Make Time for Romance!

So he doesn’t bring you flowers, and you don’t surprise him with funny cards. It’s been months since you went out on a date, and you can’t remember the last time you talked about anything except the kids, house or work schedules.

“One of the dilemmas of a long-term relationship is that, over time, the newness wears off, routine sets in and romance goes out the door,” explains Marc D. Rabinowitz, a psychotherapist in Norfolk, Va. “Add in familiarity, resentments and unmet expectations, and couples end up getting emotionally distant. The more emotionally distant you become, the less likely you are to do romantic things or spend time together.”

But with effort and commitment, you can keep romance alive. The payoff: “Having a romantic relationship will help you feel better about yourself and your partner,” says Jennifer Jones, a couples therapist with the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. “It also will increase your emotional and physical connection, which can help you weather difficult times.”

Try these five tips to find time for romance:

1. Unplug! Technology can ooze into your relationship if you’re not careful. “Agree to turn off your cell phone, TV and computer during the first hour you’re home together after work and spend that time catching up with each other,” advises Jones. “Setting boundaries will help you create a space for conversation.”

2. Speak up. What passed for romance when you were first dating may not cut it after years of married life. “It’s a misconception that it’s not romantic if you ask him to bring you flowers or he asks you to send him a cute card,” explains Jones. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what would make you happy -- and ask your partner to tell you what would please him.”

Be sure to use “I” statements when you make requests (e.g., “I’d love it if you’d surprise me with a new book”) instead of “you” statements that sound defensive (e.g., “You never surprise me anymore”.)

3. Have fun. “Fun” means different things for different people. For you, it might be going to the movies, visiting a museum or playing tennis. Take turns date-planning, and pick activities you want to try, even if they’re not tops on your sweetie’s radar. (Rock climbing, anyone?)

“This way, you add variety to your time together -- and you won’t settle for the least common denominator, which usually means going out to dinner,” says Rabinowitz. “Doing the same activities week-in and week-out gets boring.”

4. Stick to a schedule. It doesn’t matter how often you have a “date night,” as long as you’ve always got one on the calendar. “Scheduling dates gives you something to look forward to,” says Rabinowitz. “This is crucial when you’re stressed and busy. It’s much easier to tolerate a lack of connection if you know that three weeks from Saturday, you and your spouse have a date.”

Agree that date night is just for the two of you. As Jones notes, “Don’t talk about anything you didn’t talk about before you were married or living together.” (The discussion about report cards and cable bills can wait.)

5. Show affection. Couples should connect before they leave for work in the morning (with a kiss, a hug, a kind word); connect again when they come home; and then one last time before they drift off to sleep, according to Rabinowitz. After all, isn’t it romantic to reflect on your “Good morning” hug and kiss throughout the day -- and to look forward to another at night?

Healthy Relationships: Should Your Husband Be Your Best Friend?

It’s the height of wedding season, and couples across America are kicking off their new lives with heartfelt toasts that begin, “Today I married my best friend.” Misty-eyed guests smile at the sentiment -- and why not? Over the years, our culture has romanticized the idea that healthy relationships mean husbands and wives are BFFs as well as loving partners.

But is that such a good thing? A growing number of experts say no.

“Friendship is a huge part of marriage, but expecting your spouse to be your everything is unrealistic and can strain the relationship,” says psychotherapist Joyce Marter, CEO of Urban Balance LLC, a counseling group practice in Chicago. “Women need and deserve multiple people in our lives who love us and offer us support, whether it’s for a crisis like a serious illness or a daily drama with a nasty coworker. It’s not fair or wise to rely on your husband for all your friendship needs.”

Here are the top three reasons your healthy relationships and marriages can benefit from maintaining close female friendships:

 

It’s Good for Your Marriage.

Couples who are BFFs tend to be enmeshed, meaning they have few outside friendships and spend virtually all of their spare time together. In other words, they live in a bubble. How boring is that? 

“It’s a setup for too much dependency and isolation from other sources of support,” Marter explains. Far better is to enjoy what she calls a “healthy separation,” where spouses have different friends, work and hobbies that make them interesting and whole. You’ll bring more to the marriage party if you have a life and experiences outside of your relationship.

 

It’s Good for You.

Be honest -- does your husband really want to hear about your hair problems, the mom-cliques at your kids’ school, or who got the final rose on The Bachelorette? Probably not. But your BFF does! She’ll serve as a relief valve for your marriage -- think Meredith and Cristina in Grey’s Anatomy, who call each other “my person.”

As Marter points out, “Men and women process life, emotions and relationships differently. Men like to problem-solve and make decisions, but women like to listen to details, talk things through and offer empathy. We have different menus of the kind of support we can provide, and it’s good for women to have the support of a husband and a BFF.”

 

It’s Good for Your Kids

By keeping tight bonds with girlfriends, you’ll give your children the gift of positive role models and adults who care about them outside the family -- the “it takes a village” concept. They’ll grow up knowing the value of developing a strong social network of healthy relationships to rely on in good times and bad. What’s more, a mom who enjoys the support and perspective of gal-pals will be a happier, less-stressed parent. Call it a win-win all around!

Easy, Cheap Decorating Ideas

Redecorating a room is one of the best ways to breathe new life into your surroundings -- and help you feel more energized. But the word “redecorate” can be intimidating; dollar signs start popping into your head, as does your packed schedule, leaving you wondering where you’ll find the time or money.

Fortunately, you can redecorate on a budget -- one of money and time. There are plenty of easy, quick, and cheap ideas to decorate and change a space, says Stacey McGarity, a partner in the interior design firm Acquisitions for the Home in New York City. Check out her easy low-cost, high-impact decorating strategies: 

1. Embrace Accessories
“Swapping out items like decorative pillows and a vase can transform the look and feel of any room in five minutes,” McGarity says. A new or different rug also achieves that fresh feeling.

Keep the old items on hand and you’ll swap them in mid-year for an easy way to create two seasonal looks. Pillow covers versus new pillows help keep costs down, and not using the same rug year-round means both last twice as long. For warmer months, try a sisal rug and cotton pillows. When the temperature drops, go for a darker, patterned rug and pillow covers in lush velvet.

2. Rethink Artwork

Pictures and paintings aren’t the only things you can hang. “Think outside of the box,” says McGarity. Your basement, garage and closets are a treasure trove of easy decorating ideas. Postcards, snapshots, kids’ drawings, posters and even wallpaper and fabric scraps can all be cut and put into cheap frames and hung together to create a quirky personal home gallery.

Or, if you find a large fabric remnant, consider making it into a wall hanging by hemming it and sewing in a rod pocket. “You can do it yourself with a sewing machine, but a tailor charges only about $10,” says McGarity.

3. Use Your Library
Take a few of your coolest books off the shelves and incorporate them into your décor. Gather ones with similarly colored jackets or focus them on a theme, such as travel (try mixing a guidebook, an Italian cookbook, a photography book of Alaska and your copy of Eat, Pray, Love together). They’ll look great stacked on a table or tall piece of furniture.

Another idea: Purchase an inexpensive tabletop easel at a craft store and use it to display a beautiful open book, McGarity says. You can change up the look by swapping in a different book.

4. Create an Accent Wall
Painting or wallpapering an entire room is a pricey undertaking. An easy option is to do just one wall to create a focal point. It makes the whole room pop -- and you only do a quarter of the work!

Which wall should you choose? “Usually the longest in the room, but it could also be the one lined with all furniture,” says McGarity. “In general, though, you won’t go wrong with the one that feels the most blank.”

To select the right paint, pick a shade that’s in nearby furniture or other décor. “If you love the gray upholstery on a chair, for example, paint the wall behind it a lighter shade of gray,” says McGarity. If you’re decorating with wallpaper, small rooms like bathrooms, foyers and mud rooms often produce the best results. Also consider cheaper vinyl wallpaper. It’s twice the width of regular rolls, making it a cinch to hang. Plus, vinyl is durable and easy to clean. "For a small amount of money, you can make it the coolest room in the house,” says McGarity.

5 Rules of Facebook Etiquette

Facebook is a blessing for busy women. You can easily and quickly stay connected with friends and family, find old friends, foster new relationships and network professionally. There’s only one problem: Facebook etiquette isn’t always as clear-cut as are good manners in the real world. In fact, navigating social situations in a virtual world can be downright tricky.

All it takes to avoid a Facebook faux pas, however, is knowing a few do’s and don’ts. Check out this guide to Facebook etiquette:

1. DO write a personal message when making a friend request.
If you haven’t talked to the person in years, it’s likely he or she may not remember you, says Linda Fogg Phillips, a social media expert and author of Facebook for Parents. Just go with a short message that puts you in context, like, “Haven’t seen you since college! Let’s reconnect.”

Want to friend someone you’ve never met? Send a separate message before making a friend request. Otherwise, you can seem intrusive, not to mention presumptuous, and they may ignore you. In the message, explain yourself -- that a mutual pal suggested you connect, for example -- then wait for a response before sending the friend request.

2. DON’T be a Debbie Downer.

It’s OK to vent and commiserate on Facebook, but if you make it a regular habit, your pals will get tired of your grumbles. Instead, stay positive and hold back when angry. That way, you’ll never regret an online rant. “You can delete a post, but you can’t erase the words from [the minds of] the people who’ve already read it,” says Phillips.

3. DO make and manage friend lists.

“The list function is one of Facebook’s best tools,” says Phillips. It allows you to choose who sees certain posts, so you can set it so only your college pals see those bachelorette party photos. Phillips suggests creating an “A List,” of your closest friends and family. Then, make a larger family or friends list, a list of work contacts and so on. (Friends can be part of more than one list.)

4. DON’T make Facebook a popularity contest.

Do you really need -- or want -- 800 friends? “Studies have shown that people can only manage about 150 relationships in their lives -- face-to-face or online,” says Phillips. When you get a request from someone you don’t want to befriend, neither confirm nor decline it. (If you decline, she could send another later.) Don’t worry about offending her: “Most people send requests, then forget about them; they may not even notice you aren’t responding,” says Phillips.

5. DO be careful of what you post.

It seems obvious, but even something as benign as “The weekend cannot come soon enough!” may appear sour to your boss or co-worker. Plus, your next job opportunity could come from a Facebook contact, so always cast yourself in a positive light, says Phillips. Making and managing friend lists helps avoid problems, but also apply a common-sense filter to all posts.

When people run into Facebook etiquette problems, it’s usually because they’ve taken liberties they might not have taken in the non-virtual world. But stop for a second and use your common sense, and you’ll master the manners of Facebook in less time than it takes to poke your old college roomie.

Isn’t It Time to Stop Judging Yourself?

Bad habits aren’t limited to things like nail biting and procrastination. For women, one of the most common and insidious habits is being overly critical or judgmental of themselves. What’s worse, a pattern of self-criticism can become so ingrained, you might not even notice you’re doing it.

“It’s a huge issue for women,” says Alice Domar, who has a doctorate in health psychology and is the author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect. “We criticize ourselves from morning to night, and all that negative self-talk puts you at risk for depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.”

You can learn to silence your inner critic and become more accepting of yourself, however. Start with these strategies:

1. Listen to yourself.
The first step is to recognize when you’re engaging in negative self-talk. Decide to spend a day tuned into your thoughts about yourself and jot down every comment. That night, count how many are negative.

Seeing in ink how many times you call yourself a bad mother or berate your lack of diet willpower helps you realize just how critical you’re being. “It’s a big wake-up call,” says Domar.

2. Be honest.
Now that you’re better tuned in, when you “hear” criticism, ask yourself four questions, says Domar: "Is this thought logical? Is it true? Does this thought contribute to my stress? Where did it come from?" In most cases, your answers will be, "No, it’s not logical or true. Yes, it stresses me out." And the thought originally came from a former boss, a judgmental relative or a mean teacher you had in high school.

By paying attention to and dissecting the criticism in this way, you can better realize that the criticism isn’t valid. And that’s a crucial first step toward stopping it.

3. Avoid the comparison game.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t do anything but make you feel bad. It’s unfair and damaging to reprimand yourself because you’re not as thin as one friend or as organized as another. “There will always be someone who will exceed you in some part of life,” says Pauline Wallin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has written Taming Your Inner Brat.

Instead, focus on what you do right. Recognize, for example, that you’re a great multitasker or can manage a complex project efficiently -- and ignore that you’re not a pro networker like your colleague. You’ll feel better about yourself, which helps you succeed in the long run.

4.
Look at the big picture.
So what if your house isn’t immaculate? Who cares that you lost your keys? Will beating yourself up change anything in the grand scheme of things?

It’s important not to get caught up in minor details. Instead, think about what’s really important: You may not spend time scrubbing your floors, but you do spend time with your kids, and they are healthy, well-adjusted and love you, for example.

5. Get a second opinion.
“People hold themselves to much higher standards than they do others,” says Domar. So when you start getting beat down, talk to a trusted friend to get a needed reality check.

Another’s voice will help you see things from an outsider’s more accepting perspective. She’ll help you realize all the things you’re doing well in your life and that nobody thinks you’re a bad mother, woman, employee -- whatever! Your criticisms will soon seem as silly and unwarranted as they actually are.

6. Decide to stop being negative.

After a while, you will start to recognize when you’re about to be (or are being) too hard on yourself. When you do, stop yourself -- literally, says Domar. Visualize a stop sign, take slow, deep breaths, then consciously make a choice not to be negative. Remember that you control your thoughts. It can be quite empowering to decide not to let them hurt you.

Try changing the subject in your head by shifting to something positive, such as an upcoming party or vacation. Changing the subject helps short-circuit negative thoughts immediately, says Wallin.

7. Keep a bravo journal.

Getting in the habit of recognizing success can help overtake negativity. So at the end of each day, take stock of what you did well and write it in a journal or share it with your partner. “A lot of us have been brought up to think bragging is bad,” says Domar. “But if you’ve accomplished something, recognize and share the good news.”

Whether you gave a stellar presentation at work or helped your daughter create an A-plus art project, seeing accomplishments in writing or hearing them in your own voice helps you think of yourself more positively every day. This will evict the inner critic, and a kinder commentator will move in -- one who treats you with the respect you’re so good at giving others.