KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox Finding enough time each week to reinvigorate a marriage

Dear Annie: My relationship with my husband is evaporating, and I can't seem to get things back to where they used to be. It's my fault. My job requires me to work every other weekend, which limits our time together. Besides that, my mother is becoming very dependent, and her care takes a good deal of my time and money.
My husband and I are both close to retirement, so changing jobs is not an option. We used to have one recreational activity together -- now he does it with his niece, on the weekends when I work. When I'm home, he wants to get things done around the house. Besides my job, I do all the housework, cooking, cleaning and laundry, plus I mow the lawn. I feel like I'm becoming his housekeeper.
Physically, I'm in pretty good shape, but mentally, I think I'm becoming boring. My life is so filled with obligations that I'm losing touch with my friends. What can I do to become interesting again? Emily
Dear Emily: We trust that the "one recreational activity" is golf and not sex. We know you feel overwhelmed, but surely the two of you can find a little time each week to do something together.
Explain this to your husband. Tell him you can devote more time to him if he will help you with the housework (and he should). Set aside some time once a month to get together with friends, which can help broaden your horizons. Pick up on current events when you turn on your computer, and put news magazines in the bathroom so you will have something of interest to discuss at the dinner table. This must become a priority for you -- even if it means skipping the laundry or hiring someone to stay with your mother. Relationships take regular maintenance, too.
Dear Annie: I am the mother of the bride, and a widow. I would like to know the proper protocol for wedding dances if one of the parents is single. I know the bride and groom dance first, and then the groom dances with his mother while the bride dances with her father. In this instance, there is no father for her to dance with. What happens when the mother of the bride is not part of a couple? Sun City, Ariz.
Dear Sun City: Often, when the father of the bride is unavailable, another male becomes a stand-in, not only for the dancing, but also to walk the bride down the aisle. Usually this is an uncle, brother or other relative. If your daughter is not using a stand-in to walk her down the aisle, you can designate someone as your escort. Keep in mind, however, that this dance is a traditional custom, but you are not obligated to follow it. It may be time for you to suggest a new custom.
Dear Annie: You printed a letter from "Sleepless in Sarasota," whose neighbor goes outside to cough and spit in the middle of the night. You suggested speaking to the neighbor or trying white noise in the bedroom. I have another suggestion: Earplugs!
My partner and I live on a busy street, and without earplugs we would be awake all night. Plus, we both snore and keep each other up. Earplugs are the perfect solution. We adjust the volume on the phone so we can hear it, and we crank up the clock radio so it wakes us up in the morning. And we tested the smoke alarm to make sure we can hear that, too. If anyone tries to break into the house, our dog will take care of waking us up.
The best kind of earplugs to use are the soft foam kind, since they don't accumulate any waxy residue. Sleeping Peacefully in Eureka, Calif.
Dear Eureka: We agree that earplugs can cover a multitude of noises. Thank you for the additional suggestion to help our readers get enough rest.
XE-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@com-cast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox™, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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