My wife of three years complains that I’m not romantic anymore. In the beginning, I did romantic stuff all the time. I still love her very much, but I guess I’m subconsciously reacting to the fact that I’ve nabbed her forever. (There’s definitely something to be said about “the thrill of the chase.”) How can I let her know I still care?
— Comfortably Wed
Your wife could be a mix of Angelina Jolie, Madame Curie and Sue Johanson (the cute little old lady sexpert from TV), and the thrill of the chase would probably still give way to the thrill of pretending to listen to what she’s saying while you’re watching the game.
You can try to keep the romance alive with some therapist looking disapprovingly down her bifocals at the two of you — or with a thoughtful gift. The point is to extend yourself in ways that give your partner a little lift even though you no longer need to chase her (you just reach over in bed and give her a gentle shake so she’ll stop snoring like an old wino).
Doing nice little things for each other regularly is the romantic version of car maintenance to keep you from ending up broke-down in Scarytown. A 2010 study tracking 65 couples by psych prof Sara B. Algoe found that a partner’s little thoughtful actions led to feelings of gratitude in the recipient partner, which led to both partners feeling more connected and happier with their relationship the following day.
Algoe and her colleagues speculated that “moments of gratitude can act like ‘booster shots’ for the ongoing relationship.” Previous research by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky (detailed in “The How of Happiness”) suggests that two of the most effective ways to increase a person’s overall happiness are feeling grateful and doing thoughtful things for others, so yes — the key to both a happier marriage and a happier life could be the occasional checkout line impulse item.
The husband you don’t want to be is the neglectful one with the miserable, angry wife he tries to placate with occasional seismic gifting — waiting until their anniversary and going bankrupt buying a diamond tennis bracelet or hiring the Three Wise Men to drop by her office with gifts of frankincense and myrrh. His wife knows very well what his gifts are: remedial romancing — a peace offering instead of a love offering. The wiser approach is replacing the thrill of the chase with the thrill of making your wife happy by being regularly attentive. Hug her and tell her she’s beautiful. Change her windshield wipers without being asked (you care about her safety!). Slip out of work to get her a cupcake (at 3 p.m. on a Thursday). Every now and then, mix the little things up with all that stuff guys do early on — stuff like sending flowers after sex, not sneaking out after your wife falls asleep.