A pastor I know recently delivered probably the Worst Gift Ever: he bought his wife a digital bathroom scale. She had been mentioning wanting one for weeks, yet when she opened the gift, a stony silence followed.

This man is not alone in the Romance Hall of Shame. One of the most popular Christmas videos circulating online this year was a four minute vignette aptly titled “The Doghouse,” depicting the mythical dungeon for husbands who come bearing the wrong gift: a dual bag vacuum, a moustache-waxer, a gym membership. The only way out was to purchase a diamond. But even a shiny rock wouldn’t satisfy me! If my husband spent that much money on something frivolous without talking tome first, I’d be livid. For many men, buying the right gift is indeed a daunting challenge.

While we women demean you men as being hopeless at romance, I have the sneaking suspicion we’re often the ones at fault.

Recently I was booked for a weeklong speaking tour and was rather distracted the night before I left. So we didn’t—you know. When I did finally return home it was midnight. So we didn’t—you know. The next night I knew Keith was hoping for something, but I was tired and grumpy. The night after that, though, I threw myself into it and a good time was enjoyed by all.

The following day he brought me flowers. I smiled through clenched teeth.

I assumed they were Sex Flowers. Keith was probably just feeling deliriously close to me, but I inferred a much more nefarious motive. “She made love to me, so she needs to be rewarded! I will buy flowers now, but withhold affection when she doesn’t perform, to blackmail her into it!” For the next week I grimaced every time I eyed those pink blooms. It wasn’t one of my finest moments. Here my husband was trying to woo me, and instead I zapped him.

Attempting romance can be dangerous indeed. If you fail to try, she accuses you of being insensitive and selfish. If you try but do it wrong, then she assumes you only care about one thing. But just because we women make romance difficult doesn’t mean you should abandon the project altogether. Romance, after all, is the image God uses to describe how He loves us. He pursues us, and when you pursue your wife, you mirror Him.

Romance is also crucial simply because she’s hardwired to need it. I’m going to generalize here for a moment, but most men’s greatest need is for sex. For women, our greatest need from our husbands is for affection, which we experience through your romantic overtures. Without affection, we find it very hard to feel close to you or to want to make love to you.

Romance may be tough, but just remember that the hard thing to do is often the right thing to do. And you can do it! Romance isn’t a magical gene that only some chosen few possess; it is a carefully honed practice of watching, noticing and caring that any man can perfect with enough effort.

So how do you accomplish it? The first task is to become a student of your wife. What does she like? What relaxes her? What excites her? Speak her language and value what she values. One of the things she probably values is important dates, like anniversaries and birthdays. Don’t forget them, and don’t forget at least a small token of your affection.

But here’s the even harder part: be romantic not only when you’re feeling close to her. Reach out when you see that she’s exhausted, tired or at the end of her rope. Send her love notes when she is low. Call her from work just to say, “I love you.” Send her an email to say you’re thinking about her and praying for her.

Just as God pursues us even when we reject Him, pursue your wife even if she appears to rebuff you. And do it without expectations. One of the most romantic things a man can do is to cuddle with his wife, give her a long kiss, and then roll over and go to sleep—even if it kills him. Do this, and you show her you value her, and not just what she can do for you. Maybe next time she won’t let you turn away!

The road to romance is paved with good intentions but strewn with the scattered bodies of men who have bought digital scales, sex flowers or washing machines. It doesn’t need to be that way. Become a scholar of your wife, and you might just find that she begins to speak your language of romance back.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is a syndicated columnist, popular blogger and speaker, and award-winning author. Sheila blogs primarily about sex and marriage at ToLoveHonorandVacuum.com.

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