Ever heard of the term willing suspension of disbelief? In case not, here it is in a nutshell: Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term back in 1817 at a time when supernatural literature had fallen out of fashion in favor of rational, science-backed thought.

Coleridge, however, romantic rogue that he was, wanted to restore fantasy fiction to its rightful place in the canon. His concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” was a way the educated classes could still enjoy dream- and drug-induced mysticism without betraying their enlightened ideas of the world.

I bring this up because the following may require a suspension of disbelief, willing or no. Sometimes even the most pragmatic among us need to “sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”  With practice, I think you’ll find your disbelief suspension muscle tones easily, which is good, because you’re going to need it.

Alright, so let’s say you and your spouse are still hot for each other and you totally love having sex. Let’s also say it’s a Thursday evening and you’re feeling good because you’ve made it over hump day and can see the light of the weekend close on the horizon.

You’ve opened a bottle of wine as you whip up a quick dinner that everyone will eat without complaint. You sing along to the Mayer Hawthorne album playing on the stereo and flirt gamely with your husband in the kitchen while the kids entertain each other in the living room.

You marvel at your sons’ impeccable behavior (neither fighting and breaking things nor insulting each other with potty words) and feel a rush of mom pride swelling in your chest. You eavesdrop on their adorable banter and get to thinking that maybe the world would be a better place if you created more humans like them. At least one, maybe two more.

As you shift between julienning vegetables, stir-frying tofu, and sipping your Cabernet, you feel confident sex will most definitely happen tonight. A glimmer in your husband’s eye reinforces this conviction. The stars are aligned along Orion’s sword, and you’re in the mood to celebrate.

Surely the rest of the evening will go as smoothly as it has gone so far. Surely you will merge your parenting powers to get the kids to sleep earlier than usual, leaving you with hours of uninterrupted adult time together.

Right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. As dead as flattened road-kill wrong. (This is where Coleridge comes off his opium high to realize he’s not in a “stately pleasure-dome” in Xanadu.)

Welcome to one of the inescapable truths of parenthood: What seems is not what ends up being so. What’s more, the distance between flirting and actual sex might as well be a thousand miles of impassable wasteland.

While I do believe that plenty of sex a healthy marriage makes, I also know it’s not as straightforward as simply pledging to have it more often. You need to be strategic, deliberate, even planful. And while planned sex is about as sexy as solitaire (i.e. not so much), think of it more as making a date than scheduling intimacy.

For starters, your spouse doesn’t need to know of your plans. When well-played, the element of surprise can serve as the perfect stimulant and make for a supercharged “Whoa, where did that come from, you sexy beast!?” sort of experience.   

But take care with this approach. You’ve got to tune in to your partner for this to succeed. If you don’t, surprises can backfire in a big way. Extenuating life circumstances tend to be extraordinarily effective anti-aphrodisiacs, so pay attention. Nobody wants to be put in a position where they feel guilty about not being up for it. That’s just plain old bad sex karma.

Likewise, you’ve got to seize opportunities when they do present themselves. Maybe you’re lying there in the pre-dawn darkness, deeply irritated that you can’t sleep now that the kids finally are sleeping. Angrily, you remind yourself that these could be your only golden moments of pseudo-rest for the next 18 to 20 hours.

Or maybe (reengage suspension of disbelief now) an opportunity for early morning delight with your darlin’ has just fallen in your lap like a ripe fig. Maddening insomnia or coitus? You decide.

What’s even more important than the element of surprise and seizing the moment? Freeing yourself from your mental checklist. This proves challenging for anal-retentive fussbudgets like myself. But seriously, folks, it’s just a frickin’ checklist. And it will most certainly not sprout legs and run off should you decide to save some tasks for another day.

When overwhelmed by all the undone things, remember there’s no buzzkill so complete as feeling second to sparkly clean toilets.

Also, it turns out a surefire way to put your lover to sleep is to spend half an hour practicing meticulous dental hygiene (guilty as charged). Fresh breath definitely matters, but so do responsive partners. Time yourself if you have to, and get in there while he’s still conscious.

Finally, when and if your love stars are aligned, give these sex-sapping landmines a very wide berth:

  • Falling dead asleep in your child’s bed
  • Debates about conflicting parenting techniques
  • Any and all discussions about money
  • Exhaustive calendar logistics
  • In-laws

All relationships are a two-way street. So is sex. You may find lingerie the best entrée to an evening of bliss. Meanwhile, your partner may be having flashbacks to that time she had to act out the word “lascivious” when auditioning for a part in a Harold Pinter play in college.

In other words, it can’t be all about you. It needs to be about both of you. Never be afraid to ask yourself, “What actually turns her (or him) on?”

Which brings me to an important Public Service Message! Please listen carefully!! Never underestimate the foreplay power of house chores. Once I gave my husband a t-shirt that said, in slanted “Dukes of Hazard” writing, Good Daddies Are Hot. True. So are daddies who buck up and deal with the dishes and cook, or fix light bulbs and pipe leaks, or basically do anything that shows they are thinking about you and what would really make your day.

(I suddenly feel compelled to design a t-shirt in honor of this idea. It’ll picture a man in an apron and dish gloves, and emblazoned across the pectoral region, “Dish-Doing Dads Are Divine.”)

I’d be willing to bet there are as many variations on the theme of arousal as there are different kinds of people. What does it for you? Are you content with the one-hit-wonder approach, or do all roads lead to Rome? Does your spouse even have the map? Do you live on the same continent?

If you were separated from your lover by a raging river too dangerous to cross on foot, to what lengths would you go to make it to the other side to be with her again?