Sex life gone, complications of course, how to improve things?
April 10, 2009 12:27 PM   Subscribe

A common story: after 7 years of marriage, post-partum depression and a now-3 year old kid, sex (and sexiness) is long gone. I (husband) would like it back. I'm trying to be a supportive partner and make things better, but don't seem to be having any impact. She says she cares, but doesn't make efforts to help. Any suggestions?

Just to make it clear, I love her, and intend on sticking through this rough patch.

My not inherently sexy. I find her attractive, but much more so when she puts any effort into her appearance. Normally, and understandably, most days it's sweat pants and a junk t-shirt while she's at home taking care of our kid. Unfortunately, that doesn't change very often or at all. I've expressed that I want to help her so things are less of a drain on her and so we can improve our relationship. So far that means I clean/help out more (I work more than full time) and watch the kid more while she gets time out (which means I haven't had any time out for a very long time myself and also means my wife and I don't increase our time together at all).

I'm having trouble expressing the question in this post. I want things better. I want a sex life. I want a happier wife. I want to be happier. I want my wife and I to be happier together. I want to feel attractive to my wife and want to be more attracted to her (and/or more often attracted to her). How do I accomplish these things?

And to top it all off, (maybe this is a big part of this question) how do I explain all this to her in a way that doesn't make things worse and make her feel bad?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Marriage counselor, ASAP. This is exactly the kind of thing they're for.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:40 PM on April 10, 2009 [8 favorites]

Is there anyone who can watch the child for you, maybe even for a couple of days? If so:

Plan a vacation, just a couple of nights in a nearby hotel or motel. Doesn't matter where as long as it's just a little nice.

Make sure she has clothes that look nice and that _fit_. If she's gained weight, she may not be dressing up because everything's too tight now, and it seems wasteful to go shopping if she's just "going to lose the weight later." You may have to get smart, look at the size labels in her clothes, evaluate whether she's still the same size as she was when you admired her in whatever-it-is, then go to a nice store and ask for help from the smartest, oldest lady in there. Wrap it up in a box with a bow, and give it to her in time for her to exchange it if it doesn't work out.

Arrange the babysitter (your parents, whomever); make sure it's someone you both trust.

By "arrange the babysitter", I mean either a) call up your parents or neighbors whom you trust, or b) start an elaborate process whereby you start finding someone you _do_ trust. If you don't have the parents or neighbors, you may have to hire someone, and that could mean you'll just get an evening out rather than a weekend. Whatever works.

Then, take her out, take yourself out, try not to be exhausted during your time together. Assure her that, although she is beautiful, you would love her even if she wasn't. Really. But you're delighted and blessed that she is beautiful and whole and intelligent.

Have a nice time.
posted by amtho at 12:43 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

She says she cares, but doesn't make efforts to help. Any suggestions?

Have you guys really talked about this or just kinda touched bases on it? It sounds like this should be a long conversation with you two discussing not only where you are now, but where you'd like to be as individuals, as a couple and as a family.

As to time together, you need a babysitter, no matter the cost, so you two can have some alone time together to just be and exist as a couple. Are there other couples you can swap time with, i.e. you take their kid(s) one weekend, they take yours the next? If not, check the Yellow Pages or local church for a babysitter.

As to how to explain all this to her, I think you just need to start talking and voicing how you feel and let things flow from there, with emphasis on the fact that this is how YOU are feeling and not that she's doing anything wrong per se. You sound exhausted and at your wits end, so rather than walking on eggshells, it might be better to get it out and deal with any hurt feelings if and as they happen. You can only stay bottled up at this for so long.

Final note: Is your wife depressed? It's hard to tell from the lack of details in your post, but that's the feeling portrayed. Who else is her support network besides you? She might be feeling overwhelmed and need someone besides you to vent to.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:53 PM on April 10, 2009

This happens. Things that have helped us (married for 11 years, parents of a 4-year-old).

  • Having someone watch our child while we get away to a romantic B&B. Now, I'm talking about the type of Bed & Breakfast with 2-person jacuzzis, big fuzzy robes, and wine -- not the type of B&B that reminds you of Grandma's house. Even though we rarely get to do this, it is the best thing ever. I don't have to cook, I don't have to clean, I don't have to watch a rambunctious kiddo. All I have to do is concentrate on my husband. Preferably naked. It's great.

  • Fitting time into our schedules for dates - dinner out, a movie, etc. As a stay-at-home mom myself, I feel like I need a reason to dress up. I like putting on makeup and something other than jeans, but it's kind of pointless if I am going to be feeding ducks or assisting in a giant fingerpainting project or volunteering at preschool. If I have a *reason* then it's good. And going out doesn't have to be anything fancy ... just someplace that doesn't have a children's menu or a fuzzy mascot.

  • My mom's group. I go to MOPS (Mothers-of-Preschoolers) but there are others out there. It's so cathartic talking to other moms and I always leave feeling better. Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom is really lonely, and that can be depressing in itself. My mom's group helps me maintain my sanity. I get all of the challenges and frustrations out of my system and then I can be a much better wife and mother when I get home.

  • Naughty toys. Yep. I like Good Vibrations.

  • A joint hobby, like wine-tasting or hiking. Around here the wineries are family-friendly, so we can bring our kiddo but still do something that's fun for us. Hiking is cool, too, because we get to wear out our child while spending time together. Sometimes it just helps to be outside.

  • Prioritizing things around the house so you're both on the same page. Sometimes we'll get frustrated with each other because we are both focused on getting different things accomplished. I get frustrated because he's not helping me and vice versa. Just talk about those priorities and avoid some of that frustration. Otherwise it has a way of building up.

  • A clear-cut, non-negotiable bedtime for your little one. You NEED that adult time in the evenings. Put the child to bed and then come down and enjoy your time together.

  • posted by Ostara at 1:00 PM on April 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

    Seconding amho, that it would help to make sure she has clothes that look nice and that fit, but it's also important that they're comfortable or she probably won't wear them often.

    For this reason I think she should pick out the clothes herself, since she can try them on herself to make sure they fit well are comfortable, and you'll be sure she thinks they look nice and nice on her.

    I think she would be receptive to, rather than resentful of this if you framed it to be about wanting to treat her and do something nice for her, and made an afternoon of it with her in a higher-end mall.
    posted by Ashley801 at 1:06 PM on April 10, 2009

    "You must be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandi

    This applies in relationships and marriage as well as social change. YOU dress nicely, work out to be sexy, and do all the fun and lively things you want to do.

    I can assure you that seeing the changes in you will inspire more change in your partner than any "you got ugly" talks or purchases of plus-size clothing.
    posted by Willie0248 at 1:12 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    amho has a nice idea about getting her new clothes that she'll want to wear, but for the love of god please don't "surprise her" with new clothes in a bigger size. If she's self-conscious about having gained weight, a gift of clothes in a size that she hates to believe she is will only make things worse.
    posted by telegraph at 1:14 PM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

    I've been there. Believe me. I know how kids can be death to a married couple's romantic life.

    You mention post-partum depression. That is almost certainly not as resolved as you may think. Hard to assess the situation without more facts but just be mindful that your wife's emotional processors are very likely still not functioning properly. To her, life probably seems very uni-dimensional. She feels trapped. All of a sudden she can't go to movies and can't go to bars and can't do the zillions of other things she could do whenever she wanted before a child came along.

    You say she's not sexy? She probably doesn't feel sexy. She probably feels horrible about her body. Help her feel better about it. Do it in a zillion little ways. Give her a playful slap on the bottom while she's doing dishes. Sneak up behind her and give her a quick but amorous kiss on the neck. Be playful and pepper the day with dozens of such minor physical intimacies. Through these means, demonstrate that you still find her completely desirable and that you're ready to jump her bones at a moment's notice. She will be more ready to be "sexy" once she's feeling that she is desirable and desired.

    What time does the child go to bed? Strive for an earlier bedtime. Shoot for 7pm-ish, which hopefully will give the two of you some quality time in the later evening. Give your wife a massage. Run her a hot bubble bath, pour her a glass of wine and set the bathroom with candles. It takes some effort but there are ways to create romantic environments even when there's a child in the house.

    Does the child stay up late? Then don't let the child imprison you. Get out of the house as a family, instead of taking turns watching the child while the other goes out. Go out for ice cream (yes, it may keep the child up a tad later but I guarantee he/she will crash in short order after you get home). Put the child in a stroller and go for a walk. Hold hands with your wife. Do something novel and unusual and make people wonder "what the hell are these people doing with a three year old at a place like this at a time like this," so long as you're repeatedly injecting newness and novelty into your life. Novelty helps keep romantic feelings flickering (recent New York Times article to that effect was spot on) and getting out of the house frequently (as a family) will help banish that imprisoned feeling that can come with having small children.

    Finally, I'll nth the suggestion about babysitters. Take charge of this yourself. Do you have nearby family? Impose upon them. Do you live in a college town? Then post flyers around campus. Talk to your friends to ask who they use. Word of mouth is key. Make the effort yourself and interview the babysitters yourself. Then tell your wife that you've found a babysitter that you'd like her to meet (and approve), and that you'd like to have her come over once every couple of weeks so that the two of you can spend time out together. The fact that you took the lead on this will really, concretely demonstrate how interested you are in reviving your romantic life and frankly may even turn her on.

    Good luck.
    posted by chicxulub at 1:19 PM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

    You talk about a lot of things that YOU want:

    I want to help her
    I want things better
    I want a sex life
    I want a happier wife
    I want to be happier
    I want my wife and I to be happier together
    I want to feel attractive to my wife
    I want to be more attracted to her

    What does SHE want?

    When was the last time you and your wife have a great day with each other... I mean truly remarkable and memorable? Go back to those picture-worthy days and recreate them, as best you can. Maybe you can't goto Disneyworld every week, but take some time for your family to go out and do something that doesn't require getting groceries or toilet paper from Wal-Mart. Step out of the ho-hum for a weekend. Go to a new town, check into a B&B, rent a canoe, jump into a lake, eat out THREE TIMES A DAY! Return to a time and place that made the both of you happy.

    Yes, bring your kid. I disagree with the idea of arranging a babysitter. Getting a babysitter is all fine and good if your relationship is otherwise fine, but this is more then just a night at the movies - this is about finding lasting happiness among your family, an experience to build a life upon. Find the happiness first, the sex part comes after.
    posted by spoons at 1:26 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    Man, as a wife that is ".........not inherently sexy" (i am reading this as your wife is a bigger woman), let me say that if my husband took me shopping I would be even more uncomfortable. If she needs some clothes, you should give her some time to go shopping by herself--like 3-4 hours and let her know it's okay to spend some money.

    I've had these conversations with my husband. After the awkward stumbling around each others feelings, it usually turns into a discussion about how we can make each other happier, and what we both need. It is very cathartic. Setting some attainable goals helps, like Friday nights we will cook dinner together. Tuesday night we will go out, etc.
    posted by fyrebelley at 1:31 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I'm a sahm of three. Whee! And I'm hideous most days. It's true. Sometimes I even wear the same outfit two days in a row. When my husband comes home, he always looks quite nice in his dress shirt and pants. It's gotta be depressing coming home to me. My husband is great though - and he sounds kinda like you - always pitching in, even though he works a ton and he always asks what he can do to help. He wants me to feel good about myself. He wants me to be happy. He wants US to be happy. But it's hard to pinpoint how to make that happen. So here are a few of my ideas that would help me feel better about everything.

    1. I have enough to do - I can't be thinking about sexy-ness factor or even the effort that goes into that. I just want to survive the day. And not just a day here and there - but every day. Being home with children, although rewarding, is simply draining in every aspect. EVERY aspect - socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, psychologically, etc. To put any extra effort into myself might just mean the breaking point, even if perhaps there's the chance that it'd make me feel better. So, if you want me to up the sexy-ness factor, I'm sorry, but the burden of making that happen is going to fall onto you because frankly, I don't care.

    a. Take the child off my hands AND keep things in the home under control while I go shopping for an absolutely awesome outfit that is gonna make me feel wonderful about myself. My husband often let's me go out to do whatever I want, but in the back of my mind I'm always aware that when I get back I KNOW the house is going to be a disaster, the kids will have been fed nothing but cookies and kool-aid, and their bedtime has been missed by at least an hour. I'm sorry, I know you did me a huge favor by watching the kids, but I'm not having fun knowing that I will be coming home to that and that I'll be spending the next two days dealing with the consequences of a wrecked house and sugar-induced comatose children.

    b. After I have gotten my totally awesome outfit, YOU plan a date where I can wear said outfit. And by plan - I mean you PLAN it all. Right down to the babysitter - one we've hopefully previously agreed upon. And make sure that you cover all the basis with the babysitter - pick up/drop off, paying, giving the sitter detailed instructions, calling the sitter during the date to check up on the kid, etc. You need to cover all the basis.

    c. Help with the consequences of doing something out of the ordinary. If you have a sitter, most likely when you get home from your date, there might be dishes and pizza to clean up that the sitter didn't do. And maybe the kids weren't put to bed, then, you put them to bed - brush their teeth, wash faces, change diapers, whatever.

    2. Rinse

    3. Repeat

    4. Another small idea - although it may be hard to implement - especially when everyone is so dang tired - perhaps join a gym together. Many gyms have child care. Drop the kid off there, and then go workout together. I always feel better about myself when I exercise regularly. I feel sexier. And it's nice to have a workout buddy (that's you!).
    posted by Sassyfras at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2009 [13 favorites]

    Strongly seconding Osara.

    I have 3 small kids and our sex life has suffered on and off, but we are able to talk freely about the "unsexy" feelings I have all too often. Some of it comes from being what I like to call "touched out" by my kids. At the end of the day, after 8 hours at work and grabbing as much time as I can w/ my beloveds, I have nothing sensual left in me.

    Some of it comes from feeling unfamiliar with the post-child body I inhabit and no matter how many times Mr. Hellbound says I'm hot, I am unable to feel it a lot of the time.

    Mr. Hellbound does more than enough to help out and this hasn't quite solved the problem and that's because it lies within me. So, this is what we are doing:

    We went to a counselor for several sessions to help us communicate about this tricky subject and it was SO HELPFUL.

    Buying a treadmill. A new exercise regime will do wonders for me. Perhaps your wife needs to be able to allow herself to take the time to regularly exercise.

    I'm getting back on anti-depressants now that I'm done nursing. Perhaps your wife could benefit? She sounds as though she may be depressed.

    Date nights start in the afternoon. I find that I do better when Mr. Hellbound and I get to play/ hang out/ walk around the city/ whatever for a few hours and THEN have sexy night out on the town.

    Children get to bed on time, non-negotiable.

    Things we/ I am working on:

    Really and truly comprehending that I have to take care of myself in order to be a good partner to my husband and mother to my kids and it's okay for me to do that.

    Overcoming post-partum body-dysmorphia.

    Making sure I get extra long shower-time once/ week to catch up on shaving. Seriously, if I haven't had time to do this, it wrecks my mood.

    Hope some of this helps. And, remember- your wife probably feels as bad about her loss of libido as you do but at the same time sorta resents (fairly or unfairly) any sense of pressure about it- which is why working with a counselor will help you "get" eachother.
    posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:39 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

    P.S. spoons has a good point up there. You don't always have to have a babysitter. In fact, my husband and I rarely go out just the two of us (we do like twice a year). We're happier with the kids in tow. Perhaps it's because we don't have family nearby to count on to watch the kids and don't want to pay a sitter. But really, we just want our kids around. And it's fun. AND they get exposed to a lot of different situations - nice restaurants, hiking, movies, etc.

    Ask your wife if she wants a weekend away or a date night for just the two of you - maybe being gone for so long would only stress her out.
    posted by Sassyfras at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I don't have kids (or a husband) but I do have a boyfriend who I live with, and one thing that helps us feel closer as a couple when it comes to odious stuff-around-the-house is to do it together. We keep each other company while cooking, and when there are cleaning chores we do them together. It is so much nicer to have someone to chat with while you are sweeping floors, and I find that if we divide labor in a room (say, he does the tub and I do the floor in the bathroom) it goes a lot faster.

    I would also second those who say your wife sounds depressed, and that the best way to improve this situation overall, especially with regard to sex, is to tackle the depression.
    posted by mai at 1:43 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    You didn't say how long she gets when she has "time out" or what she does. If it's just an evening or an afternoon that might not really be enough. It might be the functional equivalent of a coffee-break at work, just enough to let out some stress before getting back into the thick of things.

    Could you possibly take the kid to your parents for a whole weekend and leave her alone? Ideally where she'd have Friday night to slouch in the house and Saturday for a preplanned outting with a friend for brunch/massage/shopping for fun-instead-of-functional clothes? I know it's a lot to ask when you're feeling like you already do a lot. But she might need that extended just-me time, ie without knowing that you're right there expecting her to make an effort to have fun for a whole weekend, to really recharge and feel good about herself and life in general. Then she might be more ready for a weekend sans-kid with you (and feel less pressure to perform--that is, to make the weekend fun for you).
    posted by K.P. at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2009

    I've been the primary breadwinner while my partner stayed home full-time with the children and I've stayed home full-time while my partner was the breadwinner. Working outside the home is much easier and less stressful in my opinion. It is easy to fall into the game of "who does more", I noticed you specified that you work more than full-time but so does she, and it is great that you are arranging time for her to be away from the child since you get that time every day. Have a daily break from looking after the child is essential for her mental health. Is she isolated or does she see her friends everyday?

    Did she feel sexier before the child? Were there things then that she did (work, classes, manicures, massages, shopping) that she no longer does? Can she pick them up again? You should look into out-sourcing as much of her work as possible (cleaning, cooking) to give her time to spend with you when she isn't also thinking of the chores that need to be done.

    Good for you in recognising this is a rough patch you can get through. Having children is extremely hard on most marriages.
    posted by saucysault at 1:57 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    My kids are 12 and 8 now. And in all honesty I think my wife and I are a whole lot more sexy now than we have been in the last 8 to 12 years. Point being that toddler time is really really hard work, even one of them.

    So in addition to all of the above advice, I can offer one further piece: understand that things will change again. Try to disabuse yourself of the notion that something in your life is in truth there is no such graph. Things come and go and come and go again, including libido and the stories we carry about ourselves. Nothing is "long gone," and trust me, the sexual drive of a woman in her mid-thirties is very different than it is ten years earlier, and, if my experience is any indicator, you'll be working hard to keep up. (ahem...). Once the toddler has a little more independence, there will be more energy for good times.

    There is nothing "wrong" with what is going on, only that it is different than you want it to be. Make friends with reality for now, try some new things that might be fun too, and mark my words...this phase will pass.

    And, sooner than you dare imagine, you'll have a teenager! Yay!

    Srsly...all the best.
    posted by salishsea at 1:59 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

    Give her a playful slap on the bottom while she's doing dishes. Sneak up behind her and give her a quick but amorous kiss on the neck. Be playful and pepper the day with dozens of such minor physical intimacies. Through these means, demonstrate that you still find her completely desirable and that you're ready to jump her bones at a moment's notice.
    God I hate that. I just wanted to mention that since it's one thing that my well-meaning husband does that drives me crazy and makes me feel like the work I'm doing is just playtime for him. Please be sure that you're valuing your wife for the HUGE amount of work that she does. Staying at home with a child is way more work than I could ever have imagined and the days that I'm at my job (I'm part-time right now) are so much easier and make me feel like a real adult. And when I'm at my job (Childcare) at home, I like to be respected for the work that I'm doing. I can't even really put my finger on why it annoys me so much but when I'm doing the dishes or cooking or folding laundry, the last thing I want is for my husband to slap me on the bottom.

    I would second the advice to get away for a weekend without the kid and remember what it was like to be just a couple. It's really really hard to turn off the "mom" thing so please mindful of the fact that that is her identity now and she might be having a hard time being anything else.
    posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:03 PM on April 10, 2009 [9 favorites]

    I don't know how your wife is, but for me at that time in my life (now married 21 years, kids are in there late teens) I needed to get out for a little YEHAAA!
    I didnt want dinner out --we HAD food at home. I didnt want to go to a movie --we HAD tv. No dancing, no being surrounded by 4 walls.
    What I really craved was to get outside. Swap meets, garage sales, dog park, gun range, canoeing, finding shapes in clouds, borrow a friends beater Jeep and rip up the mountain trails, then build a campfire. Let her stare at a tree for a while to get acclimated.
    One of the best things my husband did during this stressful time was to get a babysitter, grab a blanket and invite me to lay in a field watching a meteor shower. We would yell as loud as we dared when one was spotted. Later, while still in the field we made our own fireworks.
    posted by Acacia at 2:15 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    Dr. Spock recommends (if necessary) going into debt to hire a babysitter.
    In my experience, the younger the babysitter the less they cost.
    Contact the local high school and explain.
    They might be able to get you in touch with a nice honors roll student who will take jr. to the park for two hours for $10 while Mommy and Daddy get a chance to enjoy each other.
    (When I was in college, I would occasionally babysit for food)
    posted by debbie_ann at 2:15 PM on April 10, 2009

    I can't even really put my finger on why it annoys me so much but when I'm doing the dishes or cooking or folding laundry, the last thing I want is for my husband to slap me on the bottom.

    Seconded with the fire of a thousand suns.

    I know he means well. I know he just wants to show me he thinks I'm sexy. But damn it, I'm exhausted and trying to get dinner on the table, which I then won't be able to eat because I've got to nurse the baby first, and the dryer just buzzed, and I know there was something else I meant to do when I got up but I just can't remember, and I wish he would kindly remove his hands from my backside so I could think.
    posted by tomatofruit at 2:18 PM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

    I can't even really put my finger on why it annoys me so much but when I'm doing the dishes or cooking or folding laundry, the last thing I want is for my husband to slap me on the bottom.

    Yes. This and any other sensations of being pounced on or groped while in housekeeping/ mothering mode - no matter how well meaning- DO NOT WORK.
    posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:37 PM on April 10, 2009

    Marriage counselor, ASAP. This is exactly the kind of thing they're for.

    Yeah and if the first one doesn't get it, find another one. And another one. You can't see her (or the both of you) through a rough patch of whatever kind alone, by the grace of your love and tolerance. I tried. Doesn't work.
    posted by Namlit at 2:40 PM on April 10, 2009

    I'm joining the calls for professional help (marriage counseling and/or individual treatment for depression), not just the usual post-child fixes, like date nights (though those are important, too).

    One thing that stood out to me in this question was "sweat pants and a junk t-shirt." I'll defer to others, if I live among particularly well-heeled at-home mothers, but this is not the uniform of the ones I know. Most wear moderately stylish jeans and maybe a couple of thin layered shirts or something as their daily uniform. Not out-of-this-world stylish, but body-conscious and not bad-looking.

    Because I wouldn't generally leave the house in sweats and an old t-shirt and don't usually see moms out and about in that kind of outfit (again, maybe this is unrealistic, but it's what I observe), this makes me wonder: where does she go during the day? Is she really at home all day long, or does she go to museums/parks/play spaces?

    If she doesn't go out, I believe she's probably depressed.

    I would hesitate to treat that with new outfits and date nights (although those are great); I think this sounds more serious to me.
    posted by palliser at 2:50 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

    There's something very nice about your question and I hope some of the good advice you're getting here helps you out.

    For whatever it's worth, we have a baby and both work outside the home and have pets and tons of obligations, so we're often frantically running errands and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. One thing that really helps me is having fun with Mr. Llama, sometimes like having hilariousness in Target but sometimes grown up put the big kid shoes on fun, drinking wine in restaurants and laughing. Maybe there's something you used to do together that was a great source of fun that you could add back.

    I don't mean 'rollerblading', I mean 'we used to have good talks when we drove around' kinds of things.

    Also, I like your question and your sincere quest to make things better, just remember not to put too much pressure on her or yourself. Nobody has any fun when they feel like they've got to have fun Right Now.
    posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

    Because I wouldn't generally leave the house in sweats and an old t-shirt and don't usually see moms out and about in that kind of outfit (again, maybe this is unrealistic, but it's what I observe), this makes me wonder: where does she go during the day? Is she really at home all day long, or does she go to museums/parks/play spaces?

    I think this is a good point. Getting out during the day - for play dates with other parents and their kids, lunches with other moms, etc. - will really boost her moral. It'll put some spark into her life and give her something to talk about and be excited about at the end of the day - and that'll make her sexy.

    If she doesn't go out during the day find out why. Is she concerned about finances and doesn't think it can be afforded to spend money on a lunch out (and the cost of gas to get there)? Does she not have a circle of friends to do things with - like go to the zoo or storytime at the library? Maybe she doesn't have anything decent to wear and feels embarrassed about her (lack of) wardrobe. Does she feel overwhelmed about going out by herself with your child? I have a friend that doesn't go out during the day at all because she isn't confident enough with herself to be able to handle her children on her own. Anyway - find out the reasons (if in fact she's not going out during the day) and try to rectify the situation so that she can go out.

    (so sorry for the typos in my previous post. "basis" = "bases" in my world apparently. my brain is fried.)
    posted by Sassyfras at 4:30 PM on April 10, 2009

    Man, as a wife that is ".........not inherently sexy" (i am reading this as your wife is a bigger woman),

    I didn't read it that way. Some people aren't very sexy. It isn't that they aren't attractive, they aren't sexy. Sexy is a pattern of behavior, a state of mind, a way of looking at the world, etc.

    Unfortunately for the most part, stay-at-home-motherhood isn't exactly a sexy-facilitator.
    posted by JFitzpatrick at 5:31 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Is your wife cut out for being a stay at home mom? Is it time for her to go back to school or get a job? If so, help her do that. Helping her achieve personal goals will certainly go along way to help her feel desirable and confident.
    posted by crazycanuck at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2009

    If you want happiness and liveliness in your home you need to bring it in. Do you and your wife have friends? Invite them over for a BBQ or a dinner party (I defy you to throw a successful dinner party and not get laid, it's impossible). If you can't cook buy all the food at Dean and Delucas or make one of your friends in charge of the BBQ, no one will care. Plan multi-family trips where you can talk to other adults and interact a bit more with the world. Make friends with your kids friends and trade sleep overs and baby sitting duties. If you bring people and love and friendship into your family and home it has to have a positive effect.

    I grew up in a small town in a different country where all of the above was common. People moved seamlessly into marriage and parenthood without losing their friends and their support network. I don't know about the effect on sex lives because I was a child but you rarely saw someone as isolated as most American parents with young children are. There was always a neighbor to help out or who would take the kids for a few hours while you did grown up stuff.

    When I go home I am amazed at how much more social families are and how new parents are not in some kind of social purgatory. Although I always offer my hosts one night of baby sitting and they are usually out the door before the words leave my mouth so I guess they are ready to have some along time too!
    posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Seconding (thirding?) dates and gym. I don't have kids, or even a full-time job, but I do have some issues with this. She and I both work at home, and sometimes (as horrible as this sounds), if you look at the same person for 12 hours a day, sleep next to's hard to maintain libido. Plus, both working at home, there are times I have had to tell her to go away when I'm in the middle of something. Her job is a lot more scheduled than mine, and her clients physically come to the house (she's a yoga coach), while to her it just looks like I'm in my little computer room or glued to my laptop for a large portion of the day.

    I think that's why it falls on me to take the initiative with our together time. I know when she's working, she doesn't know what the hell I do in here (although I'll probably show her this post!). I know time is tight for you guys, and if I'm fatigued, god only knows how you feel with a commute and child added to the mix.

    Gym time is really important to her, given her profession, and I can tell it makes her happy to share that part of her life with me. Plus, exercise is well known to stimulate certain hormones that get you bump n' grindy.

    Dates? Well, you have to make that time. You just have to. You need that newness in the relationship. Plan with the babysitters, as per above. I wonder if you don't have single/childless friends who are active and would be willing to help you plan dates AND watch the child? My wife and I play that role on occasion for our friends with kids. Seriously, if your wife has friends who can come over and help watch the kids with her during the day, that's another huge benefit. I find she's a lot happier if there are other people around the house while I'm entombed/out with a client. Seriously, sometimes they just help her clean, or bring over their kids. At work, do you know people whose families are in a similar situation?

    Create romance at home. Really. Bring home flowers, books, little gifts. Cook dinner on occasion. I know it sounds trite, but this is one of those areas where it's the thought that counts. I like the "be the change that you want to see in your life" suggestion - you'll get her thinking about you if you make little gestures toward her.

    Most of all, focus on making her feel sexy. Don't try too hard to unburden her; try of course, do everything you can there, but that alone won't fix the problem. Make her feel sexy and desired. When desire exists, you find energy and time you never thought you had.

    Good luck to both of you.
    posted by saysthis at 11:03 PM on April 10, 2009

    Don't try too hard to unburden her; try of course, do everything you can there, but that alone won't fix the problem.

    I liked this, and it leads to something I thought but didn't say, and some people might disagree with, but ... being home with one three-year-old, if that child is not special-needs in some way, does not strike me as being the kind of overwhelming that would crowd out sex life, fun family times, adult life in general.

    I actually thought it sounded like you were doing a little more than your fair share already, if it's true that she gets time to go out by herself but you don't; the rule we try to follow in our house, where I'm at home with an almost-one-year-old and a two-year-old, is that both parents get roughly the same amount of leisure time. I usually spend mine sleeping in on the weekends; Mr. Palliser spends his on long bike rides and nights out with guy friends. It sounds like you're throwing your efforts into a black hole, that no amount of breaks is capable of strengthening her for her days.

    Sorry if this seems like an attack on your wife; I just think this might be yet more evidence that your situation is not because she is having the typical experience of a mom with a toddler, but because she is for some underlying reason (ongoing depression, maybe) unable to see and appreciate what you do, and enjoy your life together.
    posted by palliser at 8:47 AM on April 11, 2009

    A professional bra fitting and a couple of quality lacy bras are bound to make your wife feel sexy again. You can't underestimate the value of a well-fitting bra as a confidence booster, and you'd be amazed how many women wear the wrong size bra.

    I was very pleased with the service I received at Intimacy. They have stores in several big cities. You could get your wife a gift certificate for, say, $150, which buys her two or three nice bras.
    posted by Dragonness at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2009

    posted by Dragonness at 12:51 PM on April 11, 2009

    Also suggesting therapy. It sounds like she is overwhelmed by possibly a range of factors -- kid rearing, body issues, isolation, etc. If you are unhappy then odds are she is unhappy. I doubt that she enjoys her own feelings of unsexiness. It really depends on your relationship -- if it's strained or one of you is always feeling defensive in your discussions then go get a therapist and work on it there. However, I think that if you two generally work together well that you can start working on this with a few baby steps.

    First off, a babysitter and an easy night out. I don't know about starting with the huge gestures, though. Maybe a run to the local ice-cream shop and a long walk after? Start by talking about how you feel and what your vision of your future is together. Don't focus on her looks. Ask her what she thinks about that. Ask her if she feels like things are going well. Listen. Develop some goals together and start working on them. One of your goals should be that she does get some time to yourself but that you'd like the same. Another goal should be that you have some time alone together and also that you all have quality family time together. That's four easy goals for the week.

    Let her tell you how she feels and allow her to come to her own solutions and then support them. Recognize that you started one kind of life together and that your family has changed and now you want to start the second life that you are having as a family. It's renewal and change and you both need to shake up your patterns and learn how this new life works together.

    It sounds like she's isolated and getting out there and being social will go a long ways to helping her feel better and more confident. Ask your work friends who have kids for recommendations for parent groups/book clubs and propose that your wife get involved. However, that can feel like a huge leap so if she is hesitant, allow her an out. "Try it for a month." Also, if she can get out with other parents with kids your child's age then that's great for the child -- they need socialization. I bet there are kids' classes -- music, dance, swimming -- at your local Y or community center. Pick out one or two classes together and then go shopping for clothes -- Old Navy is great if she is feeling thrifty and hating the idea of wasting money on clothes.

    Anyway, lots of good ideas in this thread. Good luck -- you sound like you're on the right track and it sounds like you are really making an effort. All three of you will need to start pulling together as a team to make it happen. You two can get on the same page with this. Hang in there, I think sexiness will follow.
    posted by amanda at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2009

    I am home with our 2-year-old two days a week and I work from home, while he goes to care, the other three. Used to be a full-time SAHM. Overall I think your goal is admirable and you are coming from the right starting place. But with all these lines:

    She says she cares, but doesn't make efforts to help.
    My not inherently sexy.
    I clean/help out more (I work more than full time)
    I haven't had any time out for a very long time myself

    I got a sense of resentment coming from you as well. Which is understandable; you're working hard and maybe you don't feel very appreciated--not to mention that being sexually frustrated doesn't help. But if you're feeling that resentment, chance are she's aware of it. And maybe she resents you back, because Sassyfras's first post is so true--often down time as a SAHM costs you, if you're the one who's doing the major share of cleaning, cooking, and so on. I wonder if she still feels that the share of work is unequal. (I realize we don't really know exactly what you're doing around the house, how much free time she is getting to herself due to your help, etc.)

    The thing I didn't get from your question is a good sense of what you guys have talked about, and how much. "She says she cares" implies "about my issues." As spoons said, I'm curious about what she's thinking, what she wants, what her thoughts are. I think that would be a good starting place, to say something like, "I don't feel like we're getting much of a chance to connect [leave sex out of it for now, because really that has to be a product of intimacy and other good relationship stuff]. How are you feeling? What are you feeling? Would you like it if I found a sitter so we could go out together?"

    It could be that counseling's the answer, but I wonder if better communication and more listening/asking might help.
    posted by Herkimer at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2009

    You sound really awesome being so willing to take care of stuff around the house thus easing her burden a bit. Although I'm sure it's very much appreciated, it isn't exactly Romantic.

    My suggestion; send her a "full deal" day spa gift card accompanied by a dozen roses.

    The thing is, and this is just from my humble experience, is that if you want your girl to be a sexy little minky, it helps to treat her like one. Experiment with being a sexy romantic dude.

    Bring a little Cary Grant to the table. Surprise her with stuff, like flowers or jewelry. Those things are pretty obvious, but I'm sure you can use your imagination.

    Also, at the beginning of your "taking measures", skip thinking about sex and her taking care of herself and whatnot. That can be too easily perceived as an additional burden for her to perform for you sexually.

    You bring the joy and romance and she will bring the lovin'.

    I know this may sound like total BS, but unless she's from another planet, I think this is a good course of action for you.

    I know you're a busy guy, but hang in there Mr. Grant and go do your good work!
    posted by snsranch at 6:54 PM on April 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

    I swear I'll shut up after this post. But this has been nagging me all weekend.

    It may all boil down to this:

    Ask her. Ask her what she would like from you to lift the burden she may be bearing (depression or other issues). In my first post, above, I mentioned maybe letting her go out and get a great new outfit and then plan a date for the two of you.

    That's all good. BUT, maybe it's not for her. Ask her. Personally, I'd love time just to go for a walk. And sometimes I get depressed because I feel like I don't get anything done around the house - because the kids wreck it before I'm finished, or because I just don't have the time or energy to get it all done. Happy are the days when my husband asks me what he can do to help me and I ask him to take the kids out of the house for a bit while I stay at home and clean. Weird, huh? But seriously, being in my own home ALONE is such a rarity. I often get to go out, but not often do I get to stay home and actually get something done. I feel happy and productive and proud when I am able to complete a project - even if that project is cleaning the bathroom. Feeling in control of your environment is empowering and sexy. Seriously.

    Ask her - maybe a new outfit isn't what she wants or some fancy date. Maybe it is. I think lifting her spirits will help you both with the sexy-ness. And asking her is the first step.
    posted by Sassyfras at 9:46 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I just want to add, as the pregnant mom of a 3 year old and a 12 year old, who works 3 long days a week, home the rest of the time-some times I need time with no one touching me or talking to me before I can talk to my husband. I think three is a charming and exhausting age-they talk and hang and climb on you and want you to look at them all freaking day long, and while I do well during my days at home (yes, wearing sweats in the house), mostly, I am fried by 6 pm. My husband is great about supporting my time with friends, but sometimes what I really, really want is quiet time alone in my own house (and I want to not have to ask for it). I would love a spa day followed by a romantic date night that I didn't have to arrange, as I'm the social secretary in our marriage. I would love, even more, a weekend away, also that I didn't have to arrange-at a hotel, not working at our building project in the country (as he suggested). I love to cook, but coming up with dinner every day is draining-a call at noon offering to cook that night, or bring something home for dinner, would be a fabulous surprise.

    I do the work and the SAHM thing, and, while my job is high pressure and exhausting, it is really different than being at home. There is something about the ability to leave for a lunch hour and do WHATEVER YOU WANT that is so foreign to the SAHM experience-and having to get up and dress for work and have adult conversation all day long goes a long way to feeling like a functional adult woman, not just a mommy.

    We've recently started alternating bedtime responsiblity nights, and it is great to know every other night that, once dinner is over, I'm off duty for the evening. It makes me a much happier person at bedtime, and that's a good thing, right?
    posted by purenitrous at 10:12 PM on April 14, 2009

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