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Whitney: Married With Children

02/11/10 5:55PM By Diana Whitney
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(HOST) With Valentine's Day just around the corner, commentator Diana Whitney is contemplating the state of her union.

(WHITNEY) Several of my friends are getting divorced.  One college pal revealed over Facebook that she'd be flying solo to our reunion.  

"I'm divorcing my husband," she wrote.  "But don't feel sorry for me-it's the best thing I've done in years."

Another friend has two children the same ages as mine.  A look of horror must have crossed my face when she told me her husband had moved out.  

"Hey, it's gonna to happen to half of us," she shrugged.

I know the statistics.  Americans revere the institution of marriage - but they have the highest divorce rate in the Western world.  Many of my relatives and favorite celebrities have taken a ride on the D-train.  But my own parents stayed together for 35 years, and I assumed that granted me immunity.  

Now, I do have a strong marriage.  But raising babies has challenged us to the core.  Recent studies show that marital satisfaction drops-often steeply- after children arrive.  A few generations ago, "Baby Makes Three" was a recipe for happiness, but not anymore.  

Today's parents are overworked and overwhelmed.  With our child-centered lives and intense hands-on parenting, we're putting nearly all our energy into our offspring.  

Oprah says you can have a romantic date-night after the kids are in bed.  Turn off the phone, light the candles, and fall in love with each other again.

But Oprah doesn't have kids.  We can't just leave the kitchen in shambles.  Can't just snap out of Mommy-Daddy mode and channel the old, free selves.

"Let go of the past," says my husband.

"Surrender to the chaos and wonder of parenthood!" says my current bible, Babyproofing Your Marriage.  

But my father once gave me harsher advice, shaking his head when my aunt and uncle divorced.  "They stopped trying," he said  "Marriage takes hard work, and they were tired of working."

Now I want to know how my parents survived.  I want to penetrate what poet Louise Gluck calls "the privacy of marriage."  On the outside, everything's fine.  But behind closed doors, many couples are struggling.  

One friend says that most marriages have bad patches-a hard few months, even years.  They aren't necessarily headed for the D-train, but it's always waiting at the station.

Sometimes I fear my husband and I have displaced our intimacy onto our children- small creatures we kiss and cuddle all day.  

Another ten years and they may withhold their affection.  They may return my embraces with embarrassed half-hugs, the way I hugged my parents when I was a teenager.

Children eventually grow up and away. In the meantime, a marriage can starve from lack of intimacy.  If you neglect it for too long, it will wither like a houseplant.  

"We didn't make it," said one friend.

"Our ship has sailed," said another.

I wish them luck, and try to plan a date-night.
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