Maybe you’ve been married for a few years or a few decades. Either way, the excitement, spontaneity, and general panic you felt on in the early days of your relationship has likely been replaced by a familiarity, comfort, and new brand of panic associated with being the pater familias. It’s natural. But it can make any marriage feel, well, stale. That’s why you need to dust off single you’s best tool. No, not your shiny Club Monaco “going out shirt”. You need to re-learn how to show your playful, appreciative, and affectionate side. You need to flirt.
“For whatever reason, when we’re married we don’t think we have to or need to do the things we did when we were dating,” says Fran Greene, a couples counselor and author of The Flirting Bible. “Somehow when the commitment is there we feel like we can say ‘Thank God, I don’t have to do that anymore.’ But it’s the opposite.”
Shadeen Francis, a marriage and family therapist based in Philadelphia, agrees. “Quite often, in couples I work with, the issue is not that partners don’t know how to flirt — they forget to make a habit of it, and they become rusty.”
So, how do you build up those reflexes again? Here, with help from Francis and Greene is a refresher course in flirting. Like pretty much anything related to women, it’s a little complex. And occasionally contradictory. What else would you expect?
Don’t Play Pretend
A lot of guys go all Inside the Actors Studio and create a character to flirt with that has personality traits they don’t normally possess. Don’t do that. “You may want to be cool, suave, funny, or aloof,” says Francis. “But if you are none of those things in your regular life and try to personify these traits as you flirt, rather than entice her, you’ll probably confuse her.” There were things you did during your relationship to build to this point, adds Francis. “Some of them could be dusted off and put back into rotation,” she says. Again, not that “going out shirt”
Focus on Her
You’ll have more success flirting if you literally keep your eyes on the prize. “Focus less on being interesting, and work on being interested,” says Francis. “Despite wanting to get something out of it (validation, connection, sex), flirting isn’t just about you.”
One of the easiest ways to knock this down: Practice the posture of interest, says Francis. Maintain eye contact, smile, let her talk without interrupting, lean in, and listen to what she says. (Call it MESLLL if you’re into unhelpful acronyms.) It’s not a novel concept, but 100 percent of wives I didn’t actually survey said they think their husbands could stand to listen a little better.
Compliment Her. In Public.
“The goal of flirting is to make the other person feel as if they are the most important person on the face of the planet,” says Greene. An easy way to do that is to build your wife up in front of others. For starters, it’ll make her feel great about herself. Secondly, it’s a showcase of how much you care, which will be appealing to her in its own way. It’s like building a flirtation feedback loop: “He’s telling them he likes me. I like that. I like him.”
…And in Private
“Part of flirting is pursuing someone in a way that shows your interest,” says Greene. “Often people who are in unsatisfying relationships yearn for their husband to notice them, be appreciative or compliment them. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married. Whatever it is you love about her, find ways to tell her when you’re alone. Look her in the eyes, take her by the hands, and tell her how you feel.” Say something better than “Those quesadillas made me a bit bloated.”
Put Down Your Phone
We get it: It’s shiny and slender and can stream shows. But, seriously — put it down. In fact, turn it off. The act of snubbing significant others in favor of technology is a very real problem — so real in fact that the act has been given its own name. So please, put it down and focus on her. Hell, the simple act of turning it off alone will earn you serious points.
But…Sometimes, You Should Text her
Work is, in modern times, unending. Emails need to be sent and Slack feeds need to be scouted at all hours of the day and night. So if you can’t put down your phone, at least use it to flirt. “What better way to show your love than to send a random message with something as simple as ‘miss you’ or ‘love you’ or ‘can’t wait to see you’?” says Greene. If you’ve been accused of phubbing, insist you just need to send one more message before you sign off. Then shoot her a text expressing how much you love her. Just don’t bust out the ‘ole eggplant-peach-question-mark unless you’re sure it’s the right call.
Rub the small of her back. Hold her hand. Lightly brush her arm with your fingers. Just do something. We’re not talking about erogenous zones or weird routes to pleasure town. Just simple, loving touches. These display a very specific intention: that you want to make a connection.
Just Don’t Always Resort to Touching
The act of not touching can be a form of teasing, a way to build anticipation, particularly when you’re gazing into her eyes and are clear with your intentions. “Questions, observations, and open-ended comments are your best friend here,” says Francis. Think: ‘Have you always been so beautiful?’, ‘I’m thinking about that time when ______ (insert fond sexual, romantic, exciting memory here)’, ‘I think I’m going to get in the shower now, maybe you should join me.’” Note: This last line should not be said in a way that implies your wife is repugnant and needs to bathe. You only want to insinuate that you’d like to see her naked while you are naked too. Maybe just say that. Hell, it’s the effort that counts.