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Health & Sex

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Love Lost?

Returning to Romance

In Real Life

The McGills weren't part of the University of Washington study, but they instinctively used some of the successful strategies identified by the researchers and Goulston. Once the initial shock of having another human being to care for wore off, they decided they needed couple time. It helps, Heather says, that her mom volunteers often to baby-sit, allowing them to go out together frequently.

Bob and Jill Engel (not their real names) are working on becoming a couple again. They were older -- 45 and 46 -- when they had their child, who's now 2. But the wisdom of middle age didn't make the transition any easier, says Jill, a therapist in Southern California. After her son was born, her satisfaction with the marriage definitely declined, she found. Before the baby, they had sex often in their efforts to conceive. After the baby was born, she was less interested in sex, partly because of discomfort during intercourse that she developed after having a cesarean section.

Eventually, they talked about how to become a couple again. "Once my husband got over the shock that someone was screaming in the next room and wasn't going away, he decided to join the party," she says.

The marriage is better -- although different -- now. "We have a shared focal point, a new dimension." It's not perfect. "We never go out as a couple," Jill says. "He thinks we should." She agrees, but has not yet been so motivated.

After the McGills had their second baby, now age 1, they found life got back to normal more quickly. They used the same strategies to preserve their satisfaction with the marriage. Yet a recent study done by Rebecca Upton, PhD, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, suggests that having two children is not the cakewalk many parents imagine.

Upton followed 40 couples after the birth of their second children and presented her findings at an American Anthropological Association meeting in November. She found that "women's full-time participation in the labor market drops off dramatically with the second child. While most paid professional women return to the office full-time after the birth of their first child, over 50% change to part-time work or take a leave of absence after the birth of the second."

The implication is that such changes may have significant negative impact on the couple's ability to comfortably support their lifestyle under such circumstances, and therefore their level of stress. But Upton also found an upside: Men feel more like fathers after the arrival of a second child and tend to get more involved in childcare.

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