How to Stay Close After Baby

The leap into parenthood seriously tests many couples. We'll help you safeguard your relationship.
romantic picnic

I knew having a baby would change my day-to-day. But I didn't know it would rock my relationship too. After our son was born, my husband, Aaron, suddenly had opinions about everything -- and most of them differed from mine. The first year of Eric's life was the worst of our marriage. And we're not alone. About two-thirds of couples become dissatisfied with their relationship within three years of having a child, according to research from the Gottman Relationship Institute in Seattle. It's no wonder: Sleepless nights, raging hormones, scant time for long talks or sex -- they all converge to forge a divide between you and him.

Aaron and I are living proof that you can rekindle your connection. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary! But don't take my word for it. These couples also brought back the love after facing their own challenges. Pros share how to scale similar hurdles with your honey.

"We lost our spontaneity."

The couple
Ashley and Brett Quam
Columbia, South Carolina
Parents of Caleb, 3

The conflict Ashley, 28, and Brett, 33, loved seeing midnight movies and having leisurely breakfasts at their favorite diner. They also enjoyed quiet time apart -- thrift-store shopping for Ashley or an afternoon writing computer code for Brett. After Caleb was born, they missed those free-form days.

Her side "I was home with Caleb for three months. Some days all I did was take care of him. I envied my friends' freedom, and I took my frustration out on Brett. I'd snipe, 'No, you watch TV while I change his diaper.' I kept score: If Brett played poker with friends on Friday night, I'd tell him that he owed me time on Saturday to get out of the house."

His side "Caleb needed constant attention, so we put ourselves and our relationship on the back burner. I missed being able to just talk to Ashley, let alone surprise her with a weekend trip to the beach. Date nights didn't happen, since we don't live near family and weren't comfortable having a stranger watch our son. The lack of quality time took its toll."

The stay-close plan "Many couples have unrealistic expectations about how much time they'll have for themselves after the baby arrives," says Jennifer Jones, a therapist with the Council for Relationships, a nonprofit counseling, education, and research center in Philadelphia. Both of you require "me" time to reenergize you as individuals and "we" time to keep you close as a couple. So speak up when you need a break, and arrange an hour or two for your partner to watch the baby while you hit the mall (or do whatever makes you feel human again). If you're wary of using a sitter (or paying for one), set up a babysitting co-op with pals or trade off with the couple next door. An Rx for marriage monotony: Go on out-of-the-ordinary dates -- like a concert or hike -- as often as you can, rather than heading out for ho-hum dinners every week. You'll start to associate your relationship with fun again. And book together time at home as well to keep from drifting apart once Baby is asleep. "Scheduling a time to watch a movie or have sex doesn't make it less meaningful or romantic," Jones says. "It becomes something you look forward to."

How they're doing now Agreeing they needed alone time and couple time, Ashley and Brett worked out a win-win plan: At least once a week, they take turns watching Caleb for a few hours so the other can meet friends for dinner or just read a book. A regular sitter still isn't an option, but they go out for dinner or a movie when their parents visit, about once a month. They also have a sofa date at 8 P.M. after Caleb goes to bed. "Looking each other in the eye and talking or curling up to watch a show together makes us feel like a couple, not just parents," Ashley says.

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