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Is the Sex Better With a Must-Have Parent?

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What's worth more: A happy marriage or great sex? Can you have one without the other?

Recently, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story, which said that the more equally divided the parenting and household responsibilities, the happier the marriage --  which doesn't really bode well for us, does it, Must-Have Parents?

We are, by definition, people for whom the parenting responsibilities are not equally divided.

Which must mean that we are all unhappy, except ... the same story says that people in lopsided marriages like ours tend to have better sex. So there's that.

The story's writer, author and therapist Lori Gottlieb, cites a study called "Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage," which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, and found that when men did historically feminine chores around the house, the couples had less -- and less satisfying -- sex than couples where men did only masculine chores, things like taking out the trash or fixing the car.

However, in the story Gottlieb also cites the work of another therapist who found that American couples who equally share breadwinning and household duties are less likely to divorce.

Which means that we Must-Have Parents must be unhappy in marriage -- but, um, pretty happy in bed, right?

Not necessarily.

I'd like to posit my own, completely un-scientifically researched theory: Must-Haves and Must-Dos are marathoners and sprinters.

I think the folks for whom the unequally-divided-equals-unhappy reasoning applies are relay sprinters who resent their relay partners for slacking. That's not us. (At least not all the time.)

We Must-Have Parents are not unequal in our relationships. We are in relationships where the parenting and domestic duties fall to us for practical. not oppressive, reasons.

More importantly, we Must-Haves tend to embrace a different approach to parenting than our partners.

In terms of parenting duties, Must-Haves are marathoners and Must-Dos are sprinters. One of us has a long-range, slow and steady approach while the other must cover maximal distance in minimal time.

I realized this recently while listening to my husband plan a weekend with the kids. Just hearing his plans exhausted me because my mind kept jumping to the "and then?"

But for him there was no "and then." He could max out the weekend because he didn't have to consider the upcoming week.

For me, the finish line is always off beyond the horizon somewhere, and so I've got to pace myself. If I plan a super fun, action-packed, adventurous morning, I'm still going to have to come up with something else for the afternoon. And then again in the evening. And then do it all again the next day. And the next. And the next.

Conversely, the amount of time I spend on my professional work is often a sprint. I can get a ton of work done in a very small space of time because I know that I have to hyper-focus; I can't afford to waste that precious, limited time.

In fact, as I type these very words, my almost 2-year-old has climbed onto the table and is attempting to close my laptop and decorate my forehead with a purple unicorn stamp. My sprint is apparently done for now.

So my husband is a marathoner professionally and a sprinter as a parent. I'm a sprinter professionally and a marathoner as a parent.

This is why it doesn't, or at least shouldn't, feel unsatisfying to Must-Have Parents that we carry more of the parenting duties, and why it doesn't, or shouldn't, feel unsatisfying to our partners that they carry more of the earning duties. Everything balances out. Neither of us should feel oppressed or put upon because we're not trying to do the same things.

But back to the sex. Is sex really better for us because our parenting load is uneven? I can certainly understand some of the reasons the researchers give, but I can't quite make the logic leap from "I've been dealing with kids all day" to "Come here, Hot Stuff!"

Besides, my mom will probably read this and I'd rather not go into details.

So, can we have great sex and great marriages? Who knows? But we can certainly have a great time trying.

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Family and Spouse Rebekah Sanderlin

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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