Dear Nicole: How do my husband and I rekindle the spark?

Dear Nicole,

Between two kids, full-time jobs and running here and there for everyone else, my husband and I rarely have time for each other. I’m feeling really disconnected. I really want to reconnect and rekindle the spark, but an empty bank account makes it next to impossible to find a sitter and get a “date night.” Help!

— Stressed

That’s what I never quite understood about the way our society currently functions: how are we expected to raise kids, work full time, care for aging parents, nurture romantic and other relationships and care for ourselves? It would almost make sense to set up society so these things could be a bit more staggered!

Anyway, back to your question with two ideas:

Consider swapping with another couple a once a month babysitting night. I’m sure you have friends or even relatives with kids around similar ages. Maybe one night a month, you do them a solid and watch their kids and one night a month, they reciprocate. This gives everyone alone time with their spouse without breaking the bank since 1) you aren’t paying a sitter and 2) with the kids out of the house, your regular surroundings are your date night. And in that, you can get creative I am sure.

We all have those 10-15-minute blocks (usually while running errands) where we can get more creative. Look for a geocache spot near the post office together or split a chocolate bar on the bench in front of the drug store. One day a few weeks ago, between getting our marriage license and getting a haircut, my husband and I decided to stop for coffee. Our schedules were packed but forcing ourselves to take some time and hold hands 15 minutes in a coffee shop was a novel way to connect.

(I also recommend turning off the TV for a week as a test. I think you may be surprised how much time that takes up.) Remember this is your person and I think he’ll be impressed, not only with your ingenuity but also the fact you are even trying to connect. Let us know how it goes!


Dear Nicole,

Is there any escape from gift reciprocity? Picking out gifts and remembering dates are not strengths of mine, plus I’m on a budget, so I try to keep the list of people I buy birthday and Christmas gifts for relatively short. Still, I have some incredibly sweet and considerate friends and relatives who aren’t on the list who buy me holiday presents. I feel like I have to return the gesture annually. Is there any nice way to say, “Let’s not do this again” to these generous people?

— Lousy Gift Giver


Gifts are items given without expectation or reciprocity. The second a gift leaves your hands, the outcome is out of your control. A few ideas for your situation though:

If you know these people well, talk to them. “You know, I am really trying to get on a budget here. Do you mind if we don’t exchange gifts this year? I’d rather just spend time with you anyway!” I bet you may be surprised. This person may either flat out agree with you or say what I’m expecting they’ll say: that they give you a gift because they want to and don’t expect anything in return.

If this is a widespread problem with your family or friend group, organize some alternate event for the holidays like a cookie exchange or a group potluck. Explain to everyone that the gift is spending time together which is what’s important. I predict no arguments (except from the one person who is going to argue with anything new).

Simply stop reciprocating. Upon receiving a gift, a heartfelt thank you note can be sent. That sends the message that you appreciate the gesture but are not going to reciprocate at the same level. Next year when gift time rolls around, you’ll see what their motives really were. I am betting you’ll break that cycle!

Some people show affection through giving gifts, and make an amount of money that supports this habit. If that is the case, be the grateful recipient you are. And for those occasional small gift needs (party host, etc.), stock a box of candles, jams, inexpensive bottles of wine, etc. that you can use in a pinch.


Dear Nicole,

My friend lost her husband about six months ago to cancer. I’ve flown out to see her (on my own dime) twice, once for a final portrait session while he was relatively healthy (I’m a photographer) and once at the very end for his last days (more pictures). She now wants me to go on vacation with her because her wedding anniversary is coming up. Not only can I not afford this but as it seems like I’m her only support system, this is exhausting. I was happy to be there for her, but I think she’s asking too much. Can I get out of this without seeming like a jerk?

— Being Not There


Your friend has to know that other people’s worlds must continue after this tragic event, hers included. To ask you not only for your services (which is very sweet) but for you to support her emotionally and spend money you don’t necessarily have to do so is asking too much.

I would suggest she join a support group for people who have lost husbands. When I lost my father, I joined a support group at Hospice of Hancock County that met weekly for about 10 weeks and found it very helpful to meet people in a similar situation. She might even make friends that can help support her besides you.

Secondly, it’s OK to say no to anyone. A wedding anniversary in particular is between a couple, not extended friends and family. Instead of going on vacation, you might urge her to book up her day/weekend with friends and activities. Maybe she could spend the morning volunteering, have lunch with friends, go to a massage, go to the movies and dinner with other friends. Spending time with people is key, not just you! Urge her to reach out and, who knows. She might be surprised at who lets her lean on them because let’s face it, you need a rest.


Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]
Nicole Ouellette

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