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Secrets of a Made-to-Last Marriage

The back burner

At times, the problem lies in loving your partner from afar  -- across the chasm of children and their needs, a home and its needs, and work, work, work. "Lately, my and my husband's job schedules have been insane, and Jim's been out of the house a lot. I joke that he'd better come home for dinner or the boys will forget what he looks like," says Lisa Latham, mom of Ian, 7, and Jamie, 4, in Pacific Palisades, California. "I understand it, yet there are moments when I start to feel hostile and alone. My mind starts telling me lies like 'It'll always be this way' or 'It would be easier to do this alone,' which I know, of course, it wouldn't be."

Marital love isn't any more logical than baby love. It can be as needy as a newborn, yet marriages don't "cry" for attention the way a baby does  -- not until something's seriously amiss. Good-enough marriages kind of... float. When you're in one, it's easy to believe that the love you shared with your partner prebaby is enough to coast on.

The reality: It is and it isn't. While many marriages can muddle through the rush and tumble of early parenthood without lasting damage, they can't be totally abandoned for long  -- any more than your baby can.

The back-burner syndrome, says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife, may be more common these days, with children's needs at the center of most families' focus. "We pay excruciating attention to every little change and aspect of development," she says. As a result, kids are catered to at the expense of marriages. Do you recall your parents "shushing" you and your siblings at the dinner table so they could talk? In many cases, yes. Can you imagine yourself doing the same thing? No, huh?

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