married, with children

A new baby can create tension between husband and wife. Here's how to keep your love alive.

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Gregg and Karyn Lederman of Rochester, N.Y., haven’t had much time to lounge around together on Saturday mornings ever since their two daughters, Caroline, 2, and Katie, 4 months, came into the picture. “There’s no, ‘What do we want to do today?’” says Gregg, 32, a self-employed marketing consultant. “If you’re lucky and you plan a month in advance, you might get a day together. Now it’s all about the kids. And you certainly don’t have sex as much.”

Not enough sex. Not enough time. These are just two of the common complaints of couples catapulted from romantic twosomes to harried parents of newborns.

There’s no way to anticipate just how much a newborn will rock an adult relationship. Conflicts can arise when a husband and wife discover that their parenting styles and abilities differ; postpartum blues can make the new mother feel alone and weepy; tension can build if the new dad feels left out of the mom-baby nursing bond; and mom can feel overwhelmed when he goes back to work, leaving most of the infant care and household chores behind. And the underlying reality is that nobody is getting much sleep.

If there’s any comfort in this, it’s that these problems are all normal and part of the bumpy road to evolving into a family, says Elizabeth Gayner, Psy.D., a San Francisco Bay Area psychologist. In finding the patience and perseverance to navigate these early emotional challenges, your marriage will get stronger, but it does take some effort. “A husband and wife really need to learn how to communicate and support each other during this time,” Gayner says. “When the couple is happy, so is the whole family.”

We can work it out: Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities is par for the course for new parents. Gayner suggests that husband and wife talk about dividing duties: Buying and making dinner, feeding the baby and changing his diapers, walking the dog, cleaning house and other duties may go more easily if a couple can make some agreements, even before the baby is born, about who will do what.

Couples also can benefit from asking for help. While it’s important to have time together as a new family, get in the habit of saying yes to friends and family who offer to bring over dinner or run an errand for you. If possible, hire a cleaning person for a few months so that you can recover physically.

To regain a sense of normalcy, both parents occasionally should take a small break from the baby, individually and as a couple, Gayner suggests. Trade times when each of you can go to the gym or have dinner with friends. And find time just to be together, even if it’s for a quiet cup of tea or watching David Letterman late at night.

Sex may not be possible for a while (a new mom’s need for sleep usually surpasses her desire for sex in the first few months after childbirth), but affectionate touch can keep you both feeling connected until the libido returns.

So happy together: The secret to dealing with the dual challenge of not enough time together as a couple and not enough sex? Be creative.

Marital sanity for Antje and Rob Hope, ages 31 and 30, of Vancouver, British Columbia, is found in the couple’s backyard hot tub. That’s where they go almost every night once Ben, 5, and Cleome, 3, are tucked in bed. “Eight o’clock and it’s bedtime,” Antje says. “It’s important for us to hang out, and the hot tub is the best place to talk. Outside, under the stars—we have the best conversations.” They’ve even been known to share a kiss there, too.

Sonya and Toby Atencio, both 30, of Aptos, Calif., first began bringing their son, Jacob, to their swing-dancing evenings when he was 2 months old. “There are so many hands to go around that someone will always hold Jacob while we’re dancing,” says Sonya, admitting that they go out dancing much less frequently since Jacob was born.

Sonya was swollen and feeling emotional for weeks after giving birth, and breastfeeding has been difficult. Yet their evenings out together cheer her considerably. In fact, the Atencios say they’ve grown closer after the birth of their baby. “I had no idea Toby was capable of being awake for so long during labor and being so supportive,” Sonya says. “I saw how strong he was, and I was overwhelmed by it.”

Karyn Lederman, 31, says that she feels turned on by husband-turned-father Gregg. “I’ve gained a lot of respect for him,” Karyn says. “I see him in a whole new way—I watch him being a good dad, and that’s so attractive to me.” And even though they have precious little time alone together as a couple, Karyn says that when the kids are finally asleep, anything can happen—even sex.

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