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Want a Great Marriage After Kids? Manage Your Expectations

Rachael and Johnathan have three kids, very little time, and a strong commitment to each other.

Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents frankly talk about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights — at least for the first months — are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it. 

Rachael and Johnathan Kish don’t need to be told about adapting. The Miami couple has been married for six years and have three children, the third of which is only four weeks old. She joins a two and a half year old brother and a four and a half year old sister. For them, keeping their relationship healthy amidst the chaos requires a healthy dose of perspective and constant communication about the time they need to spend with one another. Here, Rachael, who is a Certified Lactation Consultant, and Johnathan explain how they keep their relationship strong now that they’re (very) busy parents.

What changed the most for you after having kids?

Johnathan: We live in Miami. A lot of our life, prior to having children, revolved around being outside, going boating, being at the beach. Once we had a child, we had to learn how to compromise on our individual wants and needs, when it comes to doing things solo or together, versus being there for the kid and supporting each other a little bit more. Dealing with the emotional and physical parts of life that maybe we thought were easy before was no longer easy to do.

How did you guys fare with maintaining your hobbies and interests?

Rachael: We did a very good job. We still travel, and are very active with the kids, especially Johnathan. He’s amazing. He’ll take the kids by himself and still go to the beach and do all of these things alone. We don’t go out as much on weekends, just because we can’t. But we tried very hard to not completely change our lifestyle. Now that we have a newborn we’re sort of back home for a couple weeks.

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You have three kids now. How big of a change is that for you?

J: When you have your first child, you can still kind of split your time. One parent watches the kid and the other can accomplish whatever it is they need to. When you go from one to two, you’re more playing man-to-man defense. That, I think, was an exponential learning curve, going from one to two. From two-to-three, it’s been more about being able to do things with two young children at the same time and deal with that. Last week, I had the opportunity to go camping four hours north of here with friends, and I was considering: “Can I actually take a four and a half and a two and a half year old camping by myself?” I made the decision that I couldn’t do it. I could not drive for four hours, camp, deal with our two small kids — I have to know my limits at this point. I think being aware of that, and knowing that you can’t always do all the things that you could do when you just have one kid, is important.

R: For now.

In terms of your relationship with one another, what has changed from pre-baby to today?

J: Before, it was much easier to provide to Rachael flowers or doing the little things? That stuff is harder to do. There’s less time and that’s just true by default with three kids. What we’ve found are other ways to support each other, which I think achieves the same goal of giving a gift. I see my role as providing logistical support as we move through this. So if it’s cleaning the dishes or making dinner and breakfast or putting together lunches, it’s not the same as a romantic gesture, but romantic gestures evolve as you get a little bit older and you have children.

R: It’s something that I think we do need to be better at. We’re great at doing things with the family and with the kids, but Johnathan and I definitely, since we had kids, have not spent as much one on one time together as we want to. It’s definitely something that we will work on, and we have every intention of starting to go out more. This is our last kid, so it can only go up from here! We might not do romantic dinners, but I can tell that the love is still there. He’s cleaning the kitchen and helping with dinner when I bathe the kids. Our one on one time with the two of us hasn’t gotten as much focus.

J: Definitely, being supportive, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I’m the type of person who really likes to be active and supportive. If I had any advice to give, I would say that new dads should use free time that they get to play video games —

R: You can do things for yourself!

J: Right, but it’s just that you should put yourself in the mindset that, what your wife needs right now is you to take care of some of the things that she just can’t, because she’s taking care of a kid. So you need to be supportive in other ways that really are needed. So it was a little bit of a learning curve, but my personality took it on.

With your physical intimacy, how has that changed over the years, having several children? How do you talk about intimacy and make time for each other?

R: It was a lot easier when we had one. During that time we could still find the time to be together. But even at the end of the day, we were still too tired. With our first, any intimacy really just happened during nap time on the weekend. When naps stopped, it just got more and more difficult. We really did have to talk about it and plan it. I’m way more comfortable about that. Johnathan sometimes gets mad at me. But I haven’t been cleared yet for any of that [this time around]. We’ll see what happens in a couple of weeks.

J: To a certain extent, it’s just going to be different. The pure, romantic, spur of the moment things are not as available to [us]. So it still takes me some time. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart so it takes me time to adjust to that idea that it’s okay to plan for this stuff.

R: Right, that we have an 11 a.m. date. But it is just what it is for now. When the kids are a little older and sleeping past 6:45 a.m. things may change, but we make it work.

Did you see that coming? That it would take a whole level of effort to get together just one on one?

R: Not really, no. I think I told a few friends, it’s just one of those things that is just not talked about. People don’t talk or think about it. People can tell you as much as they want but until you’re in it, you really have no idea. [Intimacy is] one of the things that nobody really warned us about. They always said, “Make sure you integrate the kid into your life,” which we’ve done a really good job of. But, one on one between the two of us? People tell us, “Go out on dates, make sure you don’t let the romance die.” But the intimacy portion of it we definitely didn’t think about. But we did figure something out, obviously. We had two more kids.

What are your ‘date nights’ like right now?

R: Right now, we just chill out on the couch. I’m going to bed at 8:45 to 9 p.m. But we have made it a point, a few times we’ve been sitting on the couch watching TV, and we make sure we do something else. We play Scrabble. But we do actually have to sit down and say ‘We shouldn’t be doing this. Let’s go spend more quality time together.’ We have to think about it.

J: We can always find something related to the kids or the house that needs to be done. There’s always something that needs to be done. So it really is an active effort to participate in quality, one on one time, separate from the logistics or the day to day operations, and just let our minds relax. For us it doesn’t matter, necessarily, what the activity is. [It’s more about] turning off the day to day and connecting with each other on a different level than how 90 percent of our time is spent.