August, 1997 column

The only thing my husband and I ever seem to talk about is our nine-month-old son and details like who'll call the sitter. We tried going out on a date with the stipulation that the baby was off-limits for discussion, but we just ended up with huge chunks of silence. Does this mean something's wrong with our marriage?

Your marriage may not be suffering from anything more than fatigue. Often new parents simply don't have the energy to be interesting and entertaining. Still, going out on a date and not talking is a problem worth fixing. Even if you're both dead tired, put some effort into finding ways to have fun together again.
Start dating again --but don't just settle for dinner out every time. That gets expensive and doesn't really give you anything new to talk about. It may even put more pressure on you: you might think, "okay, we have two special hours-- we'd better make them memorable." You both may get too tensed up about making the evening "count," and you'll set yourselves up for disappointment if things don't meet your expectations.
Instead, try activities that will give you new topics of conversation that have nothing to do with the baby. Go to a movie, join a book group, or get involved in a project at your church or temple. The post-hoc analysis of movies, books, or organizational activities will give you more than enough to talk about.
Staying home also offers plenty of possibilities. You could rent a movie and discuss it afterwards, perhaps even inviting some friends over to watch with you. Cooking together can be intimate and fulfulling; try out different recipes, and have innovative dinners right at home. Or build something you would both enjoy: plant a vegetable garden, renovate a garage, or convert and unused space into desk area or whatever else you need. It's exciting to create something real and useful together.
Above all, share some meaningful time doing anything. Remember how easy it was to chat and chat and chat some more when you were falling in love? That was partly due to the thrill of discovery --but also because you probably had more common experiences to talk about that didn't revolve around the logistics of life.
Children are so absorbing that it's easy to have them become the focus of your marriage, but you risk falling into the role of parents rather than lovers. Reinvesting in your relationship should be a priority. Taking care of your emotional intimacy isn't a luxury but a necessity.

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