos when he brings his first significant other home to meet us.
Disclaimer: If your wife screams at you to get the camera out of her face while she is in labor, don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to take pictures instead. Your spouse may want to kill you then, but reliving the moment that your child came into the world is unreal.

3 | Prepared hospital bags

‘Essential’ doesn’t even begin to describe this one. Below is my recommended checklist when planning for a stay in a maternity ward. Of course, you’ll probably think of other things I may have missed.
Changes of clothes
Cell phones and chargers
Snacks
Pillow
Candy for the nurses
Medication (if applicable)
Anything you need to make the delivery room special for your wife (candles, pillows, pictures, etc.)
Toiletries
Safe car seat if you’re driving your baby home
Camera
For those driving to the hospital, I would also recommend looking into the parking situation and pricing.

4 | Scheduled date nights

It’s important to make time for your relationship. It’s hard not to feel bad leaving your little one behind, but it’s worse to forget about each other. A strong bond with your spouse will help during the stressful times. The first few weeks after childbirth can feel like your freedom is gone. It’s not gone, it’s just a change – a “new-normal.”
My mother-in-law actually kicked my wife and I out of our apartment to go on one date a week after our son arrived. Except for the tears during the appetizers, it was great.

5 | Dad-ready apparel

My son loves to be walked in his stroller, so a good pair of sneakers was key. Don’t forget you’re going to be carrying your child everywhere.
You’ll also spend a lot of time celebrating moments in your child’s life. Spruce up your wardrobe while you don’t feel bad about spending on yourself. Whether for a religious event or work, a well-tailored suit is always a must-have.

6 | Sense of humor

There will be a lot of serious moments to come. Stay light-hearted and enjoy this special time in your child’s life.
One of my favorite memories came after our son turned a week old. He was having trouble sleeping and woke us up almost every hour for a 48-hour period. We were mentally drained and feeling the physical effects of sleep deprivation. My buddy had given my son a large stuffed bear, so we decided it was time they were introduced. James’s expression was priceless, and the laughter gave us the ability to power through the pain.

7 | Baby gear

After gallivanting around the city at our own leisure for five years, we immediately started to feel caged in our small apartment. Within the first few weeks, my wife and I knew we had to get outside. Our son was born in July, so we were able to take advantage of the summer weather.
I highly suggest a convertible stroller with a snap-in car seat. It’s important to check the weight of the stroller and safety rating. At the end of the day, the stroller should be as comfortable for you as it is for your baby because it will be a constant staple in your life for awhile. Take the time to test-drive a few around the store to determine what works best for you.

8 | Defined responsibilities

My wife and I quickly assumed different roles taking care of our little guy. For us, this was a natural process because we both realized our specialties rather quickly and how they fit in with my work schedule. It’s absolutely crucial that you are there for each other.
If you haven’t done so already, learn to recognize your partner’s ‘breaking-points’ and be prepared to step in to allow for some much needed sleep or a chance to just step away for a minute to take a breath. The first month is a test of true endurance.

9 | A good doctor

This is a big one. During pregnancy, it’s paramount that you and your significant other find a pediatrician for your baby. Lots of pediatricians have scheduled meeting times or take appointments for interviews. I’d suggest meeting with a few different practices before selecting the best fit for your family.
Remember, you will spend quite a bit of time with your doctor in the first year of your baby’s life, so you need to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to take care of your child. Below are several items to think about when selecting a doctor:
What are the hours of the practice?
Does the practice have scheduled times for newborn visits?
Does the practice isolate the newborn and family from other patients when waiting for appointments? (This is important since your child’s immune system will be weak early on.)
Does the practice take your health insurance?
How long has the doctor been practicing?
What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Will the doctor be visiting your child after birth in the hospital?
Are there other doctors in the practice, and are you comfortable/confident with them?
What are the doctor’s philosophical beliefs about child-raising (e.g. thoughts on breastfeeding or vaccinations), and do they align with yours?
Is the doctor specialized in any particular area, and does this align with any known needs for your child?
What is the on-call procedure at the practice?
Make sure to examine the cleanliness, wait time, and upkeep of the office to ensure they align with your standards.
How far is the office from where you live? Is the location of the office convenient/accessible in the event of an emergency?

10 | Patience

Let’s get real. While it’s a wonderful experience, having a child can be very stressful. When things get tough, take a breath and remember that these moments are fleeting. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help when you’ve reached your physical or mental limit.
I’m a strong believer that your child feeds off of and reacts to your energy, so you need to be confident and relaxed. If you have the support of family, don’t hesitate to ask for their assistance when you feel your patience running thin.
I hope this list helps as you begin your journey into fatherhood. When you think things are stressful, just remember, in 17 years your son or daughter will be asking for the keys to your car.
Please share your must-haves in the comment section below!

The Alternating Happiness and Grief of Life 2.0

I’m becoming more comfortable with the “both and-ness” of this life. I am both homesick for the life I once had and filled with joy at the life I am living.

It was well past midnight when my phone dinged urgently from the nightstand next to me. I debated not checking it: the kids were tucked safely in their beds upstairs and my work rarely requires an immediate response to client issues. I’m not a live organ transplant surgeon, after all. No message I get after midnight needs an answer before dawn.
But my curiosity got the better of me, and I rolled over to check my messages. And there it was, a note from a reader, also up much too late:
“I had to ask you this one question … I wonder when I will stop secretly grieving the loss of my ‘first family?’ It’s been four years and every now and again it hits me like a freight train that it’s over … that this ‘post first family, blended family life’ is really happening. Trying to coparent and trying to bond with step children and trying to ensure that everybody is ‘getting along’ is so overwhelming sometimes … nights like tonight, I just secretly wish that my ‘first family’ was still intact.”
I read it twice, quickly, and then once more as I thought about what to say.

I could’ve written the message myself

Yesterday I called my children to say goodnight and listened to their stories of the day at the beach on vacation with their father. Simon is relishing his freedom, old enough now to spend the afternoon at the pier eating ice cream and talking to girls with the casual, laid back attitude I also perfected at home in the mirror when I was 16. Lottie spent the day in the pool, practicing hand stands, and Caden continued his beach trench digging. For as long as I can remember, that child has spent his week at the beach digging a trench so long and straight it makes me wonder how long it will be before the army recruits him off the sand.
I know where they are and what they had for lunch and how it feels to sit on the deck of their family beach condo, salty air blowing softly at the end of a long day in the sun. I spent my 20th birthday with my beach chair sitting in that low tide, lost in a book before heading to the very restaurant where they ate dinner last night. I know the pattern of the cracks in the bathroom ceiling, and the soft murmured cadence of adult conversation after the children fall, sandy and exhausted, into their beds in the back bunk room.
But I’m not there. Someone else is now.
It was the background conversation that stayed with me longest after I hung up the phone last night. I could hear their father, Billy, laughing with his dad, and his mother’s murmured response. Suddenly, the adults all started laughing, sharing a joke I’m not a part of any longer and in that instant I felt overwhelmingly homesick.
Homesick for a time and place where I belonged, simply and wholly. Where I didn’t have to add a prefix and no one had come before me. Where people were free to love me unencumbered by grief and heartbreak. Where I didn’t yet understand what those words meant, really.
And yet, I wouldn’t choose to be there. I didn’t choose that, after all.
As I hung up the phone, I took Gabe’s outstretched hand and we left for dinner, hand in hand, walking in our now-familiar rhythm. We spend the night working through an investment strategy, diving deep into the details of our latest television obsession, and thinking about where we might find ourselves a year from now.
We spend the meal as we’ve spent our day: enjoying each other’s company and exploring the world around us. We are, like our stride, perfectly in sync. The joy I feel when I am with Gabe, secure in our partnership and overwhelmed by his love, is something I’d never experienced before. I wouldn’t have even said it existed.

I’m becoming more comfortable with the “both and-ness” of this life

I am both homesick for the life I once had and filled with joy at the life I am living. I am both overwhelmed by the complexity of raising six children and on-my-knees-grateful at the chance to bear witness to the miracle of their transition to adulthood. I both miss my first husband’s quick wit and remember its sting. I both worry about the effects of our choice to separate and know deep in my bones it was the right choice for my family.

I spent the morning on a new beach today

I watched the older couples walking, hand in hand, some deep in conversation, some silent. I watched the teen girls primp and preen, carefully adjusting their pose as they captured and posted the perfect candid moment. I watched the young moms and dads slather sunscreen and chase down lost yellow shovels and explain for the fourth time that sand is not for eating.
For just a moment, I want one more chubby toddler. One I share with the man next to me, one who will eat sand and learn to ride a bike in our driveway and belong to just the two of us. And in that same moment I remember that I never want to own another swim diaper or blue plastic bathtub or attend another endless kindergarten orientation.
I both want to wear that teenage-girl black crocheted bikini and not think twice about it and also know I never, ever want to be 16 again.
I both want to walk on the beach with someone I loved as a girl and also know the person I want beside me today joined me much later in my life.
Both, and.

Grief and sadness and gratitude and giddy joy wrap around me

They weave intertwined through my memory, tangled so closely I sometimes can’t separate the two. I’ve stopped trying. I’m learning the experience of one often highlights the other, and this swirling life in progress has enough room for both.
I’ve slowly stopped trying to rationalize or make sense of how I feel in any given moment, and just accept where I am. Feelings are not right or wrong or good or bad. Sometimes I am still sad about a decision we made I know to be the right one. Sometimes I am filled with joy I found only after making a decision that caused people I love pain. A complicated path sometimes yields complicated feelings.
And so, late that night, I respond to my new friend with the truth, the only wisdom I have to offer:
“I get that. I sometimes feel that way too.”
This article was originally published on This Life in Progress.

13 Key Elements That Keep Your Sex Life Hopping

Great sex is not rocket science. In fact, many happy couples have these 13 things in common.

In an amazing book titled “The Normal Bar,” authors Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte conducted an online study with 70,000 people in 24 countries. They were curious about what might be different about couples who said that they had a great sex life, compared to couples who said that they had a bad sex life. Even with the limitations of self-report data, there are some fascinating implications of their results.
One thing that’s very interesting to me is how their findings compare to the advice Esther Perel gives in her book “Mating in Captivity,” and in her clinical work in general, in which she assists couples in improving their sex life. Perel tells couples not to cuddle. She also believes that emotional connection will stand in the way of good erotic connection. This brings me to a key finding from the Normal Bar study.

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

Additionally, couples who do not have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are not doing these things.
Inspired by the Normal Bar study, as well as by my own research studies on more than 3,000 couples over four decades, I’ve identified 13 things all couples do who have an amazing sex life.

  • They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  • They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  • They give surprise romantic gifts
  • They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  • They are physically affectionate, even in public
  • They keep playing and having fun together
  • They cuddle
  • They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  • They stay good friends
  • They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  • They have weekly dates
  • They take romantic vacations
  • They are mindful about turning toward

In short, they turn toward one another with love and affection to connect emotionally and physically. In the Normal Bar study, only six percent of non-cuddlers had a good sex life. So Perel’s intuition runs counter to international data. What is very clear from the Normal Bar study is that having a great sex life is not rocket science. It is not difficult.

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  • Spend very little time together during a typical week
  • Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  • Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  • Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  • Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  • Are unintentional about turning toward one another

One researcher on this project told me it was his impression that these couples spent only about 35 minutes together every week in conversation, and most of their talk was about errands and tasks that they had to get done.
So, if we put these two studies together, what does it tell us? It says that couples should not avoid one another emotionally like Perel recommends, but instead follow the 13 very simple things that everyone on the planet does to make their sex lives great.
Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book “Come as You Are” talks about the dual process model of sex. In the model, each person has a sexual brake and a sexual accelerator. In some people the brake is more developed, and in some people the accelerator is more developed. It’s important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that sex brake that says, “No, I’m not in the mood for lovemaking.”
It’s also important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that accelerator, that says, “Oh yes, I’m in the mood for lovemaking.” We have a mobile app designed for this purpose. It consists of over 100 questions to ask a woman about her brake and accelerator, and over 100 questions to ask a man about his brake and accelerator. Those questions are also available as one of seven exercises in The Art and Science of Lovemaking video program.
Great sex is not rocket science. By being good friends, by being affectionate (yes, even cuddling), and by talking openly about sex, couples can build a thriving relationship inside and outside of the bedroom.
This article was originally published on the Gottman Relationship Blog. Over 40 years of research on thousands of couples has proven as simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up for their Marriage Minute here

What You Can Do When Your Kid Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Though it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other, it totally stings. Here’s what you can do to make it through.

“No! I want daddy to do it!”
Your three-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser and refuses to let you help him get dressed.
“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”
You attempt to get closer and his little hands push you away.
The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?” you think to yourself.
What are you supposed to do?
It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.
Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.
Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.
And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.
Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage.

Tips for the “non-preferred” parent

Manage your own feelings

It’s okay to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s okay to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad then you tell me to ‘get away!’”). But keep the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings to yourself and fellow adults, rather than sharing them with your child.

Build connection

If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle

There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips

As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive self talk

It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage, that you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.

What if you’re the “preferred” parent?

It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confused, and torn between two people.
Here are some tips for you:

Support the “non-preferred” parent

It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you. Instead of swooping in, encourage your child’s dependence on the other parent. You can stand close by, respond with empathy, and remind your child that he is loved by so many people, including the “non-preferred” parent.

Talk about “same” and “different”

When you are alone with your child, emphasize things that make each parent unique. Brag on the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Or, have your child list a few things she loves about both parents.

Be aware of hurt feelings

Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)
Thankfully, your child is growing and maturing.
With time, they will move past this preference and realize that it’s possible to love both parents in unique ways.
Until then, take a deep breath, find some inner strength as you are passed over for hugs and kisses, and silently smile when the other parent is called in to change a messy diaper.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

Avoid Saying These Two Words When Arguing With Your Spouse

Changing your outlook to one of partnership as opposed to two people against one another could lessen the heat of your arguments.

An argument with our significant other can turn into a lot of unnecessary finger pointing, and let’s be honest, these arguments are sometimes so trivial. When you’ve been married to someone for 10 plus years, even a wrong look can cause a fight.

I’m all about being honest with myself and I know it’s impossible to never have these fights. My goodness, you are with the same person day in and day out. Remember in high school when you would need a “break” from your best friends? Too much is too much. Marriage is that on steroids.

We are blessed to marry our best friends, we are lucky to have someone waiting for us at home every night, and life is simply sweeter when you share it with another. It can also get dirty, messy, and down right rude at times.

I was watching a movie starring the great Jennifer Anniston as her character was in a marriage counseling session. (Yes, I do take notes from movies). What the therapist said to her hit me like a brick.

The therapist counseled not to say the words “you” or “I” when arguing with your spouse.

What? Seriously? That’s the base of all arguments! On the other hand, what she was saying made so much sense.

It’s wildly easy to say, “I feel like you get so defensive!” or “You’re just so tense!”

By doing this, you are automatically pointing a finger at your spouse and, in some ways, putting them down. You’re attacking their person and suffocating their pride.

That is not your job.

Marriage is a union, it’s the binding and blending of two souls. You become one person. There is no longer a “you” or an “I,” it’s “we.”

Changing your outlook to one of partnership as opposed to two people against one another could lessen the heat of your arguments.

Let’s say you’re arguing over your spouse constantly arriving home from work late. Instead of saying, “You arriving late is putting a lot of pressure on me. I always have to feed the kids dinner and put them to bed.”

Try this:

“In our house, there is a lot of pressure at night time. We need to get the kids fed, bathed, and into bed. The evenings will be a lot easier if we can both tackle these chores.”

Do you see how much nicer that sounds? All of a sudden, you guys are a team, both when you’re getting along and when you’re arguing. Your “fights” have changed from straight-up fighting to a conversation. Your spouse won’t feel attacked and you have been able to express your stress and worries.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s really to blame. You’re married, honey. Your spouse’s faults are your faults.

Name-calling is another no-no, even if you’re calling your spouse “defensive” or “uptight.” These terms are very hurtful when directed right to your spouse. Instead, try expressing them this way:

“The mood in our house feels uptight and stuffy. Let’s find a way to make our days a little more care-free and happy.”

Wow. The whole dynamic has changed.

When you said your vows, you promised to protect and honor each other. Name-calling is not protecting, pointing a finger and placing blame is not honoring.

Give it a shot, removing “I” and “you” may save hours of arguing. The two of you may even come to a reasonable and friendly resolution.

6 Guiding Principles for A Successful Co-Parenting Partnership

There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love.

Getting divorced is never part of anyone’s five-year plan. How many women have walked down the aisle, gazed at their handsome groom, and thought, “I can’t believe I am going to be the future ex-Mrs. Jones? He is going to be a great ex-husband!” How many dads have locked eyes with their newborn sons in the hospital room and thought, “That’s my boy. I can’t wait to throw the ball around with him every other weekend.”
Zero, I imagine.
Divorce was never supposed to happen to us or to our kids. It takes us off the path we envisioned for our families. Once we get through the initial shock and awe that follows the divorce, divorcees struggle to define the new family relationships, including the ones with our ex-spouses. We are also left to learn new ways of co-parenting and to create a new village, or rebuild our existing ones, to help us care for our families. Co-parenting is no simple task.
I have had periods of extremely successful co-parenting with my ex. So much so that other parents are shocked to learn that we are indeed divorced. I have also been that mom who has been (embarrassingly) engaged in full-on verbal battle with my ex at a school event. There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love. Not romantic love, of course, but human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love. How do we accomplish this post-divorce, even in the most contentious relationships? We keep it simple, start small, and remember it is all for the children. As you continue on your journey of co-parenting, consider adopting the following behaviors:

1 | Accept what is

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” – George Orwell
We must accept the end of the marriage before we can enter into a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means no more what-iffing, no more blaming, and no more hating. If you are still trying to figure out why or how the marriage ended, it will blur your ability to treat your ex in a loving way. Do not rush yourself through this important process. You will come to acceptance at your own pace. When you are at acceptance you will feel it in your soul. Your children will mention something about your ex-spouse and you will not shudder at the sound of their name, you will not feel defensive or competitive, and you will recognize and appreciate the love in your child’s eyes for your ex.

2 | Make a conscious decision to put the children first every day

“That was the day she made herself the promise to live more from intention and less from habit.” – Amy Rubin Flett
Live with intention. Find a way to remind yourself that today you will put the children first and you will treat your co-parent with love and respect. Create a mantra and repeat it as needed. “Model loving behavior” is my newest mantra and I repeat it to myself over and over throughout the day. It is a simple reminder that I want my children to see me as an instrument of love.

3 | Compliment your ex

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.” – Proverbs 11:27
When your children share a story with you about your ex, challenge yourself to complement your ex’s parenting. My son shared a story with me about a fun game he played at soccer practice. His dad is the coach and I took this as an opportunity to model loving behavior. “Wow, Dad seems like a really fun coach. You are so lucky to have such a great dad.” Emmet’s eyes lit up. There are so many opportunities to show your kids that you see good in their other parent.

4 | Say sorry

“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” – Ezra T. Benson
If you mess up and talk down to or about your ex in front of the kids, do the right thing and apologize. The ego must be set aside when co-parenting. My children recently witnessed me yelling at my ex about the soccer uniform he forgot to pack for the upcoming weekend. I later said to my ex in front of the kids, “I am sorry I lost my patience before and talked to you disrespectfully.” I apologized for one reason and one reason only: the kids. It did not matter who was at fault. I wanted to set a good example for my children and ease any tension that the previous argument may have caused their adolescent, yet complex minds.

5 | Keep some pre-divorce traditions

“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” – Susan Lieberman
My ex and I still celebrate our children’s birthdays together. We meet up in one of our homes to celebrate the birthday child together with smiles, laughs and memories. It is a priceless gift to the birthday child. It offers a full family tradition for their memory bank and it models loving behavior and well-placed priorities.

6 | Learn from your mistakes

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intellectually.” – Henry Ford
It is okay to mess up as a parent and an ex-spouse. It is an opportunity for growth. When you find yourself breaking one of you own personal co-parenting commandments, hold yourself accountable. Spend some time before bed, reviewing your behavior for the day. Where did you go wrong and how do you feel about it? Acknowledge it, determine how you could have handled things better, and let it go. Be aware and be willing to change, but do not beat yourself up.
My 13-year-old daughter recently commented in the car, “Mom, I feel so lucky because even though you guys are divorced, you are still good friends.” This simple comment serves as concrete evidence that we have been doing something right for the past six years. Behind the scenes, we are not actually the best of friends and there is a lot of tension and
conflict regarding finances, rides to sporting events, and medical and educational decisions. Children are resilient and their love is unconditional. They hold on so tightly to the positive and are quick to release the negative. They love us for us and they forgive fully and easily with a heart full of love. We can learn so much from them if we remain open-minded.
Post-divorce parenting is a challenge, but it sure does build character, strength, and resilience. No matter what, you are doing something right. And if you begin to question that, look at those beautiful children. They are that pat-on-your-back that you so deserve. It is not easy, my divorced comrade, but remember, you are not alone and it is worth it!