Even happily married guys wonder what sorts of itches they’d be scratching if they were to ditch their partner. Their “newly single” fantasy might include long, naked weekends with a Hooters waitress, but the reality is not nearly as provocative.
As a divorced man, you are 39 percent more likely to commit suicide. Even if you don’t kill yourself, you will die younger. And forget chasing tail; your mobility also suffers from singlehood.
Oh, and yes, divorce crushes your finances: A study of divorced baby boomers found that a split slashed their wealth to less than a quarter of what they would’ve had if they’d never wed at all.
So we’ve collected 25 tips that can protect you from the sickly, cash-poor, single life. Save your marriage before it’s too late!
(To see how much work your relationship really needs, check out How Strong Is Your Marriage?)
1. Assume the Best Explanation for What She Did, Not the Worst
Think of an annoying thing she does that you regularly misinterpret. Psychologists call this a “maladaptive attribution.” Then stop it. You can improve your marriage simply by thinking about it differently; choose the kindest possible interpretation for her actions instead of the ugliest.
2. Take the Zero-Negativity Challenge
How many days this month can you go without doing or saying a single negative, hurtful thing to your partner? Give it a try, suggest Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., who’ve written 10 books on relationships.
You can strike sarcasm off the list too. In the words of Terry Real, the author of The New Rules of Marriage: “Sarcasm eats intimacy.” Your words matter. Measure them.
3. A Foot Massage Works Wonders; A Head Massage Works Miracles
4. Don’t Make a Complaint. Make a Request Instead (Politely!)
5. Write Her a Letter—On Paper
A University of Denver study of soldiers found that exchanging letters with their wives had a more positive and long-lasting effect than texting did.
6. Watch This Sex Video
“Makeup sex” doesn’t solve a fight, and latent anger can be a lust killer. Sit down together and watch family therapist Michele Weiner-Davis’s TEDx talk “The Sex-Starved Marriage” on YouTube.
Even if you’re not exactly starving, this video can help stoke hunger now and forever.
7. Don’t Try to Fix Her Problems—Just Listen to Them
“Men are conditioned to solve problems and to protect the women they love,” says couples therapist Shiri Cohen, Ph.D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
“This can backfire when all she really wants is to be heard,” she says. “The next time your mate needs to vent or complain, just give her your open ears.”
If you think you do have a good solution, wait and bring it up later during a separate conversation.
8. Sweat with Her, Then Hop in the Shower Together Later. It’s Healthy!
For 20 years, Thomas Bradbury, Ph.D., and Benjamin Karney, Ph.D., of UCLA’s Marriage Lab, followed more than 1,000 couples to evaluate the different ways partners support each other in their efforts to make important changes in their lives. Bradbury says he was amazed that the most common topic—coming up in about seven out of 10 couples—was that they wanted to change to a healthier lifestyle.
Their book, Love Me Slender, shows couples how to work together to maintain healthy weights. A new large-scale British study seconds that: “Men and women are more likely to make a positive health behavior change if their partner does too,” the authors note. Get started today with the 21-Day MetaShred, an at-home program to strip away fat and reveals rock-hard muscle.
9. Look Past Her Flaws (Don’t Try to Eliminate Them)
“Look above the things you find annoying or unpleasant,” says Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a psychologist based in D.C. “Respond to the best qualities in her—which will always make her best side stronger.”
10. Tell the Kids to Shut Up While You Two “Connect”
“A measly 15 minutes,” says William Doherty, Ph.D., a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. These kinds of “connection rituals” hotwire your whole life together. So do it.
11. As Go Mom and Dad, So Go Their Kids. The Sooner the Little Monsters Understand That They’re Part Of Your Life, not Vice Versa, the Better.
12. Always Look for Ways to Turn “Me” Into “We”
Listen up as Monmouth University psychologist Gary Lewandowski Jr., Ph.D., sets you (and her) straight with this not-so-obvious fact: “Research shows that people who see themselves as overlapping with their partner have better relationships.
You begin to lose track of where one partner begins and the other ends.” Coach was right: It’s all about the team.
13. Respond to Good News and Bad
Your wife gets cool new responsibilities at work. How do you respond? Passively (“That’s nice. What’s for dinner?”), destructively (“Less time for me, right?”) or—jackpot!—actively and constructively (“Wow, let’s party!”)?
According to UC Santa Barbara psychologist Shelly Gable, Ph.D., positive responses reassure your wife that you’ll also support her when the news is bad.
14. Go Out to the Movies. Then Talk Afterward
Ronald Rogge, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Rochester, followed 174 committed couples for three years. Some of the couples received traditional marriage counseling, others received no special attention, and still others were instructed to watch relationship-focused movies each week and talk afterward.
Watching flicks and getting counseling both cut the breakup rate by half.
15. Come Together Only Happens on Abbey Road. Relax. Take Turns
16. Autonomy in a Relationship Is Good
Neither of you should feel that you’re being guilted or coerced into choices about the way you live. Researchers at the University of Houston found that couples who feel self-determined instead of trapped are less defensive and more understanding during fights.
17. Expand Your Mate’s Idea of You Two . . .
In Aruba. Or Zion National Park. Or Quebec City. Travel is a mate redefiner, which may be why you enjoy exuberant sex in exotic places.
18. Keep Your Voice Down When You Fight. It Might Shock Both of You Into Being More Reasonable.
19. Banish Boring, Part 1: Do Something Batshit as a Couple
Jet skiing? Hang gliding? Psychologist Arthur Aron, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Stony Brook University and UC Berkeley have found that couples who engage in a novel activity together report much more marital satisfaction than couples who have merely “pleasant” date nights (that is, the same old routine).
Okay, it doesn’t have to be skydiving, says Aron; “it can be an art class.” The point: Bust your rut.
20. Banish Boring, Part 2: Do Batshit Things with Another Couple
If you go on a double date and do something new that creates closeness among the four of you, says Aron, you’ve just quadrupled the excitement level in the room. That thrill is associated with your partner.
“And that initial sense of exhilaration that comes from falling in love is reinvigorated,” he says. Aron’s theory: You’re happiest when your mate expands your sense of who you are. So perhaps some time travel is in order.
Remember when you two were young and the possibilities seemed limitless? Reengage with friends from that time, preferably ones who’ve been sweating together (see #8). Then push new boundaries as a group.
21. Ask: How Much Do I Hate My Wife?
Be brutally honest. Oh, you love her? Next question: Why am I so mean to her sometimes? David Schnarch, Ph.D., coined the term “normal marital sadism” to describe the many ways we annoy our spouses on purpose.
Stop the purposeful hurts, says Schnarch, and she’ll “like you, want to have sex with you, and wish you well.” Leave the snark and sadism behind, and you’re onto something like the title of Schnarch’s landmark book: Passionate Marriage.
22. Buy a Lamp Together (It’s Worth It)
Beloved, jointly acquired items are called “couple markers.” They’re a barometer of your bond. They help replace “yours” and “mine” with “ours.”
23. Your Sacrifices Are Your Gift, Not Her Debt
It’s called having a “communal relationship” with your wife. In such a marriage, sacrifices (yours and hers) are the gifts that keep on giving. Do something nice. Don’t keep score. Both of you benefit.
24. You Know Her—Push the Buttons That Please Her
In her terrific little book Marriage Rules, Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., mentions urging a client to come up with three things to do that he knew his wife would appreciate. You can do the same. Get started, smart guy.
25. Practical Stuff Can Wait. Attend to Her Now.
Don’t let the urgent (Bills! The office! The lawn! The Cubs!) get in the way of the important (steps 1 through 24 above). Remember: Your financial, emotional, and physical health depends on a close collaboration with your wife. Make it a priority, or else. Now, care to revise your to-do list?