What does “being intimate” mean to you? Is it the act of sex itself or all the little moments along the way? Intimacy, for me, is about how the other person makes you feel in a variety of ways and situations. There is more security and stability in little loving moments than in one physical act.
How do you balance time together as a couple with kid time? Can you maintain a strong, healthy intimate relationship and be a good parent at the same time without feeling like one is off-kilter? The answer is yes, but it takes time and baby steps … especially if you are blended a family with kids.
I am going to start at the beginning to when Alex and I first met and became friends because this is when we began slowly laying a foundation for our current relationship to stand on. Within months of becoming friends, I developed feelings for Alex and let him know. We took things very, very slowly over the course of a year for everyone’s sake (the children and their other parents). We wanted to give them a chance to get used to the idea.
The slow progression drove friends and family around me crazy because I was so sure it would develop into something more when we hadn’t even kissed! A kiss, to everyone else, meant that we had crossed that line from friendship into romantic intimacy. But, we had shared intimate moments: hugs. In many ways, it was more intimate than a kiss. What is the longest hug you have held with anyone and what did that feel like? There were times we would hug for close to 20 minutes, completely present with each other in that moment.
When our friendship finally shifted from strictly an emotional relationship into a physical one, we were careful about demonstrating affection for each other in front of the girls. It was a gradual progression and it was hard, especially for me. If I care about someone, I want to be able to give a hug or a kiss when the moment hits me. Because Alex’s girls had a hard time with the separation from their mother, he felt it was best to restrain affection for each other while around them. Part of me understood the need for them to get used to the idea of another woman in their life, but the other part of me felt hidden away and not important. My ego and need to feel accepted and loved made it difficult sometimes to see the bigger picture down the road.
Looking back, I can see how the restraint and patience helped the girls and their mother get comfortable with my presence. Going through those few months, needing to shelter them from the true extent of our relationship was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for me. I felt hidden away like a mistress.
Over time, little by little, things shifted again, the girls saw us care for each other as we would find a moment for a hug in the kitchen or a kiss. Kids are very good at asking direct questions: What are you doing here? How come you are kissing Papa? Why is Elif staying the night without Mina? Why is she sleeping in your bed?
Blunt questions like that have me taking deep breaths and working on not allowing my ego to take offense. Children don’t know that some questions have emotional triggers attached to them. After a brief moment, I was able to turn the question back to them and ask: “Well, what do you think?” Most times, given the space to come up with their own answer, they will say simply “Because you care about Papa.” New relationships and family dynamics make it tricky for them to always know how things fit together. Letting them fumble their way through the explanation that works for them also allows for them to have the time to think the situation through, talk about it openly, and ask questions.
The hardest part, for us, was to be able to create a nighttime routine that would enable Alex and I to reconnect and be intimate. He and is girls were co-sleeping and the girls did not like that they would have to sleep elsewhere when I spent the night. This transition was difficult to establish, for all of us. It was challenging for me to stand up for myself and defend our alone time. It is new for me to be able to acknowledge when my needs are not being met. Every few months, I would stand up for our intimate time together and voice my concerns. Even though it was an emotional uphill battle, I felt Alex heard me when I was able to truly articulate my feelings. Intimacy, in these moments, was about listening, respect, and working together to find a solution.
Finally, we are at the point where we can tell the girls that we need our alone time. While the girls play, we take the time to lie down together for an afternoon rest. We are completely open with our affection for each other, as well as for each of the girls. We began implementing the Five Love Languages with the girls about two years ago and told them to let us know when they needed time alone – intimate time – with each parent one-on-one. The girls now know that they have a voice and are able to securely state to me or Alex: “I need some time with you.” They know that once expressed, we will figure out a way to give them that time either at the moment asked or soon after. Once that was established with them, it was easy for us to say that we needed time alone with each other. Because the girls now knew what it was like to have special time alone, they could understand and respect that we needed to honor our own needs for one-on-one time.
What my partner and I have been working towards is a strong, loving relationship that is built bit by bit over time. We want to show the girls that a healthy, cooperative relationship is about taking the time to love each other even when things seem hard, to honor each other’s presence, and value their needs as we work toward that big picture together.
Photo credit: Anastasia Sklyar