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It’s About Time Between Kids, Jobs It’s Important To Build Friendship With Spouse

Susan Reimer The Baltimore Sun

I’ve been married for 14 years. You’d think I’d be able to get a date.

New restaurants get great reviews. Broadway plays come and go. Rock groups tour. Blockbuster movies hit town like tidal waves. All sorts of people have parties.

I have an obliging escort, one who will go anywhere with me because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. But I haven’t been out at night in so long I’m not sure I can still drive in the dark.

My husband and I got married because of all the things we liked to do together, and it seems that we haven’t done any of them since. Not since we had kids. I am afraid they are going to leave for college, and he and I will feel as if we are on a bad blind date.

Who is this person?

The national divorce rate dropped, if infinitesimally, from 1992 to 1994, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But anecdotal evidence from marriage counselors and other professionals suggests that divorce rates spike when the first child leaves home.

Clinical research into the dynamics of married couples demonstrates that those who maintain their friendship through the battle-scarring years of raising children are likely to stay married. Even happily married.

But you have to spend time together to maintain that friendship.

“Couples let all of life and careers crowd that time out, and yet that is the stuff that fuels a marriage,” says Scott Stanley, psychologist and director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and co-author of the book “Fighting for Your Marriage.”

“The part that bonded them is slowly dying.”

We are so dedicated to being parents and workers that we let our marriages atrophy. We assume that if we are co-existing without conflict our marriage is good. But we are not static. We are changing in the crucible of work and child-rearing, and if we aren’t careful, we will not recognize each other when the gun smoke clears.

All we need to do is spend a little time together, and it is the one thing we do not do, the first thing we sacrifice when the calendar gets crowded.

“When both are working, they don’t want to take any more time away from the kids. So they put the marriage on hold until the kids are gone,” says David Arp, who, with his wife of more than 30 years, has developed a book and video titled “10 Great Dates to Revitalize Your Marriage.”

“The irony is,” says Claudia Arp, “that by not taking time for each other, they are risking the greatest predicter for the success of their marriage - their friendship.”

Predictably, men and women would spend that time together differently.

He wants to see a movie, and she wants to talk.

He wants to sit next to her while facing a big screen and being transported by big-budget suspense or mayhem.

She wants to go someplace romantic and discuss their relationship.

Both are wrong, according Stanley.

Couples who want to remain close have to spend some time face to face, time talking. While a movie is relaxing and dinner with friends is distracting, neither allows you to connect. On the other hand, you shouldn’t spend your evening out taking the temperature of your relationship.

“Talk about what friends talk about,” says Stanley. “Best friends don’t talk about a problem between them.”

Time together does not have to involve a sitter and a maitre d’. Coffee on the porch before the children wake; a sandwich in the park while they are in school; a walk in the evening; a candlelight supper or drinks by the fire after the children are asleep. None of these ideas requires much in the way of money or logistics.

Whatever you do together, protect it from conflict, Stanley says. This should be a time to relax, time off from the work of marriage. If this is the first time in three months you’ve talked to each other in complete sentences, don’t waste your breath on the Visa bill or the time he spends at the office.

“And if something comes up, table it till later,” says Stanley.

The companion danger is that your time alone together is so rare and so fragile that it has to be great or you are disappointed, defeated.

“Time together has to be regular, and there has to be a lot of it,” says Stanley. “Otherwise a kind of performance anxiety develops.

“Without quantity, you don’t have time for the magic to just happen. It takes time for the magic to develop.”

We are not talking about glass slippers, fairy dust or Sleeping Beauty kisses here. It doesn’t feel like that kind of magic. It doesn’t feel like falling in love, it feels like the shock of recognition:

“I remember you. I remember what I like about you. I remember why I chose you.”

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