Shorthand for the Overscheduled


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Dear Elizabeth,

We are a happily married heterosexual couple in our forties, with two school-aged children at home.  When we were younger, we had a fun and healthy sex life, but it’s gotten so much harder to find time for one another now that we have kids.  We kept hoping that once they started school things would improve, but life keeps getting in the way.  Do you have any tips for us to get back into the groove?  The desire is there, but the bandwidth is not.

Overzealous but overscheduled

Hi Over/over,

Thanks for the letter.  If it’s any comfort to you, yours is a very common concern.  I speak with couples of all stripes every week who are struggling to find time for intimacy.  Often they are also challenged by a lack of sex drive on behalf of one or both partners, so the fact that you seem to share a desire means half the battle is already won.  I offer several tips in my coaching practice for people who are trying to squeeze in sexy times amidst busy schedules.

First and foremost, be transparent with your spouse.  I’m continually amazed how much information couples shy away from sharing with each other out of fear of rejection, judgment, shame, or lacking the right words to disclose how they feel.  It’s important for partners to know where they stand, and simply having open conversations about shared desire can go a long way towards helping you prioritize that time together.  It sounds obvious, but often couples realize, “Hey I’ve been thinking this but never really said out loud how important it is!”  If that sounds like you, now’s your opportunity to be upfront about your priorities.

Next, lower your expectations.  This sounds counterintuitive or even insulting but let me clarify what I mean:  it’s easy for all of us to romanticize our past or remember only the most amazing or magnificent sexual experiences we’ve ever had.  Realistically, sex doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be fun, or be mind-blowing to help partners reconnect.  Even more importantly, given your schedule constraints, it doesn’t have to be an all-day extravaganza when you have work to do, dinner to fix, or kids to juggle.  I frequently remind couples that short dates are still dates, quick sex still feels good, and sometimes less is indeed more.

Third, when you have a few hours for a date night, reverse your timing.  We always plan for romantic dinners followed by a private intimate evening together, but guess what?  Food makes people tired!  Nobody wants to romp through a half dozen sexual positions with a full stomach.  My advice? Romp first, then eat later when you have worked up an appetite.  Another confession?  Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy.  Casual is fine.  You can even order DoorDash, you’re allowed.  Do you remember where you ate dinner on a Saturday night three weeks ago?  How about last Friday night?  Of course not, because it’s not really all that critical.  It’s far more important to take the time to prioritize the intimacy even if it means having fast food afterwards.  I promise I won’t judge you, and your equally busy partner shouldn’t either.  Prioritize your pleasure and prioritize the connection.  Don’t prioritize where the calories come from.

Finally, I use the term erotic shorthand a lot in my practice.  What I mean by this: finding simple, sexy forms of touch or words that can quickly and easily arouse your partner. Erotic shorthand can come in many forms.  It can be a certain look you give each other, or a nickname you call your significant other that makes them feel sexy.  It could be a quick phrase that reminds you both of a particularly memorable erotic experience you shared in your past and want to revisit again in the future.  For many couples it’s touch, such as a gentle caress of an ear, or a powerful hand at the base of your neck.  Talk about these things and find what works for you both.  When you don’t have time for serious intimacy, these simple little gestures can go a long way towards sustaining desire and reminding each other how you feel and what you crave.


Elizabeth R. Busbee earned a doctorate at Yale and specializes in issues of gender, sexuality, and communication. She has been helping people explore and enjoy intimacy for over 20 years. Her private relationship and intimacy coaching practice can be reached at

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