By Aly Walansky
Are you as close to your partner as you hope to be? Even if you have an amazing relationship — it can always get even better, and you can bond even closer together.
Work on your mother-in-law relationship.
Dr. Terri Orbuch completed a study showing that a wife’s relationship to the husband’s family, particularly his mother, is a key factor in whether the husband feels happy in his marriage.
Tips: If you want to improve your closeness with your husband, make a lunch date with his mom, or call her for a recipe idea, or strike up an email correspondence. Becoming close to your husband’s family strengthens the marital bond.
Knock him off balance.
The study also revealed that adding the element of surprise into your marriage can trigger the same emotional state as when you first met — when the neurochemicals of love were cascading through both of your bodies and you felt excitement.
Tips: To get out of a relationship rut that puts a damper on closeness, make a conscious effort to shake things up. If he’s used to coming home to dinner and TV, take the kids to a golf driving range after dinner, or invite him for a sunset walk. Or, play hooky from work and do something fun together, like visiting a museum or tourist spot nearby. Try something new: Take a water-skiing class together, or swing your pelvis in an African drumming and dance workshop.
Research shows that shaking up the routine–whether it’s in a big way, such as taking a class together, or in a small way, such as making love in a different room–disrupts behavior patterns in a positive way. It “freshens up” the marriage, cleans out the cobwebs, and makes you feel closer.
Seek arousal-producing activities together.
This in one of Orbuch’s favorite tips, but it’s not what you think.
Finding: Several psychology studies show that if you do activities with your husband that produce brain chemicals associated with arousal, this arousal can get transferred to your private, intimate relationship. Scientists say this transferred arousal gets “misattributed” to your partner. You are in a sense fooling your brain chemistry.
Tips: Activities that create fear (roller-coaster rides, scary movies, whitewater rafting) or that cause an upsurge in the “feel-good” brain chemicals (working out vigorously, hiking) will actually increase passionate love and closeness with your husband.
Make him feel noticed–in small, simple, frequent ways.
Finding: One key and surprising finding from the EYM study is that when husbands do not receive frequent affective affirmation from their wives (defined as words, gestures, or acts that show him he is noticed, appreciated, respected, loved, or desired) they become distressed and report being unhappy in their marriage. (Wives, it turns out, don’t need this as much from their husbands because they get it elsewhere–from girlfriends, family, coworkers, etc.)
Tips: To significantly improve your closeness, tell your husband he’s sexy, or that you like his haircut, or you appreciate his taste in movies. Or squeeze his hand when he walks by. Another simple act of affirmation is to send him a greeting card in the mail, with the phrase: “I would still choose you if I had to do it all over again!” We all love to get mail from the person we are living with. The key here is small, simple, and frequent affective affirmation.
Give him “instrumental support.”
Finding: When husbands seek help, they typically don’t want emotional support. They want instrumental support–characterized by advice and solutions to help them “fix” the problem. Men are action oriented. They don’t want sympathy; they want concrete feedback and validation during their own problem-solving process. (This is very different from what women want. Research shows women typically want emotional support–empathetic listening or comforting feedback.)
Tips: As the wife, you might listen to his laments and then say, “Are you going to bring this up with your boss? How do you think he’ll approach it?”
Practice the 10-Minute Rule–every day.
Finding: To increase your intimacy–quickly and dramatically–make an agreement to talk to your spouse 10 minutes a day about anything other than kids, household, money, the relationship, or work. In the EYM study, a whopping 98% of the happiest couples said they were intimately familiar with their spouse’s inner life. This kind of closeness comes from talking–but not the daily chatter about the bills, dinner, or kids.
Tips: Ask him questions about four areas of his life: friends, stressors, dreams, and values. Talk to him about his childhood, what he thinks is romantic, or his favorite movie. Ask him what he is most proud of doing in the last year, or if he had all the money in the world, where would he like to go, and why? Most couples are shocked to realize that they do not talk to their spouse 10 minutes every day, and they’re surprised at what a difference it makes in their intimacy.
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