The constant needs of a newborn—or any littles—means you share your personal space with tiny fingers and sticky hands all day long. As much as you love your kids, the act of simply putting your baby or toddler down to sleep at night can feel so incredibly freeing simply because your arms are yours and only yours for the first time all day.
You can move, stretch, eat, or do whatever you want because you are finally alone. And it feels so good.
But where does that leave the relationship with your partner? What happens when the person who usually plays a leading role in your life now seems like just another human who wants your attention when all you want to do is binge-watch your favorite show solo on the couch?
The feeling of craving your own space after tending to the needs of children all day is known as being touched out. It's not that your love for your partner has changed. It's just that after being with your kids all day, you have nothing left to give. You've filled your quota for human contact—and then some.
While these feelings can be hard on your relationship, there are ways to work through them together. Here's how to connect with your partner again when you feel touched out (hint: communication is key).
What does it mean to feel touched out?
If the thought of sex—or any type of intimacy—with your partner feels cringy after having a baby, you aren't alone. It can feel confusing when your partner innocently wraps their arms around you, but instead of snuggling into the closeness, you can't wait to escape.
"It's a form of sensory overload," Louise Packard, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in neuropsychology of trauma and attachment, shares with Motherly. "Being touched out is comparable to being exposed to constant noise at a concert—it's pleasurable at first, even exciting, but over time, the nerve endings protest the never-ending flow of stimulation, and the experience starts to feel aversive."
In other words, cuddling, feeding and loving up on your baby day in and day out is wonderful, but as the days pass, the need for your own space magnifies. "It's really hard to make space for the family members who are not infants to have close intimate touching when you have an infant hanging off of you all day," Dr. Packard says.
Eventually, the idea of one more person touching you—even the love of your life—can make you want to run the other way.
How does feeling touched out affect intimacy?
Touch is an integral part of feeling connected in our relationships. So what happens when your touch needs are met by the connection with your baby or toddler, but your partner still needs that connection? Navigating these feelings can be part of the overall identity change that nearly everyone experiences as a new parent. Who am I, and what are my needs now that I'm a mother?
"There's a disjunction," Dr. Packard says. "If she is touched out, she is not going to be anxious to meet yet another human's need for touch." But at the same time, your partner may feel rejected and feel second best or unimportant because of the strength of the mother-infant bond, notes Dr. Packard.
Here’s where it gets tricky. If sexual intimacy, touching and cuddling were the primary way you and your partner connected before kids, your partner may feel rejected and respond with feelings of jealousy of the baby or even anger.
But there’s good news, too: Your relationship can grow and strengthen with open communication, explains Dr. Packard. "I wish pregnancy education classes addressed this in advance, not because it would prevent the experience but because it would be something to refer to."
Tips for finding space for intimacy with your partner
Talking to your partner is vital for navigating all the changes that arise with parenthood. Dr. Packard explains that educating your partner about the reality of being touched out can go a long way. "Reassure them that they are still desirable and loveable but that you are in a state of overwhelm. Let them know it’s not personal."
Additionally, here are a few more tips you can use when feeling touched out:
- Let your partner help. Mamas are notorious for trying to do it all alone, but Dr. Packard suggests that your partner may not be able to fully grasp what it's like to tend to a little human's needs all day long if they haven't tried it themselves. "I've had moms tell me that their husbands only understood the overwhelm of being touched out after they left the kids with Dad for the weekend," she says.
- Give yourself a break. "Use grandparents or babysitters if possible to take the burden off yourself," Dr. Packard suggests. Even an hour or two to do something just for your own pleasure can give you space from the constant needs of your baby and create more room for your partner.
- Make a plan. Once your partner is aware, ask them to help you develop a plan for moving forward together to preserve intimacy, whether it's a date night or weekly sex. According to Dr. Packard, "Some couples do better when making a plan. A date for sex instead of spontaneous sex provides a needed structure." Even setting a boundary where cuddles are expected but sex is off the table can take some of the pressure off.
Most of all, Dr. Packard gently reminds us, empathize with each other. Open, honest communication can help you find your way back to each other even when it feels like everything else has changed.