I know what you’re thinking! Your mind went right into the bedroom and I set you up to think that way with the title so I can’t blame you entirely. But before you get to the bedroom you had better play it smart if you want the attention returned to you. Here are ten not so easy tips to remember when being in a relationship.
Kill Never and Always
When you and Lucy argue, don’t use either of these two words. First of all, they’re not technically accurate. It’s not true that she never wears the cheerleader skirt; you got some boolah-boolah on your birthday. But, more important, they’re gas-on-the-fire words. Instead of these indicting adverbs, use ameliorative words and phrases, like sometimes or I feel or I wish.
Darn right they’re soft, but guess what? The best husbands actually are a skosh more sensitive to their wives’ feelings than your average brute of a mate is. By the way, the words never and always are great when you’re complimenting her, as in, “You never fail to amaze me” or “I always enjoy reaching under your blouse.”
Work the Reunion
You come through the door tired, maybe distracted about something at work. You riffle through the mail, ask her a routine how-was-your-day question, and give her a pro forma kiss. But let’s face it, you don’t really focus on her, do you? She gets only a sliver of your attention. Not good enough.
Don’t panic. I’m not about to suggest in-the-moment mindfulness. Men can’t be “in” every moment. The secret is to “husband” your limited supply of attention, save it for deployment at pivotal times. Think like John McEnroe, who would occasionally tank a forsaken fourth set, saving his strength for the pivotal fifth. Your key moments are the reunions. Take a few seconds and resolve to be fully tuned-in during each come-together moment. You can do it. Trust me, if I can, you can.
Here’s the plain truth: For all the habituation of marriage, all the erosions that come with familiarity, a link between a man and a woman is also instantly renewable in a momentary locked-on gaze. For just a beat, maybe two, claim her with your eyeballs. Look at her in a way that says, “I’m glad to be home, back in our powerful secret.” This kind of subtle but daily maintenance keeps the engine thrumming.
Laugh at Her
Among the most affirming things one person can do for another is to laugh at the other’s attempts at humor. Lots of husbands, over time, forget this salute. What’s that you say? Your wife isn’t funny? So what? Neither is your dolt of a boss, but you laugh at his lame attempts. Why? Because you’re trying to prove you respect him. Bingo!
One of the biggest dangers mature marriages face is that Homer and Marge stop trying to demonstrate their respect for each other. Laughter is tonic for a woman’s woes. Keep it on display.
Make the Lion’s Roar
Describing his important role during World War II, Winston Churchill once remarked that though he was no lion, it had fallen to him to make the lion’s roar. Every now and then, husbands have to get fierce, defiant on behalf of their team.
It won’t happen often, but when you are in a confrontational situation, where reason and soft words have failed—a dispute with a teacher, a vendor, a bill collector, your neighbor, your mother—be prepared to bark in unambiguous defense of your family. Don’t shrink from this obligation. Your wife’s regard for you will shrink if you do.
Be a Little Lamblike, Too
Yes, this contradicts the carnivorous idea above, but a husband is versatile: He can hammer the tee ball and feather the wedge. Softness and kindness and tenderness and all those traits that ain’t much use in the marketplace are pure gold when it comes to being a husband.
A good husband relies on his wife, values her counsel, trusts her to love him even though he’s not in command. We’re most human when we’re wounded or lost. Fred Rogers once said that the best gift you can give somebody is to gracefully receive his or her help. That enriches everybody, giver and getter alike. Now and then, wrap your arms around your wife and whisper that you’re a mite confused. Let her help you find your way.
Keep Reality in Mind
She needs closeness to feel sexual; you need sex to feel close. This is the fundamental impenetrable puzzle of love. I have no idea what to do about this. But great husbands have this reality in mind at all times.
Apparently, we touch our wives too infrequently—except, of course, when we are taxiing for takeoff. It pains me to cede any ground, but we’re guilty as charged. I know one husband who when he’s feeling conjugal actually touches his wife as though he cherishes her character. But in fact, he’s hoping to cherish her caboose in a kitchen quickie. She sees through me every time. Did I say me? I meant him.
Nonsexual touch is a potent, underused endorsement of another soul. As you’re heading out the door, give her upper arm a quick, affectionate double squeeze. As you’re walking into a party or to your table, put a guiding hand, lightly but surely, on her lower back. Some nothing-special Tuesday night while she’s standing at the sink doing the dishes, come up behind her and give her a kiss on the back of her head. It should be more than a peck—make it last 1.4 seconds.
Throw in a little grunt of gratitude; its message is only this: “I’m a lucky man.” Don’t linger behind her. No arms. No hint of pelvic urge. She’ll get cranky if she suspects you’re cruising for dessert while she’s scraping chicken gunk off a baking dish. Just drop the husband kiss on her noggin and get out of there. She’ll feel valued.
See the Coffee Cup
The perfect husband understands that women often get confused by stuff that doesn’t matter, as in the unwashed coffee cup that’s been sitting in the sink for days. Few wives understand that it isn’t that we see the coffee cup and elect not to rinse it, but rather that the neural link between our eyeballs and brains actually keeps us from seeing the cup. The gender biology of why we don’t see the cup comes down to this: We have a lot of more important things on our minds. Will the Bills cover? Any chance of sex today? I think my biceps really are getting bigger. Our minds are cauldrons of profound thoughts. Any wonder we occasionally overlook some stray dishware?
Charge: We don’t help enough around the house. We’re guilty. But here’s the fix: Do more. Not a lot more—just a little more. One of the best things about women is that they really appreciate the smallest sign that you’re trying. They’re effort oriented.
Try walking into a room with a woman’s mind. Imagine that your brain has space in it for trivialities like unwashed cups. Ask yourself, If I were a psycho neat freak, what would bother me in here? The coffee cup—which sometimes takes the form of the kids’ sneakers under the table or the metro section crumpled on the couch—will suddenly reveal itself to you.
She Ain’t Broke, So Don’t Fix Her
People rarely change unless they feel accepted as they are. Once folks feel they’re not required to change, growth happens.
Play to Win
You know the athletic wisdom that warns against playing not to lose, that argues you have to be loose to let your skills flow and maximize your game? Same goes for marriage. Oh, sure, you can have a perfectly fine little partnership by taking the cautious route. He & She Inc. may even hum along nicely if you companionably sidestep the briar patches. But that’s no way to be a great husband. She’s entitled to more, the full monty, the whole experience of being affiliated with, no, make that loved by, a man.
People often settle for accommodating coupledom because they’re afraid some explosive issues will blow up the marriage. They fear ending their days alone, living under the bridge behind the high school. Set yourself free to play bravely by taking the big risk, divorce, off the table. Decide that you meant what you said at the wedding, that this woman, come what may, is your partner for life.
Older couples often report that once they’ve gone past the point where they might leave each other, their partnership gets an invigorating second wind. No longer afraid of being alone, they talk things through. In pursuit of something richer than mere amity, they explore regrets, grievances. Sure, it can be difficult, but it’s full and human and adrenal and—hallelujah!—not dull. And it can lead to a more spacious marriage, a connection that is full hearted and well tempered instead of taped together.