Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: For several weeks, my wife had been distant. When I finally got her to admit what was wrong, she told me I needed to be more “romantic.” Even though I think I’m a thoughtful guy, it apparently isn’t enough. The next day I brought her flowers, which made her mad. She said I only did that because she told me to. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How do I fulfill my wife’s needs without her thinking it’s a chore?

–Romantic Romeo

Dear Romeo: You’re wife put you in a double-bind. She asked you to be romantic, but then chastised you when you were. Although it’s frustrating, don’t let it deter you. In fact, use it as motivation to be romantic more frequently and in unexpected ways. If you mix it up a bit, she won’t feel that the behavior is forced and you’ll enjoy being romantic because you want to, not because you have to.

However, if you’re unsure about what your wife thinks is “romantic” find out how she defines romance. Does she want a spontaneous date planned or would she be content with you bringing her coffee in bed in the morning? If you don’t know what she wants, all of your efforts will be for naught.

If she gripes that you “should know what she wants” tell her that the belief that partners should read each other’s minds is one of the biggest (and most dangerous) relationship myths. Relationships are built on communication and we have to tell our partners what our needs are if we ever want them met. So, figure out what she wants and get going Casanova.

And don’t forget, romance doesn’t mean extravagance; love is built on the little things, not grand gestures. Often, little gestures, like holding her hand while watching a movie or saying you look beautiful, have the biggest impact.

Dear Sylvia: I’m six months pregnant with my first baby. Since I’ve told my best-friend about the baby she’s completely ditched me. I feel that she doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore because I can’t go to the bars and party with her. Anytime we do talk, she doesn’t even ask me about the baby. Should I cut my losses and focus my energy on my growing family instead of my dwindling friendship?

Forgotten Friend

Dear Forgotten: I’m sorry your friend is being a flake when you need her support and encouragement most. Friendships are like books filled with lots of pages and chapters. Sometimes you’re on the same page, while other times you’re in different chapters.  Maybe your friend is overwhelmed and freaked out about how your relationship is going to change as a result of your impending mommy-hood. Or, maybe your pregnancy makes her question whether or not she wants to become a mom. Or, maybe she feels that you don’t want to hang out with her in non-party situations.

The only way to really know what’s going on is to talk to her. Bring up your concerns in a non-accusatory way. Ask her if anything is bothering her because you’ve noticed she seems a bit distance since you’ve announced your pregnancy. If she’s a true friend, you’ll be able to have a conversation about what’s bothering both of you.

But, if you find out that she doesn’t want to deal with anything too deep and prefers partying to having a real friendship, drop the dead weight, you’ve got more important things on the horizon!

Dear Sylvia: My husband recently admitted to a one-night stand while on a business trip. We’ve been married for 8 years and I never once questioned our relationship. We have three children together and many memories. He says this is the only time this has happened. I’m deeply hurt and betrayed. Should I try to save our marriage or save myself and kids from future pain and call it quits?

Stunned Spouse

Dear Stunned: I am so sorry for the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing. Trust is the basis of all relationships and being betrayed, especially through infidelity, not only rocks but ruins relationships. With that said, although it seems impossible now, you can come back from this if you both want to.

As you noted, you’ve been together for a long time and have invested a lot into this marriage. Throwing it all away for a one-time lapse in judgment may be a hasty decision. However, only you can decide if you stay or if you go. You know your husband best and only you know if this is something you and your relationship can overcome.

If you do decide to give your marriage a second chance, I believe that going to couples and individual counseling is a must. Both you and your husband are experiencing an array of emotions and a trained therapist will help you sift through them all and provide you with the skills needed to rebuild the trust in your relationship.

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Love Is In The Air: A Valentine’s Day Gift Guide


Valentine’s Day. Sure, it’s a hallmark holiday that forces couples to buy unnecessary lingerie, heart shaped candy, and overpriced roses. Yet still, the romantic in me loves this holiday (along with its’ lesser celebrated cousin, Sweetest Day)! Although I believe in celebrating love every day of the year, there is something special about having a designated day to relish in your googly-eyed love.

But, since I’m pretty frugal and refuse to spend double what I would on an entrée on February 14th than I would any other day of the year, or pay full price for hearts filled with chocolate that are 50% off a mere 24-hours later, I’ve come up with a few fun, yet inexpensive ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your honey bunny!

Write a love letter! Too often we take our partners for granted or forget to tell them how much they mean to us. So, let your one-and-only know how you feel. Even if you say “I love you” every day, writing down the small things they do that make you swoon, like way they look when reading a book or how they always have your coffee ready for you in the morning, really lets them know how much you care an appreciate them.

Make a coupon book! Yes, like those old school ones you would make your parents when you were a child. The upside of making an adult coupon book is that the coupons can be a lot more fun….wink, wink.

Explore the alphabet! Make a book that uses each letter of the alphabet to describe something you love about your partner. For example, I love your “A” …athleticism, “B” your booty, and so on. Get crafty and creative!

Try a new activity! Research shows that people derive more happiness from doing something with a loved one versus getting a material gift. In addition, engaging in novel activities with a partner fires up the feel good area in the brain, people then attribute this euphoria with their partner, not the activity, resulting in increased relational satisfaction and overall lovey dovey-ness.

So, sign up for that cooking class, go see that new museum exhibit, or hike that new trail. Just make sure it’s new and you’re doing it together.

However, if you want to add a little something extra to your homemade Valentine extravaganza, here are a few of my favorite gifts.

Love stories! I’m a sucker for two things NPR’s Story Corp (I have a good cry every Friday morning thanks to this program!) and a good love story. So, what better gift than a combo of both? Read about heartwarming tales of love and then write your own! You may just fall in love all over again.

Make it personal! Sure you can make a calendar filled with your pictures or slap your mug on a coffee mug, but why not go for the ultimate in personalization? I LOVE these custom silhouette prints from Nella Designs. I’ve given a few as gifts and may just have to get one for myself!

In fact, you can’t go wrong getting anything from etsy. It’s personal and unique. Here are a few other favorites…

For the man in your life:

From Vital

For your leading lady:

From Blue Stem Jewelry  

 For ladies and gents:

Who wouldn’t want to store their change, keys, or jewelry in this adorable bowl?

From Elm Studio Designs

Although Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to act all lovey dovey and smoother your sweetie with kindness, don’t forget to keep it going year-round!



Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas: Setting a Holiday Budget

Black Friday, Black Saturday (this was new to me this year!), Cyber Monday, etc… Although these days have different names, they all mean the same thing—spending money! And, if you’re like most people in this economy you don’t have tons of it to go around, which can be especially stressful come the holidays. Combine the regular amount of holiday stress with financial stress and you’re having a Blue Christmas!

Not only can money matters stress you out, they can put a strain on your relationship too. Money issues are often a major source of conflict in marriages. Some research even suggests that arguments about money tend to be more problematic and frequent than other issues, including raising children and division of household chores. Conflicts about money also tend to have a longer lasting impact on relationship satisfaction than arguments about other issues.

Interestingly, money is often considered a taboo topic leading people to avoid financial discussions. Failure to talk about finances can lead to arguments when you and your sweetie pie’s spending habits don’t match up or disaster when one partner doesn’t tell the other about debt or financial delinquency.

Although finances can strain your relationship at any point in time, the gift-giving season may bring this issue to the forefront. Not only do you want to find the best presents for your friends, family, and significant other, your honey bunny does too.  In addition, couples may want to feel that their family or friends are getting an “equal share.” If you spend $150 on your mom, your sweetie pie may feel that his mom gets that amount too. But, add in a couple of stepparents, stepsiblings, plus friends, and each other and your holiday budget is about to burst. So, what’s a couple to do?

There are several strategies couples can enact to ensure that their holiday gift-giving budget doesn’t get out of whack:

Talk to one another! Seems pretty obvious, I know; but, many couples don’t talk about money, which can lead to big time trouble. Have an open discussion about where you’re at financially and what is a realistic holiday budget. You may realize that you have more Christmas money to play Santa with or that you need to do a little DIY. But, you’ll never know if you don’t talk about it.

Set a budget! It’s important to have a budget in mind when shopping for holiday gifts, especially if your list is long and you’re checking it twice.  This can get tricky, however, when it comes to buying presents for individuals outside of your immediate family. You and your spouse may agree on how much to spend on each other and/or your children, but have very a different idea of what is an appropriate amount to spend on parents and adult siblings.

Maybe you’re used to spending hundreds on your parents, but your spouse doesn’t exchange gifts with her family. Try to meet somewhere in the middle. You shouldn’t be expected to give up giving gifts to your parents, but your spouse shouldn’t be expected to go along with an extravagant gift is she’s not comfortable with it or if it’s not in the budget.  So compromise and let your finances, not your emotions, be your guide.

In addition, if your gift giving protocol changes now that you’re attached, you may want to give your family a heads-up. Let them know that you and your spouse have decided to tighten your Santa suit belts, so gifts won’t be as extravagant as they’ve been in the past. It’s important to make sure you let your family knows this was a team decision, which it should be, and you and your spouse appreciate their understanding.

Trust each other! After you and your honey have set a realistic holiday budget, stick to it. It may be hard to not buy an extra present or two, but those little add-ons will not only derail your budget, but will also diminish trust between you and your partner. If you ignore the budget you and your significant other set you’re sending a message that you don’t care about what s/he has to say. So be a team player and stick to the plan!

Think outside the gift box! Don’t think that you have to buy everyone a gift or give a physical gift at all. If you have a large extended family try starting a grab bag or Yankee gift exchange.

Also, do something rather than giving or getting something. Research shows that the thrill of a new item wears off rather quickly, but the joy from doing something can last a lifetime. Instead of buying Dad another box of golf balls, why not get tickets to see his favorite band either just you and him or as a family? And instead of buying your wife a meaningless sweater, why not spend that money on a babysitter and have a dinner, just the two of you?  My husband and I, for example, typically set a $25 gift limit and then treat ourselves to a nice evening out. Getting all dolled-up to enjoy a romantic evening with my hubby is better than any material gift I can think of.

But, if you still really want to give a big-ticket item discuss alternative options with your sweetie (maybe a 32” versus 40” TV) or devise a plan to save in other areas (not going out to dinner or buying a new outfit for a holiday party) if you really want to make that big purchase.

Holiday gift-giving can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these simple steps you and your sweetie pie can spend less time fretting about finances and more time hanging out under the mistletoe!

Until next time,



Giving Thanks…All Year Long!

It seems that everyone, no matter how cool, calm, and collected, tends to become a bit more introspective this time of year. The very name of the holiday challenges us to reflect on all the things we’re grateful for. Although I wholeheartedly support this tradition, I also think gratitude and thanks should be given year round, not just reserved for one day of the year.

Acknowledging, thanking, and appreciating your relational partner, be it a parent, friend, or significant other, on a daily, rather than annual, basis is an important relational maintenance strategy. Relational maintenance is important because it allows you to maintain the very existence of your relationship and helps keep your relationship satisfying.  However, relational maintenance doesn’t refer to grand gestures that we see too often in the movies (when was the last time someone chased you down a New York City block in the rain to make up after a fight? Or, came to pick you up for a date in a limo complete with roses, Cristal, and a little blue box?). Instead, relational maintenance strategies are the everyday things you can do to let your loved one know you care.

Research has outlined several maintenance strategies that are particularly useful. Many of you probably do these already, but if you don’t, well, get crackin!

Strategy 1: Be positive and make interacting pleasant. Sounds pretty obvious, huh? But how often do we treat the ones we love the most the worst? Simply showing affection, doing favors for one another, and being upbeat are just a few ways to enact this strategy. So give that hug or ask your partner if they want another cup of coffee while you’re in the kitchen. Easy, right?!

Strategy 2: Talk AND  listen! As relationships progress, people sometimes stop talking and really listening to their partners. If you think back on the early days of your relationship you probably spent hours talking and listening to one another’s dreams, fears, and feelings about one another. I can remember many hours spent talking about all the things my husband and I loved about one another (Seriously. And, I apologize to anyone who overheard those conversations!).  Although you may not have time to spend arguing over who loves the other one more, you do have time (or you better make it) to continue to share information with one another, listen to one another’s problems without judgment, and talk about your relationship, either what’s bothering you, what you hope for the future, or reflect back on your googly-eyed early days.

Strategy 3: Reassure your partner. Long-term relationship partners tend to get lazy. They think the other person should “just know” that they love them, still find them attractive, or couldn’t imagine their life without them. And while this may very well be true, it also doesn’t hurt to remind your partner of that, either directly or indirectly. Offering support, comfort, or explicitly telling your loved one how you feel are all ways of assuring your partner. Something as simple as sending a “good luck” text before a big interview or letting your partner know that you’re glad they’re in your life will do the trick.

Strategy 4: Balance your time together with some time apart. Engaging in joint activities is crucial for any relationship. Carving out time for one another or developing weekly rituals is one way of engaging in joint activities (I know I look forward to eating take-out and watching Fringe with my husband every Friday night). However, this doesn’t mean being attached at the hip. I once knew a couple who did everything together. You couldn’t talk to one of them, you talked to both. And when you did, they were either holding hands or clinging to each other for dear life. So, it’s important that all relationships have a bit of independence. Plan separate activities with your own friends or just give one another some “me” time. Your relationship will thank you.

Strategy 5: As many yearbook messages say, K.I.T (keep in touch)! Whether or not your sweetie pie travels for work or your best friend lives across the country or just down the street, staying connected is essential. Technology today makes it super easy to stay involved in one another’s lives, even if you’re apart. So send a text, shoot off an email, or pick up the phone and call those important people in your life to let them know that you’re thinking of them, even if you’ll see them in a few hours or days.

If you already do these strategies, keep it up! If not, maybe Thursday is a good time to start. And while you’re at it, start sharing what you’re thankful for with the ones you love. I’ll go first…

I’m thankful for my wonderfully supportive husband who makes me feel like the smartest, prettiest, most loved woman in the world. I’m thankful for my fabulous friends who know how to cheer me up or when to just let me have a little pity party. I’m thankful for my great Dad, who makes me proud to be his daughter. I’m thankful for supportive and inspiring colleagues. I’m thankful for all the readers of this blog and your encouraging feedback. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living. I’m thankful for the little four pound Yorkie who’s curled up on my lap/arm as I type this (although she’s impairing me from reaching half the keyboard!). I’m thankful for my health; I never take for granted the fact that I can jump in the pool or run out my door without giving it a second thought.

And finally, I’m thankful that I had the most amazing mother in the world who instilled in me a sense of family, love, eternal optimism, and gratitude. Even in the face of cancer she was grateful; grateful for another day, grateful for her family and friends, grateful for the amazing people that helped her through her journey. I’m thankful that we engaged in relational maintenance strategies every single day. No sentiment was left unsaid, no “I love you” absent of a reply. And for that, I am thankful; today, Thursday, and always.

Until next time,


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