Cars are easy: Change the oil, check the belts, rotate the tires, done. Relationship maintenance is a bit more difficult. So after consulting the experts, we developed this diagnostic check to help you assess the wear and tear on your marital vows. Instead of taking your marriage into the shop and having someone else look at it, these tools are about learning to listen to the important cues in your relationship, says professor William Doherty, Ph.D., director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota and author of Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart. Here’s how to make sure you and the missus are firing on all cylinders.
When you gingerly mention that you’d like to go away for a weekend of fishing, what is your wife’s reaction? Does she hassle you about spending more time with her? If the answer is yes, breathe easy. “When a woman is engaged in a relationship with all her heart, she’s high-maintenance,” says Doherty. (Uh, hooray?) But if she used to demand attention and doesn’t anymore, don’t chalk it up to her accepting you for who you are. “She may have given up her efforts to save your marriage,” says Doherty, and moved on to her own time-consuming pursuits, things like “looking for apartments, finding a lawyer, and planning an exit strategy.”
Think about sex for a minute. Okay, it has been a little while—that’s normal. Kids and jobs are lousy aphrodisiacs. “The first red flag is when there’s a change in your sexual relationship,” says Jennifer Berman, M.D., founder of Berman Women’s Wellness Center, in Beverly Hills, California. Perhaps Saturday-morning cartoons used to mean you locked yourselves in the bedroom, but now it’s when she schedules manicures? What about the rare weekends when you are alone together? Does she relish those nights? Ask yourself, “Is she just going through the motions and getting it over with?” says Dr. Berman. Tune in to make sure your wife is getting what she wants.
All couples fight—not just Brangelina. The question to ask yourself is, What happens next? If your wife acts reasonably pleasant, do you assume she’s over it and just go on with your day? If so, there could be trouble brewing. “Women will brood for months about words spoken,” says Doherty. If you’ve cleared the air completely—for example, if she can laugh about it now—you’re okay. If not, it’s likely that she’s “still hurting or expecting an apology.” Warning: Pent-up resentment, like rust, is corrosive. Therefore, Doherty recommends approaching your wife after a blowup to ask how she’s doing. “Yes, it’s scary, because she might blast you again,” he says, “but it’s better to know that there’s tension than not to know.”
Who is she hanging out with? “If your social world involves playing basketball with other married guys, and she takes on new friends who are single—or pulls away from your married friends—you’re orbiting different suns and that will make you grow apart,” says Doherty, adding that this move is often totally unconscious, but it can be dangerous. While a married woman is inclined to offer her female friend advice on how to overcome conflict with her husband, single women are more likely to say “Come join us!” After all, he points out, “Single people love having single friends.” But don’t bail on your guy friends. You need them, and they need you. Four reasons why poker night might save your career, your marriage, and your life.
At a holiday party, you spend a few minutes chatting with a Gisele look-alike. When you get home, does your wife say, “Who was that floozy?” If so, feel good about your marriage, says Doherty. A hint of jealousy means that she thinks you’re attractive, she expects other women to find you attractive, and she wants you all to herself. Sometimes men process a lack of jealousy as “a free pass to flirt with other women,” says Doherty. Think about that. “If she really doesn’t give a rip, it’s not a good thing,” he explains. It means she’s less invested, and, he says, “She might be thinking that if you left for another woman, it wouldn’t be so bad.” Three ways to keep your marriage from feeling like a chore.