Returning to work has many benefits. Once you land a job and dive in, you’ll likely feel invigorated, challenged and have a newfound sense of pride and achievement.
One area that might suffer? Your sex life. That’s because while a new job means greater financial freedom and personal satisfaction, it can also make a women feel overwhelmed, tired and spread too thin. Tack on a family that still has the same needs as they did before she returned to work, and this leaves little time for intimacy.
A nine-to-five, six and even seven workday “will change her schedule, her availability, her head space and most of all, her image of herself,” says Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology University of Washington, and co-author of “Snap Strategies for Couples: 40 Fast Fixes For Everyday Relationship Pitfalls.” “She may act differently, expect a different response, and most of all, be asking for more respect, sharing of duties, acknowledgment of her own responsibilities. She may be less submissive or interested in his day when she has her own day to share.”
Too Little Time
Though two-parent working households are more common than they were in 1970, according to findings by the Pew Research Center, with 60 percent of them saying both father and mother share household duties like chores, and doing schoolwork with kids, mothers, however, disproportionately assume responsibility for scheduling and sick days, the report found, and half said mom takes the lead in an array of other duties.
“Studies show that women are the ones who tend to do things like make doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments for their spouse, as well as more likely to spend several more hours cleaning and cooking and caring for the kids,” says Laura Berman, Ph.D., and a sex and relationship educator and therapist. “This is true even when they have a full-time job. Hence, it’s easy to understand why going back to work would simply leave women without much time for romance. If a woman barely has a full night’s rest, let alone time to take a warm bath and enjoy some self-care, she simply won’t have the energy or desire for intimacy.”
Throw work pressure, off-hours emailing and late-night conference calls into the mix, and the amount she ends up juggling increases exponentially.
“Going back to work can be extra stressful because there is a learning curve to a new job, with new responsibilities and players,” says Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, a Manhattan-based psychologist and relationship coach. “And, often women still worry about what is happening on the home front while they are gone, regarding the kids, safety, etcetera. So, now this woman’s focus can be split because she still feels somewhat responsible for two domains, even if there is a babysitter or alternate caretaker there. This may not be the case for all working moms but it is often the case to varying degrees, particularly in the beginning.”
The Common Denominator? Fatigue.
Being tired from a long commute, occasional business travel and late nights catching up on household chores can leave even the most energetic working mom depleted. Besides lacking physical energy to have sex, exhaustion can also create strife between spouses, which all but kills intimacy between them.
“Fatigue is the number-one enemy, whether it is physical or mental,” says Schwartz. “It lowers defenses, loosens the tongue and inhibitions, and may cause people to go to anger more often and more swiftly. When you are really tired you may not be your best self and thus, cause damage by what you say, do, or don’t do.”
It may not be the most romantic of strategies, but experts suggest reserving time for just the two of you is a sure-fire way to reconnect and re-ignite that sexual spark.
Schwartz suggests what she calls “love zones,” or times when work is put aside unless there is a crisis.
“This could be drinks time after work, or coffee or tea at dinner,” she says. “It could be dinner itself, even if dinner has to start at 8 pm. What it can’t be are the dregs of time, the times that are at the very end of the day when what you really want to do is sleep or do some mindless TV watching. Couple time needs to be given to a very good moment of the day and remain sacrosanct.”
“Safeguard a few hours each day that are for ‘couples’ time’ only,” she says. “That means no smartphones, no television, no checking your email or taking a quick call. And definitely no social media! If you can only do one hour a day, that’s better than nothing.”
Sherman takes it a step further and suggests leaving the home to connect.
“In couples therapy I recommend that couples have a weekly date night for at least two hours, preferably outside the home, away from all responsibility talk and doing something fun,” she says. “This is a chance to laugh and rediscover one another and to blow off steam.
On the other-hand, a return to work can have a positive effect on one’s marriage. She may be more tired, yes, and stretched in a hundred directions, but might also enjoy less financial strain, feel emotionally and physically more attractive, and have different things to bring to the dinner table discussion. Her kids might also feel proud of their mother outside of her parenting responsibilities.
“Although it’s exhausting to have two working parents, the desire has increased,” says the co-founder of a Manhattan-based startup and a mother of four. “It’s had a positive effect on our relationship–including our sex life–as once upon a time he was attracted to my professional drive. “
The bottom line is that engaging more in your relationship and putting a priority on intimacy will have a positive impact on the other parts of your life.