Whether your marriage still feels like the newlywed stage, or you’re feeling like college roommates these days, there’s always room for improvement in relationships.
To help you ramp up your relationship, we talked to sex and relationship expert Reid Mihalko, for his tips on what to say to your guy to strengthen your connection and ramp up the romance in your relationship.
One of Mihalko’s relationship courses, the Romance Home Run course, helps his clients identify their partner’s “love language” (from Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages) and how to show love in a way that resonates with their partner so they feel cared for.
Men are usually what Mihalko calls “dogs” or “cats” and, just like women, what feels romantic to one might not be the same for another.
“The easiest thing to do for most men is to tell them anything that amounts to saying they’re doing a good job in the relationship,” says Mihalko. It’s like saying, ‘Good dog,’ to Fido when he’s behaving well. “For a lot of traditional men, criticism really affects us because it means we’re not doing a good job.
“Because of the way men are raised, the perception is that a ‘real man’ always does the right thing and a good job, so when we don’t do a good job, it emasculates us on a deep level.” And often men don’t have the emotional tools to figure out how to deal with that.
So when you affirm to your guy that he’s a good man and doing a good job in the relationship, you’re making him feel proud of what he’s done and appreciated.
If you’re with a man who’s what Mihalko calls a “cat” when it comes to romance, he appreciates when you do something that shows you were thinking about him before he walked into the room.
A “cat” might find it romantic that you surprised him by having his favorite dinner for him when he came home from work. He’ll appreciate that you were thinking about him and you’re also affirming that what he likes is okay.
“The more I work with men, it seems there are just as many ‘cats’ as ‘dogs’ and they can swing back and forth,” says Mihalko. And if you’re not sure if you have a dog or a cat on your hands, just try to do both practices all the time, he suggests.
From the masculinity point of view, a man is supposed to do a good job, says Mihalko. So when you appreciate something he does–even if it’s something he’s supposed to do like taking out the trash or changing the baby’s diaper–it’s important to him because you’re telling him he’s doing a good job. If he really responds to “words of appreciation,” this reminds him of how much you love him.
Acts of affection are also really useful and powerful for men from a masculinity perspective, says Mihalko. Which is why getting physical and having sex are so important to him. The man thinks, I must be doing a good job or she wouldn’t be touching me or wanting to have sex with me, says Mihalko. You could also reinforce that he’s doing a good job in the relationship with a massage.
“All of the stuff I’m telling you works exactly on me,” says Mihalko. “I think, ‘If my partner wants to have sex with me, I must have done something right.’”
So when you turn him down for sex, he takes it personally. Rejecting his advances can make him think something is wrong and that, If I were a better man and I did the right thing she’d want to have sex with me, says Mihalko.
When you let him watch what he wants tonight, even if he knows you don’t like it, you’re telling him that what he likes is okay.
“Compromise is looking to create win-wins,” says Mihalko. “You’re not really compromising when you give him the remote, because you’ll get a romantic kickback and connection in the relationship by doing it.”
Remember that offering up the remote a kind way influences the connection. If you give him the remote and simultaneously tell him how stupid you think his show is, you’re shaming him for what he likes and undoing all of the good you could be doing. Tell him you’ll record your show and that he should watch what he wants tonight since he hasn’t had time to watch his favorite sports team in a while. Loving him for what he likes–even if it’s quirky or not your cup of tea–shows him that you approve of him as a man.
And after you share the remote, don’t keep a tally of how often you’re doing nice things for him! If you’re looking for a “guarantee” of what you’ll get out of it before you do something selfless, you’re in the wrong mindset for the relationship, says Mihalko. Have faith that the act of giving has it’s own payback eventually.
“When you keep score in a relationship, that automatically means there’s a winner and a loser, which means everyone loses,” says Mihalko. “It’s about teamwork, not winning.” Make it a game about who can make the other one feel more appreciated, he suggests.
From a psychological point of view, the more you focus on gratitude and contribution, the better capacity you have to feel positive emotions. “If you keep score you’re training your brain to be a better scorekeeper. But if you’re doing random acts of kindness, you’re developing an ability to love more and feel more happy things. It doesn’t mean relationships won’t be tough sometimes, but you’ll actually being able to feel more happiness and appreciation in your life,” says Mihalko. Learn how to fight fairly with this article.
6. Encourage him to go out for “guys’ night.”
The more you each have your own hobbies and social lives, the more you have the ability to refuel, recharge, and bring happiness back to each other.
“You’re someone’s primary partner, you can’t be a night out with the guys or replace that, and you shouldn’t try to,” says Mihalko. Each person in the relationship should have their own fun and nourish themselves socially so they can bring that invigorated feeling back home to their partner.
You want to encourage one other to have the hobbies and social ties that nourish yourselves, because it frees you up from having to be the entire meal for someone, says Mihalko. Just like you want to dish about the latest romance novels with your friends, you’re not going to have the same satisfying conversations with him about those hot reads if he’s not into those books. You can’t get every need met from your partner.
7. Chill out and connect before having difficult conversations.
Whether you need to have a tough talk about money, your in-laws, or something that’s bothering you with your partner, spend some time romancing each other and strengthening your connection first, advises Mihalko. Use the tools above to strengthen your connection in preparation for having conversations you know are going to be tough.
You might want to go to his favorite bar or restaurant first and spend quality time together or watch a movie he likes with him. Create a win-win first before venturing into discussions that are likely to be emotional or difficult so you’ll both approach the situation from a positive starting point.
“Think of romancing him before a difficult discussion as the warm-up before your workout,” says Mihalko.
This post originally appeared on Random House’s The Smitten Word Blog.
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