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TODAY contributor
updated 1/28/2008 2:56:27 PM ET 2008-01-28T19:56:27

Kids are a delight, but they can also be problematic when it comes to keeping the spark alive between you and your spouse.

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In today’s child-centric society, it can be difficult to find couple time, especially when romance is in order.

Luckily, you can safeguard your relationship from this common problem by following these five simple steps:

1. Embrace separate beds
Unless you are Suzanne Somers, three is not company. This is especially true when you and your husband aren’t able to bond (wink, wink) due to the pitter-patter of little feet that head to your bedroom every night. It might be hard to turn away the kiddies, especially when they are so fun to cuddle with, but don’t forget that cuddling your partner is important, too! More importantly, your children need to learn how to sleep on their own and be independent. Help your children adjust to sleeping on their own by making it a treat — buy special sheets with their favorite cartoon characters, get them a nightlight, and remind them that big kids sleep in their own room. If they’ve been sleeping with you for a while, it’ll be a process to get them out of your bed and into their own, but if you are consistent and don’t give up, they’ll soon make the transition and you’ll get back those stolen moments in bed for you and your partner.

And by the way, put a lock on your bedroom door today! It’s totally OK for your kids to know Mommy and Daddy regularly take “private time” together. Don’t worry about not being there for them if they really need you. That’s what monitors and knocking are for!

2. Distinguish between vacations and family trips and take both
If you have ever had to travel with small children, you know that family trips are not a vacation for parents. While it is wonderful to see your child experience the beach or Disneyland for the first time, it does not give you the mental and physical break you need. So, go ahead and book that trip to Sea World — but remember to budget time and money for adult-only vacations in which you can get away with your spouse solo. Spending time away from your usual roles as parents will give you a chance to reconnect with your sensual side, free of PB&J requests and “Dora the Explorer” reruns!

3. Don’t be a superparent
Limit your children’s after-school activities to just one or two per season. If you run yourself ragged driving your children to every activity under the sun, you won’t have the time or energy for romance or sex. However, remember to take advantage of the time your children spend at after-school activities (or even better, weekend activities when you and your partner are both home) — an empty house means some privacy for you and your partner!

4. Set a united front
When your children try to get a “yes” out of Mommy after Daddy has already said “no,” problems can erupt in the bedroom and beyond. If one or both of you feels as though your opinion has been disregarded, it can be very hard to turn off that frustration and get in the mood. Indeed, you might even end up feeling your own spouse is the enemy! Bypass these discipline problems by agreeing to never go over each other’s head. The house rule should be “If Mommy says no, so does Daddy, and vice versa.” Deciding as a couple how you want to handle discipline ahead of time is also important, not only for presenting a united front to the kids, but for the sake of your connection as well.

5. Write it in stone
Date night is the highlight of many parents’ long weeks, but too often this night gets pushed aside due to little family disturbances. Set your date night in stone, even if little Jimmy really wants to have friends over, or if your baby-sitter threatens to raise her hourly rate. Couples absolutely must have alone time together in which they can talk, bond and be intimate, so date night should only be canceled as a last resort.

With a little bit of teamwork and compromise, you can have it all — a fabulous family life and a loving, passionate relationship. Remember the greatest gift you can give your kids is a model of a loving, intimate relationship. That means setting boundaries for your children and making your partner a priority. Commit to your children, but keep your sex life a priority as well!

Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.

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