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Intimacy after Babies – Wire Talk Episode 131

Photo of an intimate couple's legs entertwined in bed with the Wire Talk Logo and the title of this episode "Intimacy After Babies with Special Guest Dr. Mike Styma"

Dr. Mike was interviewed for the wildly popular Wire Talk podcast. Wire Talk is the podcast of Birds on a Wire ministry of Karen Stubbs. This group is about serving moms and they do it well. Dr. Mike has been honored to be a speaker at their last couple of SOAR conferences. If you are a mom or know one, you should check them out or pass the information on.

This podcast focused on sexual intimacy after babies. Karen and Sunny asked Dr. Mike 5 great questions asked by their readers.

Listen on your favorite podcast app or on their website. And while you are there, check out some of their other excellent podcasts. Check out the transcript below.

 

Birds on a wire logo. This podcast episode focused on sexual intimacy after babies.

 

 

 

 

 

Sonny Williams

So we’re just gonna jump right in. Tell everybody what our topic is today.

Karen Stubbs

Our topic today is, I don’t know the official title, but we’re going to talk about sex and marriage.

Sonny Williams

Well, our official topic is “Intimacy after baby.”

Karen Stubbs

Okay

Sonny Williams

Specifically. But still? Well, yes. But to talk about that. We have brought in a very special guest today. Yeah, please share with everybody who our guest is?

Karen Stubbs

Well, a lot of the moms that attended soar. I went to his breakout session. And this is Dr. Mike. And how do you say your last name?

Michael Sytsma

Sytsma

Karen Stubbs

Sytsma. And I am so thrilled to have him. He is an expert on this topic, and has a practice here in Georgia and let you put all that information on our show notes. So mom, can moms can, you know, check that out. So we’ll definitely include that. Thank you for being here.

Michael Sytsma

Oh, thanks. It’s an honor. It truly is.

Sonny Williams

Thank you. Dr. Mike, just tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been doing this? What it is exactly that you do that makes you an expert? And and then we’ll jump into our questions.

Michael Sytsma

Sure.  I started doing my training and substance abuse counseling way back in the early 80s. Then trained as a pastor.  Felt like that’s kind of the direction God asked me to go. Worked in starting churches. So there’s not a lot of income in that. Worked inpatient with addicts for a number of years, started working with sex addicts in 90, started private practice 91, and fell in love with doing marriage work. So by the mid-90s, I was really in love with what can come out of doing work with marriages and helping the individual to grow in the crucible of marriage. So in 98, started Building Intimate Marriages, a nonprofit that really does counseling. We call it to teach, touch and train.

So we’re teaching couples, we’re touching them through the counseling aspect of it touching their lives, and then kind of training others and doing some of the same things. So this month, actually building a marriage is 20 years old. Wow. Congratulations. Thank you. And during that time, it’s been just an awful lot of working with couples, a lot of affair recovery and a lot of sex therapy, and just learning how to help couples to grow through that kind of difficult normal struggles of life. So it’s just really been an honor to work in the area for so long.

Sonny Williams

I love that. I love that you just use the word “normal struggles.” Because I think especially for women, we think that our struggles are not normal. Yeah. I think the way that society portrays sex lives and intimacy today. And so I’m really excited by the questions that we have today. They’re very specific. And they’re really great. So I want to jump right into them. And hear all the wonderful things that you have to say.

Michael Sytsma

Can I bounce off of what you just said there? Because many of the couples that come in;  one of the most common statements they hear from me is, as they unpack what they’re struggling with, what they’re fighting about in their marriage, or are wired, they feel like they’re broken. I’ll look at them say, Okay, what’s what you’ve just described, we actually have a name for that. Do you know what we call it? I was like, you know, what’s the technical name for how I’m broken? I say, “we call that normal.” That there’s so many of the things that people bring into me, that are just that, there’s a normal struggles of life. And, and women especially start to define themselves as wrong,  as broken, as not okay, if I was okay, this wouldn’t be an issue and generally know that it’s a normal issue. It’s figuring out how to kind of rise above it and fight through it. 

Sonny Williams

I appreciate that because that is a great comfort to me. For sure. So I know, it’s gonna be a great comfort to a lot of the moms that are listening to us today. Our first question says, How do I handle being the one who desires more sexual intimacy than my husband? It can be hard to feel loved and confident in yourself in this situation. If we talk about it, and then he makes an effort. I feel like it’s because I brought it up and I don’t want to feel like I’m asking for intimacy. I want to be wanted by my husband. I’m not the only one that has experienced this, but it’s rarely talked about. I always hear it from the opposite point of view.

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Michael Sytsma

Yeah, she’s she’s right. In many respects, that the most common narrative, the most common story,  is the husband being the higher drive,  the higher desire, individual. And if we look at all of our cross cultural studies around the world, it doesn’t matter which culture we look at. The good research comes back saying that 80% of couples, the husband has a higher drive person. But in 20% of couples, the wife has a higher drive person. 20% is a lot. Yeah, that’s one in five couples, where she’s the one that’s saying, you know, I’m hearing all of my friends talk about how he’s always chasing her down, and she’s so tired of it, and I would die to have him chase me down, you know, so. So one in five is really pretty high. Those couples really do kind of struggle a bit, because the common narrative is the husbands always wanting, so the wives come in, and they’re like, What is wrong with me? or what’s wrong with my husband, that he that he’s not chasing me down? that he doesn’t always want me? I think the first part is understanding that sexual desire is really complex. It’s one of the things we don’t understand very well in the field. It’s what I did my doctoral dissertation on, and six and a half years of studying and trying to figure out what causes higher low desire, and we just don’t know.

But in any of those couples, it’s just the mix of them, that maybe she is right now, at this stage of life, a higher drive person, or maybe it’s, he is always been a lower drive individual. Some of the couples that I work with, he’ll say, you know, I’ve never been like my friends and just hungry for sex. I love the intimacy, I love the connection. But and I enjoy it when we do, but I’ve never had the drive that many of my friends do. And, and then it’s not about her, it’s not about the relationship. It’s not about physiologically how he is it’s just how they tend to match up. And we’ll see that in divorces and remarriage that sometimes somebody would go from the load drive individual in one marriage and be the high drive and the other one, or the reverse. So sometimes it’s just about roll. And if she’s making it about herself, when, when it’s really not, you know, she’s seen, there’s something made that he doesn’t, that doesn’t seduce him, that doesn’t compel them towards me, that may not be accurate. And it may not be that there’s something wrong in him. Sometimes it is, sometimes there’s a physiological issue for him, and maybe low testosterone may be part of what’s going on with his body. A lot of guys come in, especially if, if this is kind of a new thing in their relationship, you know, that post kids, he seems to be a bit more distant, is not pursuing her as much.

And maybe that he feels far more pressure to provide for the family.  So he is working now 80 hours a week, he is not eating well, he’s not sleeping, well, he stopped everything enormous. And these guys stop, stop pursuing sex because their body is not at a place that, that is desired. 

Karen Stubbs

And, well, also,  whenever she was asking that question, she said, “they talk about it”, and then she like, he then starts pursuing her, but then she feels like she, you know, is sort of forcing it. I’ve heard that a lot for moms talking to me, and I’m like, Look, just be happy that your husband’s listening. And he’s now trying to do it. It doesn’t. I learned a long time ago with Greg, like, if if I share my heart with him, and then he tries to, to, you know, please me in whatever way like with love languages or whatever, that’s a that’s a win for our marriage. You know, he’s listening. He’s trying, that’s all I can ask. So she needs to just be very happy that her husband is, you know, trying.

Michael Sytsma

And be comfortable that, be comfortable and asking for what she wants?

Karen Stubbs

Absolutely. I think that’s a good marriage. In a marriage, it is,

Michael Sytsma

That she wants him to just pursue her innately. Because that’s the stories. I don’t have a problem with her desiring that, right? We all want to be pursued. We all want to be desired, both men and women. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way for a variety of different reasons. And for her to be able to express to her husband, what she desires, what she would like, and then exactly what you said to be comfortable when he responds to it. I think that’s huge.

Karen Stubbs

Yeah, even something so practical. And I know one time I told Greg, like, you know, you don’t compliment things or whatever. So he’s put on his phone like an alert, like, “write Karen a note,” you know, “this week” or, you know, “bring her flowers” and at first whenever I saw it, I was like, “Ah, so cold is not romantic”. But then I thought, “You know what? it is romantic, but that’s not how he’s wired. Yeah. So, you got to just accept, you know, look at the positive and that they are trying, right. And that’s all we can ask. Right?

Michael Sytsma  10:07

And, and sometimes she can learn ways to seduce him the ways to spark it in him. For some couples, it just doesn’t tend to work that way. But many of them are close enough that if she’s comfortable in and drawing him in and figuring out what works, he will respond to it. 

Sonny Williams

Yeah, so that’s good. I think to just to hear that it’s that  those roles are far more common than that didn’t she probably thinks that they are  in fact, and that it’s that there’s not necessarily something wrong, right? It’s just how they’re wired. Yeah.

Michael Sytsma

And we actually think clinically, as we talk as sex therapists, that that number is increasing, not decreasing. We don’t have any current research that I think is really good that that shows that. But we believe it’s probably much higher than 20% at this stage in our culture.

Sonny Williams

So so interesting. Our next question says, “I have three toddlers, four, two, and one with one on the way.” bless her. “Indeed, intimacy for me just isn’t about sex, but closeness. In this stage of service with my kids and needing so much from me every day. How do I prioritize time and energy with my husband? I’m usually in bed by 10pm. Kids go to bed at 7:30pm. We can’t afford to do weekly date nights. Between the date and the sitter, we’d be broke. We tried to do at home date nights on occasion, which are good, but don’t have the same effect, since I’m still doing the whole dinner, bath time,bed time routine. It seems like we’re in a season of survival,  rather than thriving in our marriage. We don’t have huge issues. We are in small group weekly together, and still like each other, and obviously love each other. But I don’t want this season of survival in our marriage to last for the next five years. Any tips, advice or encouragement?

Michael Sytsma

You know, the beauty of women is , you ask such simple questions.

Karen Stubbs

There’s like five questions.

Michael Sytsma

And there’s at least five questions in there and so much to react to. And always you hear this yearning heart that, that just needs to be cared for. But you know, she starts by talking about the ages of her kids. And the desire to connect, that is not just about the sex, it’s about the connection. Well, again, we would call that normal. 

A study of 2000 Christian women. And when they asked, What do you like best about sex, 94% of them said, the connection, the closeness that comes from it, either the physical closeness, the emotional closeness, or just closeness, so that what she really loves out of it is the closeness would make her not just normal, but in the vast majority of women.

And yet, you take three preschool kids, the energy that she has, has to be poured into those kids, right? They demand it. And and there’s really not much of an option.

I had a couple come in. And they had four kids in the preschool age, she’d had multiple births. And the husband looked and he said, You know, “I’d really like for us to have more sex.” And I looked at him said, “Dude, you should be grateful when she has the energy to smile at you. (That’s right) So let’s wait five years or so. And then come back and and look at it.” Sometimes men can understand a little bit better when we say, you know, “If you are starting a new business, where is all of your energy going?” and they’re like every thought, every bit of energy is poured into this new business, because you have to. That’s what it takes to get the business off the ground.

Well, you guys are starting a family. You’ve got little tiny kids, they require enormous energy. And men and women are really different in how energy goes into our sex life. For men, you know, the typical male, “I have just enough energy for sex before I die.” A bad way to go out, “that even if I’m really tired, if you’re interested, I can probably come up with the energy for it”. It doesn’t work that way for women. Their physiology is totally different. When they’re fatigued, when they’re stressed, the chemicals that allow them to say yes to sex are pretty well stripped out. And it’s such a huge hurdle for them to overcome. That she’s got a one year old likely mean she’s breastfeeding.

And if she’s breastfeeding her body is you know, prolactin is the chemical debt that allows for the production of breast milk. And prolactin is like a wet blanket.  For men. It’s the chemical that that prevents us from being able to respond very quickly after an orgasm. It just kind of short circuits our ability to function. And for women, it’s like a wet blanket to their sexuality. They’re just not interested. I think that’s God’s designed to protect women. I’ve got this infant I’m having to pour all of my physical energy into. And, you know, for most of human history, we haven’t had birth control. So God sets it up that she’s just way not interested. As long as she’s breastfeeding, her body just can barely respond. So she is coming into this at a stage that we look at it and go, of course, you know, it’s such a hard hurdle for you to overcome. And yet I love that her desire is still to connect with her husband, and to connect in that kind of physical and intimate type of way.

Sonny Williams

So she’s talking about wanting to prioritize time and energy, and her husband in the midst of all of this, not wanting the season to last a super long time.

Karen Stubbs

And she also said that if she gets a sitter, it’s $80.  But my suggestion was that because I was sort of in her shoes, I tried to swap off with friends. Like, you know, if you watch mine, this Friday night, or when pick a night, whatever, then I’ll watch yours, you know, and we did that. And that would help on the money. And then like, on an anniversary, or birthdays, that’s whenever we would go out and like splurge for the sitter and, you know, go out to eat and go to a movie or whatever. But on the normal times, we would just sort of round robin it with our friends. Right? And that really helped because it you do need to get out of the house, you need to change your environment and all of that. So I would suggest that.

Michael Sytsma

We did the same thing. You know, we, she says we did, we did the dates at home, Karen and I did that, you know, we put the kids to bed, we’d put the the baby monitors in the bedrooms, and we go out on the back porch with you know, something to drink and something neat. And, and we’d sit out there and sometimes that works. But the biggest thing was what you just said we had friends that we would do we call the kids swap? Yeah, you know, and every other Friday night, we’d swap the kids around. We did pizza movie and smoothie night or something like that. Kids would just crash on the floor and watch movie. And we just kind of manage them or we’d play a game or something with him. Because we knew that the next week, it was your turn. It was our turn.

Karen Stubbs

That’s right. And I found that if I’ve got, you know, my three toddlers in the house, or five toddlers in the house six, it doesn’t matter. It’s crazy. So who cares? And it’s one night and like you said, you’re looking forward. I’m doing it now cuz I get to go do this next week.

Sonny Williams

I wonder too, just because I’m wired this way. It’s very hard for me to ask for help. Especially and I only have two kids, right? So if I had four kids, three kids with another one on the way, it would be really hard for me to ask even my best friend. Right for help.

Karen Stubbs

But that was why when you swap? Yeah, it doesn’t make it so hard. Hey, I’ll do this for you. Yeah, you do that for me? Yeah. Usually people are like, sure. Yeah. Because they’re thinking I get a night out for free. Yeah, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.

Michael Sytsma

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And our kids, the kids that we did that with? They’re still really close. That’s, to me, that’s richness for the kids. Absolutely. That made it worth it. Even though even if it didn’t serve us as well as it did it serve the kids. Yeah. The other thing I like to tell parents, not just the moms with the parents at this stage, is you have to choose where you’re going to fail. You know, I read a study that said if we do everything we’re supposed to do every day, ate so many meals, and this is what it takes to prepare a decent meal and brush your teeth as many times and sleep as much. And that came to about a 3036 hour day. Yeah, well, nobody has a 30 to 36 hour days. So we are failing someplace every day. And for many of these moms, I invite them to fail in their housework to take a nap. So they have the energy that evening. Yeah. And their husband gets home and and they’re like, “but the house is a mess”. Yes. And that’s okay. And who cares? Yeah, yeah. Toddlers don’t care. Yeah, and, or you may need to fail in another area. But if I intentionally choose where I’m going to fail, then I can intentionally choose where I’m going to succeed, and I can’t fail in the house work every day. And I can’t fill in my marriage and I can’t fill in my sex life every day that we have to swap around. But if I’m intentional on where I’m going to fail for today, then I can intentionally succeed someplace else.

Karen Stubbs

I also have a thought, because like I said, I used to be in this stage of life. Mine are all grown now, but I used to, because I was the same way she was, you know, you’d like that closeness and all that. So I used to tell Greg, well “run my back”, you know, “just just talk, rub my feet”, you know, just, you know, “let’s just talk and, and then we’ll get there” and it always, it did. And like once, you know, as sort of relaxed and he would sort of work out those knots in my back that was like, okay, I’m good. Now, you know, and the talking sort of connects you and helps you feel close. And then you’re like, Oh, how I feel poured into now I can do this. You know what I mean? And that really helped just doing something non sexual, but still connecting and then to get you to the other.

Michael Sytsma

And that may mean, training your husband, you know, some good open communication with him absolutely says, you know, 20 minutes of you sitting across the kitchen table from me, and just really listening to me gripe about the kids, right? Really listen to how I’m feeling and caring for me pour so much energy into me that we probably will have the energy for it.

Karen Stubbs

That’s right, this will benefit the guys in the long run. Yeah.

Michael Sytsma

Because he often works the opposite. You know, we have sex, and then I have the energy listen to you.

But training him that for her, it kind of works the other way around. Listen to me care for my heart. And then I’ve got more energy. Yeah.

Sonny Williams

So I want to make a quick observation. I love that she said she’s very open and calling this a season of survival. And one that they’re in survival mode, but it’s just a season, which means it’s gonna pass. And it’s okay, if it takes some time, because nothing’s gonna happen overnight. Right. But when you talked about prolactin, this is totally random. So I have a mass in my pituitary gland that affects my prolactin, and for the longest time, so like, we couldn’t get pregnant for a long time. And we were told, basically, “it’s not gonna happen.” And then I have an eight year old surprise, baby. But my prolactin still stays very high. And so it was, no one has ever, no doctor has ever mentioned that your libido would be impacted by the prolactin. Wow. And so there are times where I’m like, I’m just, this is just not my week, like we’re just gonna have talk about next week. And that’s just very fascinating to hear that from, you know, just for me. Absolutely.

Michael Sytsma

And one of the things that we’ve learned helps. Now, this may come up in a later question, but one of the things we learned helps, is for women desire follows arousal. Yeah. And so, for, even for her, she can set aside the time, and she enters into it thinking, “I don’t have the energy for it, but I really desire to connect” she can decide to connect and decide to get involved in it. Once her body starts to get aroused, the desire will flood in. And it’s a different internal process. Yeah. And if she can keep that in mind. So wife in my office this week, and I said in once you decided, she said, a couple minutes into it. I was like, why don’t we do this more. But it took her getting aroused for her brain to be in that spot. Yeah. And the kind of the myth in our culture is, we entersect hungry for it, we intersects horny for it. And, and that’s not always the case. In fact, we’ve learned for most women, it works the other way around. 

Karen Stubbs

Well, Greg and I do two to one mentoring in our church. And that’s like pre engagement. Whenever we get to the intimacy part, Greg always says to the guys, you know, “It takes one to three minutes for a guy to get aroused, and all that and it takes seven to ten minutes for a woman”. He always tells the man, “You need to be patient with her. And what are you going to do in those 10 minutes, not thinking about you, but thinking about her and putting her first? And all the guys just sit there and go “wow!”, like, I just don’t know that and it’s really true”. But guys need to be patient. And once you just said it, women have to coach their husbands, they have to talk to them, and just say, you know, ‘I’m all in but I need 10, 15 good minutes, you know what I’m saying? And you got to be patient. So.

Michael Sytsma

It’s about learning to seduce each other.

That, umm  I joke that it’s a little bit easier for most women, you know, that they put on the right outfit and we’re there. Guys, it takes a little bit more for us to learn to seduce her, and you’re right. Slowing the process down. Caring for her to speaking to her. It’s letting her know that we see her and we’re wanting to connect with her, not just wanting to connect with her body. And then as she gets aroused and gets more into it.

Karen Stubbs

Yeah. Hey moms, we’re taking a quick break so I can tell you about an organization I love and adore. Winshape Marriage. Winshape Marriage is a phenomenal ministry that helps couples prepare, strengthen and when needed, even save their marriages. They’re grounded on the belief that the strongest marriages are the ones that are nurtured even when it seems things are going smoothly so that they’re stronger if they hit a bump along their marital journey. Through their weekend retreats. Winshape Marriage invites couples to enjoy time away, to simply focus on each other. These weekend retreats are hosted within the beautiful refuge of Winshape Retreat. Purchase the top 27,000 acres in the mountains of Rome, Georgia. A short drive from Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga. While you and your spouse are there you will be well fed, well nurtured, and well cared for. During your time away in this beautiful setting, you and your spouse will learn from expert speakers and explore topics related to intimacy, maneuvering challenges, improving communication and more. So whether you are navigating changes along the way, or celebrating many years of your journey together, you can recharge your marriage with the programs Winshape Marriage offers.

I personally have taken many trips up to enjoy their incredible campus, and I always come away relaxed and renewed. To find an experience that’s right for you and your spouse, head over to their website. winshape marriage.org. That’s wi n s h a p e marriage.org. and for unlimited time, mention “birds on a wire” when you make a reservation to receive $100 off the price of a weekend marriage retreat. I’m hoping a lot of moms will hear this pause it go grab their husband and come back. Yeah. What this is a great kind of segue into this next question because it’s less about the the getting into it versus more about rote and mechanical. This question says my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for the past six months and sex now seems almost rote and mechanical. When our intimacy is goal oriented. How can we restore the spontaneity and the joy?

Michael Sytsma

Yeah, this question really tugs at my heart. It talked about the time, Karen, that you guys were with a bunch of little kids, Karen and I did eight years of infertility. Five miscarriages. That was a really achy, rough season of our life. And in my heart goes out to couples in this spot having walked through it, because this is a sexual trauma. You know, infertility is a sexual trauma. We think about a lot of different kinds of sexual traumas. And we understand and expect that those traumas are going to impact desire, and they’re going to impact function, and they’re going to impact the way they view sex. But, we forget that infertility, we forget that miscarriages are a sexual trauma, they’re a trauma to our sexual being. And, and she’s very accurately identified a part of that trauma, that the whole purpose of sex gets skewed. You know, sex is about intimacy, it’s about closeness.

It’s about reflecting something of the nature of God in intimacy, in a way that we can’t at any other time or in any other activity. And it’s also about procreation, when it becomes highly focused on procreation and all the science steps into it. I remember Karen one time saying, you know, “we’re tracking every time, we’re tracking the cycle, and we’re tracking every time we have sex. And, you know, everybody is taking a look at my body, you know, in an intimate kind of a way, and nothing seems sacred anymore.” This, this very sacred personal event, is just totally exposed and charted and graphed as we’re trying to figure out what’s going wrong. And that’s just, I mean, we have to do it in order to accomplish the goal of procreation. But it is a deep wound into the heart of sexuality. I think the first task for couples in this stage is to understand that it is a wound for them. And when we’re wounded, we don’t always respond our best, you know, if if my arm was severely shattered, I, I expect it’s going to take time before I can use it the way I want to again, and for these couples, to just say, “Okay, we’re in a season where it’s just, it’s been wounded pretty badly. And we’re going to do our best with it.”

So I tell couples, you know,” there’s about a week that the doctor is going to say this is when you are trying to have sex. So just allow it to be a little bit more mechanical, if that’s what it needs to be during that time.” But then you’ve got a couple of weeks there where, really, it’s not about procreation. And can we try to set those aside? And can we slow down? Can we do more foreplay? Can we do more just sensual massage and really connect with each other’s bodies, and enjoy the connection with each other, make up more about the heart of the sex and less about less about the goal of procreation, at least during those couple of weeks. Some couples are really good at that, you know, and they can get away. You know, they’ll go, I mean, infertility treatment costs enough, they add a little bit more to it and go to a hotel. You one of the nights that it’s not about trying to get pregnant, it’s just reminding ourselves to reconnect. So trying to get them to think through creatively. How do we separate those two types of sex out? Many times we’re trying to keep them all blended together? I don’t know that we do that really well when it’s a wound.

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We know that relationships require dedication outside of just your sex life. Besides sex therapy, Building Intimate Marriages provides other guidance for couples. We can do this with premarital counseling as well as marriage counseling. If you are looking for other relationship options, consider discernment counselingaffair counseling, and divorce counseling. Additionally, our team hosts intimacy workshops and seminars to nurture your relationships in a group setting, too. Your sex life is just as important as the other aspects of your relationship. Let the therapists at our Atlanta, GA area therapy practice help you start feeling closer in all aspects of your relationship.