Studies suggest that the average woman speaks 7,000 words a day. The average man mutters just 2,000. It’s that discrepancy between our verbal styles and needs that can turn a once-hot and sex-filled relationship into yesterday’s oatmeal.
Want proof? An oft-cited 2000 study from the University of Washington reported that researchers could predict with 90 percent accuracy whether couples will divorce or stay married simply by listening to them talk for a few minutes. After reviewing data from more than 500 couples, psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D., and his colleagues came up with a mathematical model that can predict the likelihood of divorce. They dub it the “Dow Jones Industrial Average for marital conversation.” A 5-to-1 ratio of positive comments to negative ones indicates a healthy marriage, they say. A ratio lower than that suggests trouble ahead.
A simple rule of thumb, then, is to talk more, share more, and be more open with your emotions. Here are a few things to say that are heartfelt, meaningful, and will get the important, loving conversations going.
1. “I’m so glad we ended up together.”
Every long-term relationship is a celebration of two people beating the odds. The longer the two of you are together, the more couples you’ll know who didn’t make it. Consider a survey that asked 2,000 women for the key factor in deciding whether or not they will sleep with a partner: Forty-six percent responded “knowing where the relationship is headed.” To rekindle her desire, and affirm how much she means to you, focus her attention on the commitment you’ve made to her. The house, the kids, the wedding album—they’re all still there, but she needs spoken evidence, too.
2. “I understand how important this is to you.”
Women gauge the health of a relationship by how well they think you understand them, says Mark Elliott, Ph.D., the director of the Institute for Psychological and Sexual Health, in Columbus, Ohio. And one of the ways to communicate understanding to your partner is not to spring into action every time she expresses concern about something—a common male default. Instead of saying “here’s how we fix this,” simply listen to her and acknowledge that you understand her concern, even if you disagree with it. Listening and understanding are powerful validations of how much you respect her.
3. “Let me tell you how my presentation went.”
When she asks how your day went, she doesn’t want to hear “fine, and yours?” She wants details, not a highlight reel. To maximize the effectiveness, frame things in terms of your emotional reactions: “I was nervous when they didn’t jump at the offer, but I felt excited when they realized I was right.” “She needs to hear you talk about your feelings as best you can. You’ll be amazed at what revealing your feelings can do for the level of intimacy between you,” says Les Parrott III, Ph.D., the author of Love Talk.
4. “Let’s talk about Jenny’s grades tomorrow. Tonight should just be about us.”
When the two of you have alone time together, focus on that. In bed, focus on each other and the moment as much as possible, whether or not it leads to sex. “Don’t bring critical conversations into the bed. These are some of the most important minutes in your relationship each day,” says Parrott.
5. “I’ve been fantasizing about making you feel good.”
Here’s a shocker: When it comes to sexual fantasies, women are more selfish than men. In a 2004 survey by the University of California at Santa Cruz of 85 men and 77 women ages 21 to 45, more than two-thirds of the men said they fantasized about pleasing their partners, while more than half of the women fantasized about their own pleasure. “Women focus on themselves in fantasy because in real life the man’s pleasure is prioritized,” says study author Eileen Zubriggan, Ph.D. Key into your partner’s fantasy; let her know her wish is your command.
6. “Put the 14th on your calendar; I’m taking you away.”
Tune in to your wife’s sexual calendar by timing her menstrual cycle, suggests Scott Haltzman, M.D., the author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. Then time your romantic weekends accordingly. Ovulation raises testosterone levels, which makes some women extremely horny during their most fertile days. The science: A study of 68 sexually active women published in the Journal of Human Reproduction revealed elevated levels of testosterone and an average 24 percent increase in the frequency of intercourse during the 6 days leading up to each woman’s ovulation. Calculate the start of this magic window by counting 2 weeks after she begins her period and subtracting 6 days.
7. “I’ll draw you a bath.”
“Many women need a transition period between dealing with the stress of work and family life and feeling sexual,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., the author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.
“A few minutes of foreplay usually aren’t enough.” After a few years together, men tend to start shortening foreplay, but the average woman takes 27 minutes to reach orgasm. A warm bath is a good place to start.
8. “You deserve a long weekend with your girlfriends. I’ll watch the kids.”
A 2004 study conducted at Purdue University found that long-distance couples have fewer trivial arguments than those couples who live with each other. “Because their time together is so precious, [long-distance lovers] really make an effort to reserve time for the relationship when they do see each other,” explains Mary Carole Pistole, Ph.D., an associate professor of counseling psychology at Purdue University.
9. I adore your freckles.”
In order to feel sexy, a woman first has to feel beautiful. “Women get intimacy from words,” says anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, the author of Why We Love. “You look beautiful” is a fine comment. But follow up by complimenting her on something that is unique to her, like her laugh or her freckles. This assures her that you find her attractive, as opposed to every other woman in the room.
10. “I’ve always thought it would be fun if you didn’t use your hands.”
During those times when the two of you are on solid ground and you want to move things to a higher plane, consider pushing the boundaries a bit. A recent survey of 2,000 women found that two out of three were interested in light bondage. The key is to keep the adventure positive. “Don’t imply that you want this because the sex has grown stale,” says Elliott. “When you phrase it as something fun you want to try, it’s about having a good time, not fixing something that’s broken.”
11. “Let’s show the kids our honeymoon photos.”
Reminding your wife of commonalities you share—whether it’s a birth date, a passion for Japanese architecture, or your favorite vacation spot—will ignite her desire for you, suggests research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. There’s even a scientific term for the phenomenon: “implicit egotism.” It means we humans are attracted to things and people that remind us of ourselves.
12. “I’ll meet you in the bedroom after I fold the laundry.”
In a study of 3,500 people completed in 2003, researchers at the University of California at Riverside found that men who performed the most domestic chores were more sexually attractive to their partners than husbands who never or rarely pitched in around the house. Again, women react to verbal cues: It helps to nonchalantly mention it whenever you feel the urge to wash, dry, or fold.
13. “The weather’s terrible. Let me pick up the kids from daycare.”
Women prefer mates who are protective and heroic rather than reckless and risk-taking, according to a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. In the study, which involved 52 women, researchers described fictional men who decided whether or not to climb a steep mountain, travel alone in treacherous terrain, or jump into a river to save a drowning child. The majority of the subjects said they admired the men who took heroic risks but were not very impressed by the thrill-seeking adventurers.
“A woman wants a mate who is going to survive to continue being a provider and protector for her children and her,” explains study author William Farthing, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Maine.