When Parenting and Romance Collide

When Parenting and Romance Collide

What is leading to the many changes in modern day relationships?

Although there are so many common themes between modern couples, why is it that when couples are dealing with conflict they feel isolated and alone? Is long-term intimacy with one person possible? Is it possible for one person to meet all of your needs relationally, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? These are questions that couples are asking themselves and sometimes they invite me into the process on the course of their journey as partners.    

The state of current relationships is in an ongoing transition. Relationships from generation to generation are so different from each other and it feels irrelevant to ask the previous generation about your current struggles. New questions leave each new generation feeling like they have to figure it all out on their own. Leaving them traversing the barriers of intimacy without guidance or support.

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As a couple and family systems therapist, I work within the context of a larger more complex system than simply the person or pair in front of me. In my work, there are many factors that point to the deep connection between us all. In the family system, there are multiple couples; the romantic couple, the co-parent couple, and even sometimes the parent- child couple. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the battle between the couple as parents and the couple as romantic lovers.

Challenges arise when the relationship of the romantic couple has to merge to include the co-parent couple.

I have noted that the transition from romantic partner to caring nurturing parent is often lined with guilt, resentment, frustration and distance in the romantic couple that started the whole union in the first place.  The movement that happens within a family to make room for kids often kicks the lovers to the side. In cultural history, child rearing was often the point of creating families. Relationships were built out of economic necessity and multiple children were brought into the family out of need. With smaller families and more balance gender roles new issues have emerged in relation to the loving partnership between two people. Sex has become less about procreating and more about pleasure.  A consistent theme for some couples, however, is the decrease in desire and pleasure from a partner after the children have joined the family.


Each couple I work with has a unique story, but often what becomes a pattern is that couples find it difficult to balance the practical and the erotic. By practical, I’m referring to the “business” of the relationship and child rearing . When I speak of the erotic, I am referring to the pleasure, the joy and adventure of the relationship.  Eroticism is the enticing enjoyment of each other wholly, not just sexually.  Most modern relationships started out of the erotic and the adding in of the practical often creates disturbance.  Couples fight about finances, child rearing, decision making and couples connect when planning vacations, laughing together about their children’s play and when enjoying a fine meal together. Generally, with the couples that I work with, it so happens that one partner is more inclined to the practical and one is more inclined to the erotic. This is often the source of conflict and disagreement between them. Through the work of developing healthy communication, understanding couples can find their way to each other by appreciating the things about their partner that are more difficult for themselves. For example, A wife/mother may be more inclined to the needs of the children and the managing of the home and the daily functions of the family. While the husband/father may be more attending to the needs of the romantic relationships, the desire for sexual connection and the nurturing of the erotic attachment between them. She may start to think “all he ever thinks about is sex” and “he may start to feel like “she never makes time for us and doesn’t value our relationship apart from raising the children”. Neither is true.  

When a couple comes into my office in this predicament my first goal is to help them each in expressing their own experience of the relationships, and to create a space of mutual understanding and empathy for their partner. Another goal is for each one to find a deep appreciation for the other.  He might eventually be able to say, “ I’m so thankful that she is able to keep the tasks of daily life attended to, it is not my natural inclination to remember how much the children need and to address all of those needs”. She might acknowledge” I’m so grateful for his reminder of the erotic side of our relationship that keeps us connected and keeps our passion ignited”.  

A partnership works best with awareness and the acknowledgement that both are important and are necessary.                                                              

He may need to remind her from time to time that pleasure is important too, laundry can wait for now. She may need to remind him from time to time that the needs of the daily life keep things moving in a positive direction, first get the work done so we will make more room for the fun.

When couples can start to appreciate each other for what they bring to the partnership, rather see it as inconvenient, there is growth in the partnership and intimacy can begin to be shared deeply.  When a person’s impulse is to stick narrowly to his or her own lane and not recognize the other things that enrich the relationship one person feels the sole responsibility and forgets that a partnership exists.  In the words of Esther Perel, Author of Mating in Captivity.

For [erotically intelligent couples], love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning.

Tracy Thompson is a Licensed Professional Counselor Specializing in Couples and Family Therapy.  If you and your partner are struggling through the changing dynamics of your relationship there is help and you are not alone.

Perel, E , (2006), Mating in Captivity Unlocking Erotic Intelliegence, Harper Collins Publishing

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