The next time you stop at McDonald's, try this: At the counter, say, "I'd like to have a hamburger, fries, and a Coke, please." Then listen carefully to the cashier. If she's worth her salt, she'll ask you, "Will that be large fries and a large Coke?" You see, a well-trained cashier would never ask, "Will that be small fries and a small Coke?"
What's the difference?
Just millions of dollars. Changing one word—large instead of small—is called "suggestive selling." That's no accident. McDonald's intentionally places a positive thought in your mind about buying the large size. Why? The company's research shows that customers will, more often than not, sink their teeth into the larger order if presented with the larger option.
Understanding customer behavior isn't small potatoes.
When multiplied by millions of orders a month, tens of millions of extra dollars a year flow into hungry cash registers—all because the company took the time to know the customers.
McDonald's is so committed to understanding its clientele, it even knows most customers prefer to bite into a hamburger and taste the ketchup before the mustard.
What does all this have to do with romance? Plenty. The success McDonald's has experienced as the world leader of fast-food franchises came about because the company became a careful student of the customer. In the same way, one key to thriving in your relationship is to understand your wife. This is not to suggest that you should try to manipulate her. Rather, as you invest time and effort to understand your wife, you'll discover how to define romance using your wife's dictionary.
I have to admit that I defined romance for years using my distinctly male dictionary. We men spell romance: S-E-X. However, I've learned that when I want to communicate romance with Barbara, I'd better understand how she defines the word! As a husband does this, he understands the three nonnegotiables for a romantically satisfying relationship: security, acceptance, and an emotional connection. Let's unpack these one at a time.
Nonnegotiable #1: Security
If a man heard somebody breaking into his house in the middle of the night, what guy wouldn't grab a baseball bat and defend his wife and his children against the intruder? That's a given. But did you know that your wife is, in many ways, under assault every day? Look carefully, and you'll discover there are all kinds of forces that have already broken into her life; they've already compromised the security of your home life.
Who are these intruders?
Often they come in the form of unresolved issues from the past—wounds from abuse, from family abandonment, from poor choices in the past, or from a divorce. These trespassers might not be obvious to you on the surface, but they can rob your wife's sense of well-being years after the fact.
For example, when Barbara and I were first married, I had no idea that she had experienced some painful things growing up. Some of those wounds began to surface about 15 years into our marriage. I'm going to purposefully be vague because what she had experienced was not as important as how I responded. When the persistent invaders finally came out of the shadows, I did my best to comfort her and express the love of Christ to her.
Although I didn't always know what to do, I didn't run from her wounds. I didn't deny she'd been hurt. I tried to let her know that she was loved and that our relationship was a safe place for her to begin to heal. And I asked God to give me wisdom to know how to encourage her. God does answer prayer.
Even as I shouldered the burden with her, I knew we could use some added help from a professional, so we made arrangements for counseling. Barbara would say today that those days were very challenging, but going through the experience together enabled her ultimate freedom.
Past issues are not the only unwelcome guests that threaten a wife's security. She desires to know her husband is committed to providing financial security in the home. Do you take the lead in establishing a family budget and pay off bills in a timely manner that creates security, or do you create fear with reckless financial decisions?
She wants a relationship built upon the bedrock security of a husband who refuses to follow his temptations. Are you a man in control of your passions, or do you lack self-control? And when she is subjected to a cruel or emotionally abusive co-worker, family member, or friend, she needs a husband who will defend her. Do you protect her emotionally from any person who is trying to take advantage of her by going to that person and verbally shielding her?
What vandals threaten her security? Does she struggle with the memory of an abortion, sexual abuse, or her parents' divorce that robs her joy today? Are there unhealthy influences or relationships in her life? Does she fear the future: growing old, children leaving home, the loss of parents and friends?
If so, how do you plan to evict these home invaders?
Allow me to suggest that you do not try to "fix" it or "fix" her. Most importantly, I'd encourage you to pray with and for her. Do not underestimate the power of praying for your wife. Pray simply, but pray out loud. Take her by the hand and ask God for wisdom and help with the task. Proverbs 2:6 assures you that "the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding" (NKJV). Ask God to guide you.
Secondly, I'd encourage you to repeatedly verbalize your love and commitment to her. Your wife may be about to take on an emotional giant in her life and she needs to know that you are standing with her and for her. Remind her that you promised "for better or worse."
Third, give her the freedom to process what she is experiencing emotionally with you. This kind of conversation means that you become a safe haven in an emotional storm. Let her talk without offering a solution. Comfort her with words of understanding that create hope.
It's a wise husband who can look back into his wife's life and evaluate how she has been affected by past events rather than sit back and be critical of how she was raised, or make negative comments about the parents who raised her. Instead, the prudent husband will serve as a healing ointment, a salve of love, one that fosters an environment where healing takes place.
Romance thrives in a secure relationship.
Nonnegotiable #2: Acceptance
When it comes to acceptance, every man should take a page from the Song of Solomon and apply it to his marriage. You see, Solomon knew the importance of elevating his wife's beauty, her appearance, her dignity, her worth, and her value as a woman. As you'll see in a moment, he carefully chose his words to communicate how beautiful she was to him. Such praise and affirmation are essential for a woman to hear. Acceptance begins with an understanding of what your wife is feeling about herself.
Does she feel good about the way she looks? Her hair? Her clothes and shoes? Her weight? Her skin tone? Her body image? Her teeth? Her overall attractiveness? Chances are good that she compares herself to the airbrushed models of perfection she sees every day. From the covers of the magazines in the checkout line to the advertisements she watches on television, your wife is constantly made to feel inferior, unworthy, and unacceptable.
Solomon recognized his bride's need for affirmation and didn't hesitate to go beyond mere acceptance. He lavished praise on her. He said, "I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh" (Song of Solomon 1:9). Now, before you try that line on your wife, keep in mind the context. The picture was of Solomon's finest mare, most likely an Arabian beauty, a dark creature of unquestioned magnificence. It was the finest horse that money could buy. This exotic creature would have turned heads—maybe even caused a stampede because of her exquisite beauty. In other words, Solomon used poetic language to tell his wife that she was magnificent.
But that's not all.
Solomon quickly added, "Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver" (Song of Solomon 1:10–11). He not only accepted her and saw her as a woman of great beauty, but he lavished jewelry on her. When was the last time you sprang for a new bracelet? A necklace? A ring? Like Solomon, let your wife know you esteem her greatly by giving her something extraordinary.
When Barbara and I were first married, I realized early on that she needed to be cherished for her beauty. When we started to have children, her body began to change. She wondered if she was still physically attractive to me. I worked at praising her beauty at that stage in our marriage. And now that we've moved into the empty nest years, I can't coast. I understand how important it is for me to continue to praise her. The truth is, I think she's spectacular!
In the same way, your wife longs for unconditional acceptance. She secretly hopes you'll notice and commend her various qualities—her receptivity and obedience to God, her personality, her faithfulness in raising children and making a home. Because you are the most important person in her life, your affirmation and acceptance unleash an inner beauty and a confidence that radiate.
Nonnegotiable #3: Emotional connection
Marriage is a partnership that takes teamwork. Some men fail in their partnership because they don't make an emotional connection with their wives. Heidi, who attended one of FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, writes, "My husband does nothing to help me around the house. I am just plain tired. I do all the laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, everything after working all day ... oh, we'll stay married, but I just know we could be happier."
Did you know that when you participate in family life by sharing in some of the daily duties, you connect with your wife on an emotional level? Men spell romance s-e-x, but women spell romance r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n-s-h-i-p. Working together around the house or in the yard (Barbara's other domain) is a great way to communicate your love for your wife.
Another way to connect emotionally is to compliment your wife. Proverbs 16:24 offers this pointer: "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (NKJV). How often do you praise your wife for what she does? Consider a few of these compliments to brighten her day:
- "Dinner was great! Thank you for always making creative meals, even when you're tired of cooking."
- "I love the way you read books to our kids. That's so much better for them than watching TV."
- "I'm grateful that you carefully budget our paycheck each month."
- "I admire the way you handled yourself with that rude salesman—you have such a winsome approach."
- "The flowers you planted make our home so much more inviting. I appreciate your hard work."
As you work to make an emotional connection with your words and actions, go below the surface to the real issues of life. How? Start to talk with her. For some, this involves a conscious choice. Share with her, for example, what goes on at work—what you're doing well, where you're struggling, the people you're working with, the people you encounter. Most women love hearing all of the details. You'll also discover that she can provide wise counsel on different issues you're facing.
Finally, ask your wife questions about what she is feeling, and then listen to her. One way I do this with Barbara is to ask questions that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no." For example, I might ask her, "How did that exchange with our teenage son make you feel?" Making the effort to know specifics about her background, her favorite things, and her dreams all communicate to her, "I want to know you. I want to be your soul mate."
A favorite question that I asked Barbara was, "What is the most courageous thing you've ever done in your life?" Try that question on a date night with your wife, and give her time to think about her answer. You might consider sharing how you would answer the question. Here are some more questions to help you make the connection:
- What is one of your earliest childhood memories?
- What is one thing from your past that you struggle with?
- What was one of your proudest achievements before we met?
- What was your relationship with your dad like? How about your mom?
- What would you say was our best family vacation, and why?
- What is your favorite book in the Bible? Hymn? Why?
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?
- What dreams do you have for our children?
- What do you long to experience with me in our marriage?
- What do you want to accomplish after the kids are grown?
As you study your wife and learn how and when to build security, acceptance, and emotional connection into your relationship, you will become an irresistible man.
And let me make one last practical suggestion: When you come home from work, here are four of the most romantic words to say to your wife: How can I help? You'll never go wrong asking this question any time of the day or night. Those words are music to her ears because they demonstrate that you desire to connect to her world. Why not try it—and mean it—tonight?
Adapted by permission from Rekindling the Romance, by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Copyright © 2004. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.