Men’s Corner: Four Steps to Better Relationships in the New Year


It’s the traditional time to think about making our lives healthier and happier. Relationships shouldn’t be neglected on our list of New Year’s resolutions.

Readers regularly ask me how to improve a relationship—or, in some cases, start a new one. Below are the most common relationship questions I was asked this year, as well as answers from experts.

Online dating isn’t working. How can I meet someone?

“You need to be out in the open to be discovered,” says Ish Major, a New York City psychiatrist and relationship expert.

You’re most likely to find a like-minded person in the places you already go: the grocery store, gym, church or synagogue. Dr. Major calls this the “sweep around your own doorstep strategy.”

But you must look up from your phone. Make eye contact. Smile. Look approachable. Men, in particular, are looking for cues to approach, Dr. Major says.
Your mom was right: You always need to look presentable when you leave the house. This means no baggy sweats. No dirty ponytails or greasy ball caps. Remember that just as you are looking at other people, they are looking at you. “And nine times out of 10, the day you are off your game is the one day that Bradley Cooper comes down the street with his new puppy,” Dr. Major says.

You’ll need some hobbies. Take up rock climbing. Get involved in the local music scene. Run a race. (Triathlons attract fit people, wearing skimpy clothes, high on endorphins, with their age marked in large numbers on their leg.)

And do these things alone. You are much easier to approach when you’re not in a group.

Volunteering is good. But don’t sit in a corner stuffing boxes of food for the homeless. You need to interact, so get your hands on the volunteer list and be the one to call and rally people. Or volunteer to take photos at the event. That will give you a great excuse to meet everyone.

Tell your friends and family that you are looking. Often, they notice things about you that you don’t notice yourself and can see who would be a good match, Dr. Major says.

And show up to family functions: weddings, graduations, piano recitals. If you meet someone, you will share the fact that you both value family. And you’ll have little competition for attention: How many other well-dressed, smiling singles are likely to be there?

How do I get my partner to try my hobby with me?

This issue is important, experts say, because research shows that couples who try new things together have greater relationship satisfaction. Hobbies often lead to new mutual friends and social activities.

Problems may arise, though, when only one partner is interested (and proficient) in the hobby in question. Think of the power differential: One person is perfectly outfitted in cutting-edge sports gear and gung-ho to share his or her vast knowledge. The other is simply terrified.

So how do you do it? “Patiently, very patiently,” says Julie K. Nelson, a full-time lecturer in the family studies department at Utah Valley University. She once talked her husband into taking up beekeeping with her by giving him a year to warm up to the idea. “I kept telling him I needed him, which made him feel important,” she says.

To reap the benefits of a shared hobby, both partners need to be able to enjoy it, so be realistic. If your hobby truly isn’t a match for your partner’s personality, pick a new one to share.

When trying to get your partner interested, Ms. Nelson says you should offer the idea up slowly, and “don’t be discouraged if the first attempts are shot down.” Be persistent and loving, not pouty and demanding. Find a way to for the partner to “own” part of the idea. “Present it as an exciting challenge, and ask them to find a way to figure out how to solve it,” she says.

She has tips for the resistant spouse, too: You don’t have to participate equally in the hobby. If your husband’s passion is restoring old cars, let him get dirty in the garage. You go for Sunday drives and to car shows.

And ask yourself: “Who would I rather my partner spend time with while they are doing the thing they love most?”

How do I say I am sorry?
Ban the “but.” As in, “I’m sorry, but…” That one little word, and the defensiveness that comes with it, negates your apology.

If you’ve done something wrong, you need to demonstrate genuine remorse. To do this, show the other person that you understand why your actions were hurtful or unfair. And take responsibility instead of blaming other people or the situation you were in, says Andy J. Merolla, associate professor of communication at Baldwin Wallace University, in Berea, Ohio.

And remember: Apologies work best if they arrive sooner rather than later. If you don’t know what you did wrong, ask. Use “I,” as in “I am sorry I did x…” And sincerely promise not to make the same mistake again.

Even if you don’t believe you did anything wrong, you can acknowledge a person’s feelings without accepting blame, Dr. Merolla says. Tell the person you care and want to know why he or she is upset.

How do I get my partner to have more sex with me?
The first, tough step in fixing discrepant desire—when one partner wants more sex—is to talk about it, says Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist in Manhattan.

Many people feel that if they kiss or touch each other, they have agreed to “the full monty,” so they avoid all physical contact if they are not in the mood to go all the way, she says. “It is important to be able to tell your partner: ‘Sometimes I feel like giving or receiving sensual touch, but it may not conclude with intercourse. Is that OK?”

If you want more sex, you should ask your partner to identify his or her top three erotic triggers, she says. Then be prepared to follow up.

Ms. Cooper says you should talk about why you want to have sex. Couples have sex to reconnect, feel loved, reduce stress, cheer up after a rough day, sleep better. Explaining what sex means to you—and understanding what it means to your partner—will help you both empathize with the other’s point of view, Ms. Cooper says.

Plan a block of unstructured time, where you can relax and be sensual. (Remember when you were single and dating? You hung out for hours, and that often led to sex.) So book a baby sitter and unwind together: Make a meal, watch a movie, take a walk—and see what happens.

If all else fails, compromise. You want sex four times a week but your partner is good with once? Try twice a week and see what happens.

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