Ahh, let’s talk about sex (or lack-there-of) with your partner when you have a small child. For most families with small children, one partner tends to be the primary caregiver to the child even if both parents are equally contributing. That's usually because one partner tends to take on more of the emotional duties of taking care of the child, manages their day, makes the appointments, cooks their food and makes social connections for them.
Here's a quick summary of the 2 different roles each partner might play in this dynamic:
The primary caregiver: Often feel like they are about to collapse from exhaustion after their child falls asleep. They feel both touched out physically and can feel like they have no more resources left to give away. They don’t not want to have sex with their partner but they’re also so damn tired all the time (because toddlers and babies are cute as hell but also extremely exhausting). At the end of the day, they tend to feel satiated from all the emotional connection with their child and also taxed. They can feel like their partner keeps placing more demands on them when they initiate sex. After time, this can lead them to feeling like sex is just another chore on their to-do list of things they need to do for someone else (but not for them).
The non-primary caregiver: Meanwhile, this partner feels like they haven’t seen their partner in a meaningful or intimate way all day (or weeks or months...) and miss them. They know that their partner is busy with their child all day which is great because it allows for them to have more time to do the things they need or want to do. When this partner makes a bid for connection to their partner or tries to initiate sex with them at the end of the day, they often feel rejected or insecure that their partner doesn't find them attractive anymore or only ever wants to be with their child. This felt distance from their partner can lead them to feeling lonely and deeply desire to connect with their partner.
While completely normal & common for parents of small children to play a part in this dance of intimacy, it’s also important to acknowledge the dance as a dance you both get sucked into & to work on it together so that the emotional toll doesn’t create irreparable damage over time. The first step in a healthy, safe partnership with this dynamic is to always communicate to your partner what you are observing as a pattern and how it makes you feel. Discussing it in this way can make the conversation feel like less of a blame game and focuses on the real issue at hand: how to intimately reconnect back to your partner when there's a desire discrepancy and an exhausting toddler in the mix.
Additionally, each partner should contribute to the solution in their own way. Here is one simple idea for how each partner can contribute below. Note that these are suggestions based off of a generalization of these two separate types of partners in the above mentioned dynamic but all couples and situations are different. Therapy is always the best place to explore deeper and more meaningful issues and strategies.
Primary caregiver: Try to view your partner’s attempts to initiate sex as a strength and not as them just adding another thing on your to-do list. Thank them repeatedly for how they prioritize your sex life. Remind them that sex is very important for you & that you want to work through this together. Try to remember the pleasure you experience from feeling desired. Recall times in the past when you had an amazing sexual experience with your partner and see if you can pick up on anything you can apply to your current situation. Commit to talking to your partner about sex at least once a week. Partners who talk about sex are more likely to have sex.
Non-primary caregiver: You will now be in charge of making your partner engage in some sort of pampering self-care after kiddo is in bed. Yep, that’s right. Giving your partner (consensual) forced self-care time helps them get out of "parent" mode, reminding them of who they are as a person with sexual desires. Compliment the parts of them that you find attractive or sexy throughout the day without any pressure to engage in sex. Help remind them that they are more than just a parent by also talking about the things they used to love and enjoy before having a kid.
Finally, always remember when it comes to desire discrepancy in relationships, to take the pressure off the act of sex or getting any immediate result when applying any of the above suggestions. Try to shift the focus towards pleasure and how to help the primary caregiver fill up their cup. Don't be afraid to get creative with what sex looks like. Sometimes sex after kids might mean less or no penetrative sex and that's okay. Talk about the pleasure you both are experiencing together from the experience.