Romance killers come in many forms.
One that everyone seems to overlook is, from my experience, one of the biggest stressors of all:
There's no doubt about it: Having kids is one of the most potent and virile romance killers on the planet. Unlike getting fat, losing your job, getting sick and becoming a giant pushover... everyone EXPECTS and PROMOTES the idea of having kids. After all, we have to keep the species going. That's what all that awesome sex is for. It feels great and is really fun and exciting, but there's a bigger reason our brains give us the urge to do it often: TO MAKE MORE GOD DAMN KIDS.
Your instinctual urge to procreate and look after the well-being of a little human is in direct contradiction to your urge to keep a sexual relationship going. The two don't work in tandem, they work against each other.
Being a parent is the antithesis of being a sexual being. Being a parent is being a super Provider, not a Lover.
A romantic partnership is about playing a role. Early on in the relationship, while childless, much of your role revolves around the pleasure of your partner (doing things they find attractive). Each person performs tasks out of the "be the sexiest man/woman possible" playbook (at least those of us in healthy relationships). Men keep in shape, drive a nice car, act aggressive, confident and outgoing. Women are more agreeable, feminine, pretty and sensual. Much sex is had in this phase.
Then comfort and familiarity hit. This can take some of the oomph out of your sex life. Many people let the sex slip at this point, but with a just little effort it can be as strong as ever.
Then... the new little kid arrives. Everything changes. A powerful switch is flipped.
HERE IS A TYPICAL "MARRIED COUPLE WITH A NEW BABY" SCENARIO:
Husband says, "I could go to the gym.. but I'm fucking exhausted. I had to get up at 3:00am to feed the little shit and then get up at 6:00 and drive to work to give a presentation at 8:00. Then I had to drive an hour to a meeting... then back to the office and then home. Now I have to check 30 work emails and make dinner while my wife feeds the baby . I actually fell asleep while standing up and doing dishes the other day. Fuck it. We're having McDonalds." Husband makes these excuses 365 days in a row... and next thing he knows he is 30 lbs heavier. One year of zero exercise and shitty sleeping habits will do that to you.
Wife says, "I could do that Hot Yoga class I always used to go to... but I'm dead tired, I feel fat, my boobs are killing me and I'm still sore from the delivery 3 weeks ago." Wife makes excuses for the next 12 weeks, then she goes back to work and baby goes to daycare. Her stress and guilt are off the charts. She's depressed. The bad health habits have set in. Yoga is a distant memory. She hasn't lost the 40 lbs she gained during pregnancy. She hates herself. Everyone lets her know that it's perfectly ok to feel this way. It doesn't help.
The wife's sense of self is crumbling. Is she a sexual being anymore? Is she even a WOMAN? Is she just a producer and sustainer of life now? A caregiver? She once used to turn heads on the street with her slim body and sexy little summer dresses. Now she feels like a fat, milk-producing cow with cankles, stringy hair and cracked nipples. She'd rather not get out of the house if she can help it, let alone wear a sundress again. Lack of exercise, poor diet, and mind-altering hormonal changes pushes her anxiety through the roof.
She doesn't hesitate to send husband out to the store to get the things they need. One less thing for her to stress over. He dutifully obeys.
Husband would like to tell his wife to get off her fat ass and got get the tampons and nipple cream herself, but she is now "Mother to his child", and is therefore on the highest of pedestals. Her value in the home is beyond measure. Popular culture tells him to swallow his pride and help out the family unit wherever he can. Mom wants nipple cream... you say, "Yes Ma'am" and jump to attention. Your role is now that as a provider of life to a little human. Get used to it, DAD.
Besides, the husband is no catch himself. Look at him. What does he have to bitch about? He's lucky to be in the position he is in. You have a home, wife and a healthy baby. What more do you want?
You want SEX? Forget it. To be sexual again requires that his wife enter a headspace that she can't even conceive of. The delicate souffle of the woman's libido requires that everything be juuuuuust right to function. The ingredients for the sexy recipe went right in the trash can when baby came in the world. Forget the souffle. All that's left are week-old cheese doodles and a bottle half full of spoiled breast milk.
Husband eventually realizes he needs sex. His porn habit is getting out of hand. He has needs beyond that of the visual stimuli the internet provides. Actual human touch and emotion would be nice. He approaches the wife and asks for intimacy. Wife literally laughs in his face. Does he not realize what she's had to do over the past X months? How the hell does he think talking about sex RIGHT NOW is a good idea?!?! Just shut up and go get the diapers out of the car.
The husband is shamed for his sexuality. He feels like an ass. Pornography eventually becomes a full-fledged addiction. Having sex with his wife may not even be possible at this point.
After a while, the couple may have a "Date night". This is probably initiated by a grandparent or somebody close to them who has been watching their misery. "You guys should go out together sometime. Just the two of you. I can watch the baby. You need some time off."
Date night consists of going to the nearest restaurant and eating entirely too much food. The wife complains about her body and is embarrassed about her leaking breasts that she tries covering up with her sweater. Meanwhile, husband checks his fantasy football stats on his phone and repeatedly says "Uh huh" without hearing a word his wife is saying. He learned to tune her complaining out months ago.
The food is good. They each get a giant dessert. Sweets used to be forbidden back in their attractive young gym and yoga days, but now that huge piece of lava chocolate super duper heart attack cake is seen as a welcome and necessary vice. It's quick and easy way to escape their otherwise blah existence.
Then the wife's phone rings and they both panic. Is it the baby?!! Is something wrong!!? OMG... It's the sitter! Shew... she just wants to know where we put the extra diapers. Good. Ok. Nothing to freak out about. Crisis averted. Back to the date.
Husband suggests a movie. Wife says no. What if they have to leave early because of the baby? Then they would waste money and leave in the middle of a movie, and that always sucks. "How about a drink next door?" husband says. "Well, we could... but then I'd have to pump and dump my milk tonight, and I really don't feel like it. I'd rather just go home and get right to bed."
They really have nothing left on their date night itinerary, so they decide to head home. Date night over.
First they stop at the grocery store for more baby stuff. Husband happily points out that they have strawberry-flavored sex lube on sale in the pharmacy area. Wife says he's a pervert and should get his head out of the gutter and go find baby butt cream. Husband pouts. They don't talk the rest of the drive home.
Sound familiar? Does it HAVE to be this way? Of course not. There were many possible course corrections along the way during their journey to becoming terribly boring parents, and our typical couple didn't take advantage of any of them.
Most people don't. Most people succumb to the exhaustion, stress and life-questioning changes the baby brings and just... let go. They let the tidal wave of parentdom wash them away. The next 20 years go by in the blink of an eye. Both secretly hold on to the hope that the other doesn't "wake up" and they can continue the parade of mutual awfulness.
Married people don't fuck as often as non-married couples. Comfort cripples libido, especially in women.
Parents REALLY don't fuck as often as non-married couples. Comfort and then exhaustion and dramatic life role changes... all kill the libido.
Kids can easily become the biggest obstacle to marital happiness.
If you don't actively try to make course corrections along the way, you'll soon be in the majority of married couples. Miserable. Sexless.
My advice to everyone thinking of having kids is to PLAN. Plan and decide on exactly HOW you will stay intertwined as a couple. Plan for extensive childcare and household help. Plan weekends (or more) away for just the two of you. Plan ahead for how to deal with the emotions that want to keep you bonded with the child and drive you away from each other and towards dead bedroom behavior. Act as a team and prepare for the inevitable and how exactly you will deal with it.
Have a lot of money saved up for extensive leave from work. "Waaaaah! People in Europe have it so much better! They get to take a year off of work for maternity leave and still get paid! Waaaaah!" Yep, that does sound like a very good, sensible and positive thing to do for families and society in general. I agree it sounds better than the situation most of us have here in the States. But, we don't have that luxury. That will not change tomorrow. As far as your employer is concerned, having a kid was your decision. They have a business to run. Take care of your shit and they will take care of theirs.
You should save your money and adjust your expenses so that you can pay for an extended time away from work. It's the best thing for the child. It's the best thing for your marriage. Period. Can't afford it? Don't have kids.
Having a kid is a giant financial and logistical undertaking. Treat it that way. DO NOT treat having a child as just some natural beautiful process that you should just let happen and let God take care of the details. That is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
I think it's fair to say that people typically put more thought into buying a car than they do having a child.
Do it right, or don't do it at all. You're bringing a human being into the world. You're potentially throwing a grenade into the marriage and hoping that it doesn't go off. Limit the damage early on. PLAN PLAN PLAN.
And for YOU, mister man looking to improve himself... DON'T YOU DARE TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE FUCKING GAS.
Your entire FAMILY now depends on you to keep your head in the game and remain the strong oak of a leader. If you fold, the whole machine breaks down. You will naturally want to err on the side of amplifying your Provider qualities while downplaying your Lover qualities. Don't. Amplify Provider... and amplify Lover even more.
Being a dad is being a man on hard mode. You naturally want to do your own thing. You want to get away. You want to improve yourself and work on your mission. DO IT. ALL OF IT. "But... I have a kid now... I have no time." MAKE TIME. "But, my wife says I don't help out enough and I need to stay home more." SHUT UP. HELP OUT, but TAKE CARE OF YOU, TOO. She'll be fine.
"But, the kids..." is the most potent and debilitating excuse a man can make. It's weakness wrapped in a warm blanket of providership and societal expectation. It's wanting "do the right thing" combined with "I guess I should make more sacrifices now".
The new parental role can kill your masculinity faster than you can say "Soy latte".
Or it can strengthen you.
Want to see what kind of man you really are? What to see what your relationship is made of? Have a kid... or two... or three. It's the absolute ultimate test.
The end result of the ultimate test is either a happy wife by your side as you watch your kids grow older and turn into wonderful and unique human beings, or you living in one bedroom apartment crossing the days off the calendar as you eagerly wait to see the kids for "your weekend".
Don't fuck it up.