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Secrets of a Made-to-Last Marriage

Reigniting the fire

Most nights in our house go like this:

  • Baby bathed, nursed, and in the crib at 8 p.m.
  • Toddler bathed, pj'd, and wrestled into bed by 9 p.m.
  • Mom and Dad in bed by 10 p.m., to read for a scant few minutes before lights-out.

It sounds pathetic, but it's not. There are times, as I look at the man drifting to sleep beside me, that I think we have all the time in the world. We at least have tomorrow, and maybe tomorrow will be the day we make a conscious effort to inject an already loving marriage with romance.

Then again, I'm wary of putting that kind of pressure on things. "Putting the spark back in your marriage" leaves me cold. I don't want a "sparky" marriage, and I don't want to follow someone else's checklist  -- chocolate-dipped strawberries? a drop of perfume on the lightbulb?  -- to create it. Plus, who the heck really wants to recapture, in a marriage seasoned by kids, that fresh-from-the-altar feeling?

Rather than pining for hot honeymoon nights, I prefer to savor occasional, rejuvenating glimpses of the couple we used to be. So does Debra Witt of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, mom of Leo, 2, and Lucy, 8 months. "I make less-obvious gestures  -- for example, I'll clear the magazines off the dinner table. Otherwise, we'd both sit there and read in silence while we eat," she says.

There's another, albeit ironic, way to feel like a couple: Arrange for each of you to have some alone time. When my husband can read a week's worth of neglected newspapers or I can chat with my sister on the phone, we find something essential in that space. We find that we need  -- surprise!  -- each other.

So there it is, the secret to staying married  -- reasonably happily married, that is  -- after kids turn your lives upside down. Let go every so often, and at other times, recognize that a little hand-holding can go a long way for now.

Couples in good-enough marriages know all about hurricane season, including that it does eventually blow out to sea. Says Lori Seto of New York City: "We didn't know what would happen after we had kids, but we knew we'd become these different people. We have the kind of track record that tells me we'll be okay in the end."

Last year, when our older son was not quite 2, my birthday went by without much fanfare. It took us three more months to call my sister to come babysit, and go out to dinner. This year, we cut the lag time down to just two months: We booked theater tickets, dropped the boys at my in-laws', and headed into the city for lunch and a matinee. Not bad. And for me  -- for us  -- good enough.

Denise Schipani and her husband just took their first mini-trip without their kids. Everyone did fine.

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