- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

Having a young child puts a real strain on spousal relationships in the bedroom and beyond, psychologists say. “The first year of marriage is the most likely time for the couple to realize they can’t live together,” says Willard F. Harley Jr., author of “His Needs, Her Needs for Parents: Keeping Romance Alive.”

“The second most likely time for divorce is when they have their first child, and find they are unable to sustain their romantic life,” he says. Mr. Harley holds a doctorate in psychology and counsels couples in the St. Paul, Minn., area.

The first year of a child’s life, however, is just a tiny taste of what’s to come, cautions Carol Ummel Lindquist, author of “Happily Married with Kids — It’s Not Just a Fairy Tale.”

When the baby doesn’t talk, sleeps a lot and still is fairly immobile, it’s a deceptively easy stage, she says.

“You can still have a conversation, you can still take a walk,” and you can leave your child with a sitter without huge protests, Ms. Lindquist says.

Couples, however, may be so overwhelmed by having a new child that they don’t realize that this stage is much easier than what’s to come.

“I encourage couples to seize the opportunity for regular dates when the child is 0 to 12 months,” Ms. Lindquist says. It’s a also a good time to establish a regular baby sitter whom the child will feel comfortable with when he or she gets a little older, she says.

“Don’t assume you’re going to have time later, or that it’s going to get easier,” the author says.

On the contrary, when the child turns a year old, he or she is less likely to be accepting of a baby sitter and for many couples this means less time for romance and intimacy, which can be detrimental to the relationship, she says.

“This is the toughest stage for the relationship,” Ms. Lindquist says. “You see that your children have needs, and you forget that your marriage has needs, too.”

Since the 12- to 30-month stage requires so much attention from the parents, many couples start fighting a lot more about things like the division of labor in regards to household chores.

Mr. Harley encourages couples to lower their expectations on neatness, divide the chores in a way that’s amenable to both parties and hire a maid if possible to carve out some time for intimacy.

Since this is a time when couples tend to fight a lot, Ms. Lindquist encourages couples to learn how to argue, such as not to sweat the small stuff and to come up with a truce trigger, something that will stop the argument if it’s escalating out of control.

“For some couples it’s a kiss, for others it’s a key word,” she says.

Another way to avoid escalating arguments is to make yourself say five positive things about the spouse for every negative thing you want to say, Ms. Lindquist says.

“Sometimes you’re so busy finding positive things to say, you completely forget the negative thing,” she says.

Also a way to maintain civility is to fight as if the windows are open — something Ms. Lindquist recommends.

While children of all ages can be challenging to deal with, the 12- to 30-month period is the most likely to make or break the parents’ relationship, she says.

“I would say that if you survive the 12- to 30-month period, and you still feel close to your spouse, you probably will stay happily married for the rest of your life,” Ms. Lindquist says.

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