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Love:What Makes It Last-year 14

Love: What Makes It Last

Year 7

Biggest Surprise
"A lot of men have a hard time adjusting to having sex with someone they've seen give birth," says Berman, who counsels couples with sexual difficulties as director of the Berman Center in Chicago. The experience of witnessing their wife in excruciating pain, not to mention the grim anatomical realities of the birth process, is often "more traumatic to men than they let on," says Berman. "At the same time, these husbands don't want to be the grossed-out guy; they're often too ashamed to admit they feel this way, so the issue doesn't get talked about." That silence makes it harder for men to move past their concerns.

Meanwhile, new moms have their own problems to grapple with. Although ob/gyns tell women it's safe to have sex six weeks after giving birth, Berman counsels her patients not to expect a normal sex life until three to six months after stopping breast-feeding. "Breast-feeding women have the estrogen levels of menopausal women, which contributes to low libido, low sensation and dryness," she says, adding that these problems tend to be worse after the second child. So don't be hard on yourself if you aren't raring to go a few months after giving birth.

What to Expect
Kids stress - and strengthen - your bond. Children change everything, from when and if you sleep to how you invest your money, where you vacation and what you drive. Most couples have had all their kids by now, according to a study commissioned by Redbook and fielded by the Downing Group, and are settling into the all-absorbing rhythm of parenthood. You two are enjoying the satisfaction of working together for future goals, but you're also feeling the financial pressures of a growing family.

Division of labor is always a hot-button issue between couples, but when kids arrive, the stakes grow exponentially, say Carolyn Pape Cowan, Ph.D., and her husband, Philip A. Cowan, Ph.D., both professors of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and coauthors of When Partners Become Parents. "No couple is 50-50," Carolyn Cowan notes. "So, the issue isn't whether it's even - it never is! - but how each of you perceives how much the other is doing." The Cowans' advice: Make sure you understand the kind of family your guy comes from. Appreciating the expectations he may have is the key to negotiating an arrangement that works for both of you.

Another toughie: Finding time for romance. "Couples struggle with a sense of loss after children - that tendency to neglect each other and focus exclusively on the kids," says Berman. "It's so important to make private time together a priority." Berman advises couples to install a lock on the bedroom door, go on date nights as regularly as possible and sneak away at least once a year for an overnight getaway. "Otherwise, you just become partners managing the kids and life, and that makes your marriage more vulnerable to problems down the road," she says.

Even childless couples can get stuck in a romantic rut at the seven-year mark. Why? "Routine makes us feel secure, but it's also boring," explains Tessina. "At the same time, new stuff energizes us, but it's exhausting so we avoid it." The solution? Shake things up a little: Reorganize your bedroom, try a lunch instead of a dinner date, get physical in the morning before work.

But don't ditch your old rituals - anything that makes you two feel close on a daily basis will shore up your bond, according to the Cowans' research. The most successful couples in their study had learned by year seven that there are times when it's best "to put the stuff of life on hold - laundry, lawn care - and just spend a little time together, alone," she says.

Hey, just making it to this anniversary is a big accomplishment. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, half of all divorces occur in the first seven years. "If you've come this far, you're already well on your way to beating the odds," says Haltzman.

Year 7: Biggest Reward

"Your family really feels like a family now," says Tessina. And assuming you've found a way to maintain your romantic relationship over the din of Elmo videos, you're in good to go the distance.

Keenya and Julian Mathis
To stay in sync while raising two sons, "we watch out for each other," says Julian, of Bethlehem, PA. "When one of us is having a bad day, the other leaves encouraging voice mails." Adds Keenya, "We make time for us, even if it's just taking walks together."