Meg, a 38-year-old mother of two, was so frustrated at her husband Rob that she wanted to punch him. Of course, she would not do that in my office. She wouldn’t do it anywhere.
But I could almost see the steam coming out of her ears at her spouse’s plaintive plea for some physical intimacy. Sex? When did she have the time?
Mothers of small (and even medium-sized) children are so exhausted by the jobs involved in childcare and housekeeping that they feel spent, physically and mentally. This can lead to women offering a steady diet of “mercy sex” that makes a couple’s sexual life worse.
I have made a distinction between circular and linear tasks that I believe might help rescue your sex life if you are woman in a classic marriage. My circular/linear distinction was first published in the Boston Globe Magazine’s Parenting Issue, July 8, 2007 as an interview that Boston journalist Cary Goldberg did with me.
If you think about it, a lot of women’s traditional tasks are circular. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry — traditional women’s tasks, are never finished.
When I had small kids, I used to think about how if I died on a Monday, by a Wednesday, there would be no physical evidence that I had ever existed. My sink would be full of dirty dishes, my floor would be full of dirty clothes, and there would be no food to eat.
My friend, Jill, who was parenting with me at the time, used to say, “It’s like shoveling water uphill.”
Men’s traditional tasks are more linear. If you mow the lawn, it stays mowed for at least a week. If you fix the leaky faucet, it should stay fixed. If you work outside the home and you write a report, it stays written.
I think the loving, relational parenting tasks that involve meeting a child’s emotional needs should be at the top of your list. You should make the time to nurture and support your kids. You should feed them, too.
But if you are a perfectionist about all the circular tasks, you will find yourself completely depleted every day.
Many men literally do not notice dirt. I remember once hearing a Dave Barry talking about men, women, and housework, and he said, “Men don’t notice dirt.” He made the joke that unless the pile of dirt was so high that you could get on your dirt bike and ride down that hill, no man would ever notice the filth. There is some truth to that.
See if you can delegate some of the circular tasks to your spouse, to your kids, or to some other helpers. Make a vow to yourself to let go of some of the perfectionism.
If you do less housework, you will be less depleted, less cranky, more relaxed. You’ll have some energy for yourself, more energy to connect, and you might even be interested in sex.
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