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Love after baby: Stay friends with your spouse

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Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/FILE

(Read caption) New parents should find ways to nurture their friendship as they experience the challenges of raising a child. In this file photo, a person purchases roses at a florist in Los Angeles, Calif., on February 14, 2013.

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At the first signs of strain on a marriage after a baby arrives, many new parents start to wonder what happened to the pre-parenthood bliss.

After a little research, it’s easy to find studies that point to marital happiness plummeting for a few years right after a baby arrives. Why is that?

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Like many new parents do, I fantasized about having a perfect little family when I was pregnant, but then the baby arrived and reality smacked me upside the head. I still think my family is wonderful, and I never regret having a baby, but it’s not as easy going as I thought it would be.

When asked by others, “How can I best take care of my kid?” my father shares this piece of advice – “Love your wife or husband.” Along with many new parents, I'm beginning to get a glimpse of the wisdom behind this advice.

Before the baby came, my husband and I were so thrilled about having a baby that we figured she would just fold seamlessly into our lives. Sure, there would be stress. Sleepless nights, tantrums, and all the other not-terribly-pleasant aspects of being parents (we weren't completely naive). But I didn't expect having a baby to change our marriage so much.  

Our attention is almost completely redirected from each other to this precious little blob of energy and joy, sometimes making me miss my simpler life as “just a wife” – rather than “wife and mother.”  

Pre-baby, it was so much easier to sit and talk, go to a romantic restaurant, buy a gorgeous flower bouquet for our dining room table, etc. Now, almost a year into new parenthood, there are still some days where we don't get beyond asking, "How are you?" with quick one word replies. I miss the long conversations, but I know this phase will pass. Both of us are focusing on relishing every moment of our daughter's babyhood – and that's OK. To everything there is a season. 

Still, we realized recently that we parent much more effectively as a cohesive team, and that when we prioritize cultivating our marriage, we're better equipped to be good parents. 

Tom Rath, author of "Vital Friends: The People You Can't Live Without” says in his book, "Friendship is the silver lining in a marriage, accounting for approximately 70% of overall marital satisfaction.”

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He then points to research results stating that couples found “the quality of a couple’s friendship” as “five times as important as 'physical intimacy.'"

So, we have started to take advantage of little windows of time to connect with each other – whether that's holding hands while the baby sleeps in the car, quick kisses when he leaves for work and returns home, staying up an extra hour to watch a grownup show on Netflix, bringing home a favorite dessert, hiding a love note for the other to find, and so on. 

Most of all, marriage needs a deep bond of friendship to weather the ups and downs of parenthood with grace and a sense of humor. Elizabeth Gilbert emphasized this point in her book, "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage."

She wrote, "The act of quiet nighttime talking, illustrates for me more than anything else the curious alchemy of companionship.” Even if parents just have a few minutes of quiet conversation before falling asleep, taking advantage of those moments of companionship immeasurably helps keep the magic alive in the relationship.