10 Steps to a Better Love Life

Maximize your body's biology and chemistry to strengthen your relationship. Learn how from Drs. Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, the authors of YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty.

It may seem a little odd for us to be making recommendations about how to improve your love life and your sex life. While we're not in the business of recommending battery-operated toys or suggesting that you transform your favorite yoga position into a newfangled sex position, we are certainly able to tell you how you can maximize your body's biology and chemistry to strengthen your relationships.

Reinvent Your Relationship. Many couples gradually grow apart and have to reconnect. Why? A woman marries a man because she appreciates his potential and then tries to adjust him to fulfill this potential. Conversely, a man marries a woman who is exactly what he wants, and then she goes off and changes. So in effect, as soon as you fall in love, both of you start racing in different directions. Thankfully for you and any offspring, you are held together by chemical handcuffs such as dopamine and oxytocin. But as their levels wane and the cuffs slip off after five to seven years, you need to continually reinvent the marriage. People who have been married 30 years have really had four marriages. Next time you're not talking to each other, use this as an icebreaker.

Don't Talk to Him as if He's a Woman. Women -- typically much more in tune with relationship issues than men are -- tend to have a better handle on communication, while men don't as easily pick up on subtle cues that women project in relationships. So, instead of hitting him, teach the man in your life about these insights, and don't assume he knows what you want (even if you think it should be obvious), so you can share expectations and be happier.

Do the Little Things. Sometimes we think that relationships are made or broken on the grand gestures, the big fights, the four-foot teddy bears won at the carnival. But we could strengthen our relationships immensely with more attention to the details (which can help keep the big problems from surfacing). Try these:

  • Do something positive every day to "deposit" a good feeling in your relationship. A note on a napkin, a kiss on the cheek, a helping hand on a home project. (By the way, if you feel good about yourself, that's also a great gift to give to someone you love.)
  • Make a date. As we get older, especially as we cart the kids to multiple events or work two jobs, it's harder and harder to carve out so?called sweetheart time. Plan time together for just the two of you. Share meals when possible, take a walk, hold hands, or just sit on the couch and catch up while the kids are in the other room playing Wii.
  • Compliment daily. You're never too busy to give compliments. A well-timed "Great hair, honey" can prevent you and your partner from taking each other for granted.
  • Reflect. Remember what your spouse was like when the two of you first started dating. Focus on the characteristics that first attracted you to each other (don't just look there, bucko).

Negotiate. The only rules in a marriage are those that you both agree on. As long as no one is harmed (this is key), any "rules" or policies between partners may be negotiable. That could deal with anything from finances to parental discipline to how you decide where to go on vacation (you do go on vacation, right?). This will help you maintain a relationship filled with vitality and passion. So again, that means you need to talk through your issues -- and your desires. Compromise on big issues, or at least agree to take turns taking the lead on decision making on big issues.

Stay Focused. When you have kids, you are biologically driven to protect your gene pool, i.e., your world revolves around them. They cry for food, they need to be taken to T?ball practice, they request to be dropped off at the mall with their teenage friends. But even as you play protector, parent, and mentor to your children, you need to remember that what created the relationship is your partner, not your children.* And you need to remember that when it comes to both your time and your attention. Tough, we know, but it's helpful to remember that the happier the marriage, the easier it is to deal with the demands of raising children. Bonus: Tending to your marriage will give your children the opportunity to grow up in the care of a loving partnership (which will give them the good examples they need when they grow up). Plus, the kids will leave eventually, and you'll have just each other for the rest of your lives. Remember that kids will not treat themselves the way you treat them -- they will treat themselves the way you treat yourself. Sacrificing all your happiness and giving up all your life aspirations for them will encourage them to do the same when their turn comes. And that's not good for their relationship with their future partner. (* We know this is tough medicine to swallow with the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, but it's important to remember this as you nurture and grow your relationships, as well as your children.)

Develop a Shared Vision. In your prenuptial conversations you may have decided not to have children, to raise the children a certain religion, or never to buy artificially flavored drinks. All those pre-marriage goals and values are well and good, but you will be continually challenged by new issues and problems (kids, death, money), so an important tool is to be able to talk through and develop a shared vision -- especially as your relationship evolves. In developing a shared vision, both partners must develop, grow, work with each other, and talk through problems in nonjudgmental ways. And if you disagree, take advantage of the different approaches to solving problems that each gender brings to the argument.

Give Your Spouse Space. A lot of us think that marriage and commitment have to come with a 24/7 contract -- you're together all the time. You live together, you eat together, you vacation together. Heck, you can't even use the bathroom without knowing where your better half is. But partners in any relationship need a little space and can actually thrive on it. They need to live their own lives, as well as develop their own interests and friends. It's unrealistic to expect another person to fulfill your every need. The truth is that couples grow when individuals can remain individuals. Why? Because each of you will bring more back to the marriage if you're relaxed and refreshed.

Be Unpredictable. Can you name three things that would please your spouse right now? Yes? Then do one of them. Right now (go ahead, we'll still be here when you're done). Remember, the surprise isn't necessarily what you do per se, whether it's planning a surprise night out or trying out our special foot massage*: it's the fact that you unexpectedly took the time to do something special. (* The area of the brain that senses the feet is right next door to the area of the brain that senses the genitals. Meaning: A foot rub is one of the most erotic forms of foreplay around.)

Embrace a Little Tenderness. Pointing the finger works only on the cover of this book -- not in relationships. Placing blame on or judging or analyzing your partner will only distance you from each other, so if the issue isn't all that serious (hello, toilet seat), then be playful and don't take yourself so seriously. Laugh at your own foibles, not your partner's. One of the best ways to give a little ground and prove to each other that you're in this together is actually one of the simplest (and hardest) for couples to do: Say you're sorry every once in a while. It's the relationship Band-Aid that can heal a heck of a lot of wounds.

Make an Appointment. Many of our adult problems come from the fact that our parents weren't emotional with us as kids. Successful relationships require that we peel back this frustration and don't hide from the intimacy that we may sometimes fear. To communicate more effectively on big issues, make an appointment (it ensures your partner will be ready for you).† After you speak, your partner should mirror back what he heard you say by asking, "Is there more?" Next, he validates what you have said by pointing out what makes sense. By doing this, he demonstrates and starts feeling empathy toward you. Then it's his turn to speak. By focusing on love rather than being right or controlling another's behavior, the couple sidesteps the pitfalls of typical arguments. It slows down the pace a bit but is much more effective in the end. († We know you've heard this from psychologist Harville Hendrix. We're a big fan of his, too.)

Learn how you can become a happier, healthier person with You: Being Beautiful.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is a New York Times bestselling author and cofounder and originator of the very popular RealAge.com website. He is professor and chair of the Division of Anesthesia, Critical Care Medicine, and Pain Management, and chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic. Mehment C. Oz, M.D., is also a New York Times bestselling author and the health expert of The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is professor and vice-chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian Columbia University and the medical director of the Integrated Medicine Center and the director of the Heart Institute. They are the coauthors of YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty (Copyright © 2006 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Oz Works LLC, f/s/o Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.)

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