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?

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.

6 Instant Ways to Stress Less and Smile More

You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can learn to deal with it in a healthy way. And since stress is associated with all sorts of negative health effects like high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, taking a few minutes a day to fight stress keeps you not only happy and smiling, but healthy too.  

“Daily hassles and annoyances can get to anyone, but small changes make a big difference,” explains Judy Saltzberg, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. Here’s how to keep smiling:

1. Take it outside.
“The first intervention I advise is physical activity,” says Saltzberg. Even if you don’t have time for a full workout, you can still boost your happiness. A study from the University of Essex found that just five minutes of walking, biking or even gardening outdoors can lift your mood and improve self-esteem.

Health bonus: Aside from melting away stress, you’ll melt calories too!

2. Find time for tea.
Sipping a few cups of tea may make you more resilient to stress, according to research from the University College of London. Study participants who drank four cups of black tea a day had less of the stress hormone cortisol in their body after completing a challenging task than did those who didn’t drink tea.

Health bonus: Tea’s antioxidants may ward off some cancers, improve heart health and decrease risk of stroke.

3. Pop a piece of gum.
Under pressure? Chewing gum could help, say experts at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers found that people who chewed while multitasking reported feeling less anxious and less stressed than their gum-free peers. They also felt more alert and performed twice as well on stressful tasks.

Health bonus: Chewing sugarless gum after meals will not only reduce stress, but it can also help fight bacteria that cause cavities.

4. Indulge in dark chocolate.
Dessert probably puts a smile on your face already, but now there’s proof of chocolate’s joy-boosting benefits. German researchers found that people who ate 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day for two weeks had significantly lower levels of anxiety- and stress-related hormones in their system.

Health bonus: Dark chocolate may also contribute to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack by 39 percent, suggests a study in the European Heart Journal.

5. Stop and smell the flowers.
Sniff your way to serenity and fight off sickness by keeping a bouquet of roses on your desk, wearing citrus-scented lotion or getting a whiff of cinnamon. Stress can wreak havoc on your immune system, but Japanese scientists found that when people inhaled a scent compound common in flowers, herbs and spices, their systems kept functioning normally in spite of the stress.

Health bonus: Smelling lavender before bed can help you sleep better, according to a study in Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery.

6. Flip your perspective.
Focusing on the positive in a stressful situation can help keep you smiling, says Saltzberg. Instead of stewing on a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, for example, think of it as an opportunity to call an old friend. “Tuning into your thinking and challenging doomsday thoughts can put a situation in perspective,” says Saltzberg. And that defuses the tension.

Health bonus: A glass-half-full approach has been linked to faster recovery from injury and illness, according to research in the Journal of Personality.

After a few weeks of practicing these techniques, you’ll not only feel happier, but you can rest easy knowing you’re healthier too -- which is one less thing for you to stress about!

Find New Friends Fast

When you’re younger, friends are everything. As you get older and people change and family responsibilities and jobs require more time and attention, it’s not unusual to lose touch with friends. And if you move to a new city, distance makes it even harder.

“In midlife, women’s lives are particularly full,” explains Irene Levine, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at New York University and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. “But having supportive friendships is important -- it reduces stress, blood pressure and the risk of depression.” Besides, friends make life more fun.

So check out these strategies for how to seek and develop meaningful friendships. They require only a little extra effort and repay you with a priceless gift.

1. Work your current commitments.
Conventional advice may suggest you sign up for an art class or book club to meet new people. But you’re probably overscheduled as it is! So instead, become more engaged in the groups you already have. For example, instead of watching soccer games with 30 other parents, become a board member of the league. Or lead a subcommittee for the PTA.

“You’ll connect more regularly and intimately with the same people,” says Levine. And doing so allows friendships to develop naturally, even though you aren’t shouldering much more of a time commitment.

2. Elevate an acquaintance to a friend.
When you find someone you click with, take baby steps toward making her a bosom buddy. “Share your real self slowly and wait for her to reciprocate,” says Levine. Meet for coffee and start by talking about your background or your interests (e.g., cooking or scrapbooking). Peeling back layers may be uncomfortable for shy types, but you need to expose yourself to see if there’s good mutual chemistry, she says.

On the other hand, should you feel totally at ease, resist the temptation to spill your life story right away. If your new pal is overwhelmed, she might back off unnecessarily.

3. Integrate yourself into a group.
If you’re on the periphery of an established social circle, breaking in can be daunting. Solution: Develop a closer relationship with one person first. Once the friendship sprouts, your pal is likely to involve you more with the group.

One warning: Don’t get too clingy with your go-to gal. At gatherings, chat with others so you don’t alienate her. And be patient. It takes time, but eventually you’ll be chummy with more members and become part of the inner circle yourself.

4. Spend time outside mommy-dom.
Being a mother is probably the most important part of your life, but it’s not the only part. “Mommy friends are our mentors and consultants, but it’s nice to have girlfriends with whom you can talk about more than kids,” says Levine.

So when reaching out to another mom, suggest a movie or art exhibit -- anything that doesn’t involve kids. And steer conversation away from little ones. Exploring other parts of your personality helps a relationship transform from a one-dimensional interaction to a full-fledged friendship. Plus, you’ll feel more like the well-rounded woman you are, beyond your role as mom.

5. Be open to friendship.
“It sounds sappy, but most friendships begin with a smile and openness,” says Levine. That means engaging in small talk where appropriate -- your office elevator, the community pool, courtside at your kids’ games. “If you act friendly and show people you’re interested in them, you’ll get a few ‘nibbles,’” she adds.

But finding your friend may be a hit-and-miss process. For example, you chat up a neighbor and she invites you to a party that turns out to be a pressure-filled sales pitch for her jewelry business. Don’t give up! Stay cheerful and talk with the other guests. Who knows, your future BFF may be there feeling duped too.

6. Nurture new connections.
Once you’ve made a friend, make her a priority by scheduling time together. If it feels forced or you’re just too busy, get your haircut at the same time and grab coffee afterwards. Syncing must-do’s guarantees a little one-on-one without overburdening your schedule. Also remember that you needn’t always connect face-to-face. Try other ways to stay in touch, such as Facebook, texting and quick calls, says Levine.

If you ever feel guilty about missed family time, know that investing in friendships pays off -- for everyone. “Friends help us relax and keep life in perspective,” says Levine. Those “selfish” moments recharge your soul so you can be a better mom, spouse, daughter and sister.

Secrets to Sneaking in More Sleep

These days, more and more people are sleeping fewer and fewer hours. But we don’t need to tell you that. Keeping up with your kids, household and the rest of your life has likely made you a living, breathing -- and exhausted -- example of today’s sleep-deprived woman.

But a sleep deficit can be a lot more problematic than just making you feel tired. It can also negatively impact your health. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to be overweight, because the body may create less leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite. Sleep deprivation can also increase levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that puts you at a greater risk for inflammation that leads to heart disease. What’s more, shaving off hours from your rest can leave you feeling extra stressed and make your skin duller and more tired-looking. (Skin goes to work shedding dead cells and repairing itself while you snooze.)

To avoid the pitfalls, most adults need seven or eight hours, says Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Not hitting the magic number? Here are some innovative ways to squeeze in an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep each day.

1. Ban the snooze button
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re actually more awake the first time your eyes open than after a string of 10 snooze naps. “Continuing to fall back asleep after each alarm buzz makes you feel groggier in the end,” says Dr. Zee. So either set your alarm for the time you must wake up or get up on the first buzz and save those snooze minutes for an early-afternoon nap.

2. Become a champion multitasker
You’ve already mastered the art of doing two things at once (sometimes more!), so these ideas should be a breeze. Count the extra minutes you save throughout the day and go to bed that much earlier.

  • Drive and talk Get a hands-free device for your cell phone and catch up with your friends on your way home from work instead of after dinner. 
  • Email anywhere Don’t have a BlackBerry or iPhone? Think about getting one. You may cluck at those people constantly glued to their mini-screens, but the occasional check-in while waiting for soccer practice to end, for example, lets you stay on top of your inbox and Facebook account. Doing this means less time getting bleary-eyed at the computer and more time getting shut-eye.
  • Have a working lunch Instead of going out with co-workers, pack a lunch once or twice a week and pay bills or tackle your online to-do list during the noon hour.
  • Plot a course Think about all your errands and ask yourself if there’s a way to spend less time behind the wheel. For example, can you use the grocery store’s pharmacy instead of the one a mile away? Is your current dry cleaner really better than the one next to your son’s school? Make all your stops as convenient and as close as possible.

3. Limit caffeine after 4 p.m.
You need that cup of coffee or tea in the morning, but think twice before making a Starbucks run or downing a Diet Coke in the afternoon. Depending on how much caffeine is in that venti latte, it could take 24 hours for it to flush out of your system. That means you could still feel the perky effects of your pick-me-up at, say, 10 p.m., and instead of winding down, you’d be gearing up to start the next item on your to-do list.

4. Nap the right way
Four to 7 p.m. is the nap danger zone -- when you feel most sleepy but also when you should most avoid dozing off. Why? Snoozing in the late afternoon or early evening can keep you awake later at night, says Dr. Zee. If you can, nap only between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and limit actual sleep time to 15 minutes, she suggests. That’s all you really need to feel invigorated, she says. Nap any longer, and you could feel groggy.

5. Make the most of your evenings
Try to prepare for the next day’s activities on the night before. You’ll be able to sleep in a bit longer and rest easier knowing things are in order and ready to go.

  • Prep while you cook Make tomorrow’s lunches while waiting for the pasta to boil or the casserole to bake, or while cleaning up leftovers. Food and condiments are already out, saving you a few minutes in the end.
  • Ditch the blow-dryer Shower and shampoo hair at night and let it dry while you sleep. Better yet, only wash it every few days. A spritz or sprinkle of dry shampoo soaks up oil and revives your style.
  • Set it and forget it Pick out everything you need for tomorrow’s outfit the night before, including shoes and accessories. Double-check that all your essentials -- wallet, keys, letters for the post office -- are in your handbag and place it by the door. Also, keep your daily skin care and makeup products out and ready so you don’t waste time rifling through a bag full of stuff you never use.

6. Establish a bedtime
What time must you wake up to get the kids to school on time and yourself to the office? Now work backward seven or eight hours to figure out when you must hit the hay to get a full night’s sleep. About an hour or two before, take a warm shower or bath, then put on socks to keep your feet warm. Warming up and then keeping your feet toasty allows your core body temperature to fall slightly, helping you relax and fall asleep easier, says Dr. Zee. The scheduled downtime also prevents you from losing track of time while reading, watching the evening news or surfing Facebook.

Photo: Corbis Images