“Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice but limited.”- Duke Ellington

“Without struggle, there is no success.”- Frederick Douglass

Many years ago, there was a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan called Sleepless in Seattle. Many of you may remember this entertaining romantic comedy. I bring it to your attention because of one particular scene involving Mr. Hanks and Rob Reiner. At some point during their exchange, Mr. Reiner complained to Mr. Hanks about his wife’s need to have so many decorative pillows on a completed bed. If I recall correctly, he was most perplexed by the whole idea of it. I laughed heartily during this particular clip because it reminded me of the same discussion I had with my husband. He too did not understand why I needed to have so many pillows on a made-up bed.  The functionality of just two seemed fine to my husband as I am sure it does to so many men. In discussing differences between men and women, I have shared this conversation with clients. They smile knowingly because the  pillow episode symbolizes this very issue. Sometimes we need a little extra, and with effort, a man can come to understand this need and even provide some of the extras.  Certain men will say they are not the kind of guy who can change or this is the way they have been for years. Well, gentlemen, you can teach an old dog new tricks literally and figuratively. My mother’s dog who now lives with us is fifteen and a half. In dog life, he is ancient history. Recently, we noticed he developed some good habits from observing our two other pooches. If an oldie but goody dog is able to do it, so are you! Here are four key areas where I believe some of you can make a huge difference in your relationship with a small amount of exertion. It may feel like learning a foreign language, but the more you work at it, the easier it will get:

1) Say “I Love You!” 

Many of you will say, “I tell my wife all of the time.” Yes, but do you express it with fervor or tenderness or do you say it matter-of-fact like the way you brush your teeth or drive your car. Remember, the word “love” is used for many things without making the one you love feel special. If it is difficult to do, practice. As the old adage states, “Practice makes perfect.” You can even tell your wife that words are not easy, but you just wanted to  say “I love you.”

2) “You Are Beautiful!”

O.K., it does not necessarily have to be the word “beautiful.” How about “gorgeous, sexy, ravenous, alluring, exquisite?” Whatever synonym you equate with beautiful, I strongly suggest you not say, “You look good in that.” Also, do not say, “That looks nice on you.” A sports team can “look good.” The house can “look nice when it is newly furnished.” This is your wife. She should be your Queen Bee whether she is older, heavier, or wrinkled. Beauty is truly skin deep even in our youth-oriented, looks-focused society as charmingly exemplified in the movie Shallow Hal. If she is not beautiful in the classical sense, she should be through your eyes. Let her know!

3) Physical Contact

As important as it is, I am not referring to sex. There are enough articles, books, movies, TV shows and opinions about how often, how long, how to do it (like we need to know) and other so-called sagacious advice. I will not jump into this foray except to say that desire does not necessarily precede arousal especially in long-term relationships. As a result, I often make the very unromantic suggestion to approach sex like exercise. You may not necessarily be in the mood, but once you get going “how sweet it can be.” If nothing else, it should bring two people closer together.

Now let me share what I am actually referring to. I am talking about physical gestures which can touch the soul in another way.  A strong hug is often what we females want. Not just a tap on the back, but a great big embrace. The holding of one another helps exude warmth and connection with each other. I have heard from enough women that they get a peck on the cheek or a light-weight, quick hug. Gentlemen, give her a bear hug and mean it!

Also, another attentive gesture is a touch of the face or holding the chin and looking at your special woman with a smile. It only takes a moment, and this considerate act can feel very loving! In fact, your lady might respond to this with more tenderness towards you.

4) Animated Expression Or Yelling

Many years ago, I was in session with a couple whom I had seen off and on for quite some time. She was stressing a point with emotion and animation. Her husband asked her to stop yelling. She said she was not, and I pointed out to both of them the difference of perceptions in their dialogue. For those of us who come from Mediterranean backgrounds, we have been exposed to much liveliness and passion. I remember a group of my aunts talking vivaciously. To some, it might have seemed like yelling, but they were not. My Lebanese aunts were just having a spirited conversation. This was part of their culture, and a number of us have developed similar ways of expressing ourselves. In addition, many women are just more relational and communicative in general. They say much more and do it with zest and flair. Men do not always comprehend the need for such “over-the-top” conversations. Frequently, they look at communication as “less is more.” Most women understand their style of expression. They do not always like it but are often tolerant. So gentlemen, if your partner is accepting of yours, how about being receptive to hers. Try and recognize that men and women get together for a reason. We do not have to be the same, and if we were, how boring it might be. You may have a wife who has an effervescent demeanor. Become more open to her way of relating to you. Rather than clam up, just ask her if she is yelling or expressing herself. If it is the latter, embrace it and remind yourself, like the additional decorative pillows, she needs the extras in many areas of her life.

These suggestions have been made as a consequence of themes resonating in my practice for the last thirty plus years. It certainly does not mean every man needs to heed my advice. In fact, some of you may be doing everything I have stated. If so, hopefully your loving actions are being well received, and your relationship is maintaining a long steady flame. For anything to be successful, it takes work and struggle. As with so many things in life, intimate relationships especially marriage or long-term partnerships should remain a work in progress!