A wonderful marriage depends upon a lot of things. But the biggest factor just may be you. A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, showed wives tend to control the happiness of their unions, especially when it comes to diffusing conflict. “Women have more influence than they realize,” says marriage therapist Carin Goldstein, creator of BeTheSmartWife.com. “Men are reactive, while wives are introspective and take a more effective approach.” Beyond disagreements, you’re likely to be more adept at helping your marriage in the following areas. Photo by Getty Images.
1. With the in-laws. Besides having an innate desire to nurture relationships, “women are typically better at picking up familial nuances and dynamics,” says Match.com relationship expert Whitney Casey. That’s why it makes sense for you to take the lead on connecting with in-laws. Set times to spend with them (and apart from them) and establish what is and isn’t acceptable with them-and between your husband and them. But it’s not your job to repair flawed relationships your partner might have. Instead, “love your husband through his family issues and do your best to keep him and your children happy,” Casey recommends.
2. With sex. No, we don’t mean only you should call the shots during the deed. To love your sex life, you must “discuss what you both expect,” Casey explains. Since women are usually more comfortable tackling sensitive topics, start the conversation. And if you’re not getting busy as often as you’d like, casually plan on it after scheduled date nights; guys don’t set sexy time in advance because they think the lack of spontaneity takes the “sexy” right out. To feel sexier and enjoy yourself more, prep for a romp with “a manicure, massage or even yoga,” Casey suggests-anything that gets your mind off daily tasks.
Related: Discover 8 secrets of sexually satisfied couples.
3. With travel plans. Women are natural planners-“it’s the gathering mentality,” Goldstein explains-so if your last vacation alone with your husband was your honeymoon, consider getting away again. Goldstein says trips are the most overlooked way to rev your relationship. “Women don’t do it because they’re afraid to leave the kids or afraid they won’t have fun with their spouse,” says Goldstein, who assures these fears are almost always overblown. Sometimes, you need special, focused time to reconnect as a couple-even if you can swing only a night or two away.
4. With conversation. While you’re a pro at gabbing with your girlfriends, men don’t generally share their feelings. Yet it’s a good emotional release for your husband. But he’ll open up only if the atmosphere is right, which is something you can enable. “Men take in information in small doses,” says clinical psychologist Andra Brosh, PhD. “They shut down when overwhelmed. Timing is everything.” Right after any stressful situation, like work, is not the golden hour for chatting. “Ask him if there’s a good time to talk,” Dr. Brosh says, and assure him you don’t have anything serious to discuss so he doesn’t worry.
5. With housework. Little-known fact: Most men want to be useful to their wives. Still, studies show women oversee family chores more often than guys. If you’re not getting the assistance you’d like from your man, “calmly tell him where you need help and why,” advises marriage and family therapist Erin Foster, EdD. “Husbands often don’t know how they can help, and therefore do nothing rather than do something wrong.” He’ll appreciate the hint and likely start pitching in.
6. With time apart. To grow together, you must tackle your personal needs as they arise. But you’re better than he is at detecting when you need a break from each other. Be the one to call timeout. “Time apart creates healthy space for each partner to actually miss the other,” Dr. Brosh says. It can rejuvenate your relationship-and yourself. So plan that girls’ spa trip, and suggest he see his buddies. When you return home, show your man just how happy you are to be back.
7. With the kids. Science says women naturally exhibit maternal instincts, but men may need a nudge into the parenting fold since they see “strong mother-and-child bonds” right from pregnancy, says Dr. Foster. She suggests encouraging your husband to establish loving norms with the kids, from gentle discipline to daddy-daughter/son dinners. “This creates a sense of safety within the family unit,” Dr. Foster says. “When children know what’s expected of them from parents working as a team, they’re less likely to act out.” And that reduces conflict between you and your husband, she adds.
8. With shaking things up. Novelty is the key to a happy relationship, and men especially crave it. “Routines are nice, and why many people want to be in a relationship, but they can also be binding and lead to complacency,” says Dr. Brosh. Concoct a way to connect that you’ll both enjoy-going on a day trip, seeing a concert or simply sneaking up behind him for a long, lingering embrace. The bottom line: Occasionally, just do something unexpected.