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    Dad Going Nuts? Go Out Instead.

    WebMD Feature

    Despite having four school-aged kids, Ann Douglas still manages to steal romantic dinners with her husband -- candles, a bottle of wine, a movie later -- even if they're only sitting at their kitchen table and just pretending to be in some exotic restaurant.

    She says it's a matter of self-preservation.

    "When weeks go by without that kind of a break as a couple, you start to get on each other's nerves, lose all connection, and just feel like, 'Where's this relationship headed?' " says Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Childcare.

    Sure, there are tons of excuses for letting "date night" (or morning or afternoon) opportunities slip by: Good babysitters are a hot commodity. Sleep is all you want by the time your baby finally nods off. Or you may worry about leaving your child, especially during that 6- to 18-months-old period when separation anxiety kicks in.

    But refueling your relationship with the other parent is important for your kids, experts say, in large part because it's important for you.

    "If you're not taking care of your own needs as an adult and as a couple, you're in a much less healthy position to be of value to that young child," says Daniel Kessler, MD director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Children's Health Center of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. It makes intuitive sense that a troubled marriage can negatively affect a child's emotional, cognitive, and physical health.

    Getting Out the Door (or at Least <I>Behind</I> One)

    The time you spend with your partner or spouse won't necessarily make or break a marriage or a partnership, but it may help you manage the stresses that new parenthood places on a relationship, says Jay Belsky, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University. Among 250 new parents he tracked, half reported that they had grown further apart by their child's third birthday.

    "Time together gives couples time to catch up on each other's lives and experience the pleasure of each other's company," says Belsky, author of The Transition to Parenthood: How a First Child Changes a Marriage. Otherwise, "Before long they will just become a team of parents, partnered in raising children."

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