--By Gary Smalley

         The most important objective of this is to help you become your husband's best friend. A best friend is someone with whom you share intimately, someone with whom you love to spend time. Maybe that doesn't describe your husband's feelings for you at present--or your feelings for him. But don't give up hope. We will discuss some ways you can become his closest companion.

Share Common Experiences Together. Within a period of three years, I interviewed more than 50 families who were very satisfied with their inner-family relationships. Theirs was not a superficial satisfaction, but a deep love & fulfilment. The families came from diverse geographical & social settings, & their economic bases ranged from very modest to very wealthy. But all the families had certain things in common, one of which was a concern for togetherness.
         Careful planning was an essential key in these homes. Though a certain degree of flexibility was present for the pursuit of individual interests, each family member worked to create a mutually supportive unit.
         Typically, the husband & wife spent some time in joint activities, but more time in activities including their children. When one of the family members participated in an individual activity, the others made an effort to support him or her. (For example, the whole family would turn out for a Little League ball game.)
         Your first attempt at scheduling family activities may be difficult due to overcommitment. If your husband or family is already worn out with too many activities, they won't be exuberant over your new ideas. You may even be too tired to consider them yourself. But you can make time for them by learning to concentrate on your priorities.

Attack & Conquer Tragedies As a Couple, Not as Individuals. Lasting friendships are built in foxholes. Nothing binds two people together faster than a common struggle against the enemy. Virtually any crisis can draw you & your husband closer, whether it be a stopped-up sink or your son's serious illness.

Make Important Decisions Together. This has forced us to communicate on deeper levels than I ever thought existed, helping us to gain an understanding of our individual viewpoints. It has forced us to look beneath surface opinions & discover the very root of our own thinking. When we disagree about a situation, our commitment to this principle helps us verbalise our feelings until we understand each other. Six years have passed since we made that commitment, & it continues to work far beyond our expectations.
         One man told me he would have saved more than $30,000 in the stock market if he had put this principle into action six months earlier. I'm always glad to find men who are willing to admit the value of their wives' counsel. After all, no one knows a man better than his "best friend."

Develop a Sense of Humour. You probably weren't somber & sad when your husband married you. So, if you want to be his best friend now, you may need to add a little humour to your relationship. No need to buy a clown suit. Just look for ways to tickle his funny bone.
         There are countless ways to add humour to your marriage. Be willing to enjoy just having fun together as friends.

         It was the dead of Winter, & Lois felt as if she had been cooped up in the house for weeks. She had been invited to a women's luncheon so she jumped at the chance to get out of the house. She got in her car, turned the key, & to her dismay found that the battery was dead. Realising her plans were ruined, she rummaged through her purse for the house keys. Suddenly she remembered she had left the keys inside the house. It was definitely "one of those days"...she couldn't go to the luncheon, she couldn't get into the house, her neighbours weren't home, & there wasn't a phone nearby.
         Her only choice was to trudge to a phone in the bitter weather. On the way, a high school student recognised her & offered her a ride. She decided to go to her husband's office instead. Discouraged & depressed, she needed her husband's comfort.
         Enter husband--irritated & angry. He just couldn't believe she had locked herself out of the house. And to top it all off, she had the gall to embarrass him by coming to his office during work hours. Just so it wouldn't happen again, he let the harsh words fly. Of course, his words produced nothing but more frustration & hurt feelings in Lois.
         If your relationship with your husband is to be strengthened, it's vitally important that he learn when & how to comfort you. You shouldn't feel guilty about your need for someone to "lean on." That need is not a sign of weakness, as some would have you believe. It's simply a part of our human nature. We all need to lean at times.

Get Excited Over His Attempts to Comfort You. The first step in motivating your husband to comfort you is to respond in a big way to each time he does the slightest thing to comfort you. This is called positive reinforcement. It demonstrates how much you appreciate his understanding. I'm not telling you to try out for cheerleader each time he comforts you. Just remember to do something special for him--maybe a day, even a week later. Perhaps a special meal, a romantic night in the bedroom, or an unexpected love note in his lunch box or wallet.
         It is extremely important that you never ridicule or belittle any of your husband's attempts to comfort you. Even when his attempts are inadequate, rather than calling attention to his failure, praise him for anything positive in his actions. (Even the attempt itself is a move in the right direction!) Never try to gain his comfort by criticising him for not comforting you.
Teach Your Husband How to Comfort by Being His Example. The second step concerns the principle of reaping & sowing. One of the most effective ways to teach your husband how to comfort you is to discover how he likes to be treated when he's down. Teach by example. When you sense that he is fearful or uncertain, ask him to tell you how he feels. Tell him you understand. If he reacts to you, saying something like, "Don't treat me like a little kid," then try another approach. Perhaps he feels unmanly or childish in your comforting arms. In that case, you can comfort him with your words & facial expressions. He won't resist when you learn to comfort him the way he needs to be comforted.

Tell Him Gently How You Desire to Be Comforted. The third step is to teach him how you, as a woman, need to be comforted. It's important to remember that his natural inclination may be to solve your problems "logically" so that they don't arise again.
         There was a woman who received a lecture virtually every time she needed comfort. She had to remind her husband four or five times, "Don't try to tell me why it happened. Just hold me." He finally got the message. Had she not persisted, he never would have learned how to comfort her. (One encouraging point: They had been married nine years before she tried to teach him how to comfort her, but it only took a few weeks for him to catch on.)
         A lot of men avoid soft words & tender comfort because they have never been taught how to use them. Also, they simply don't understand the positive effects they will have on their wives & the sense of well-being they themselves will receive. I have found that once a man has learned why & how to comfort, he gains a real appreciation for the role it plays in the marital relationship.

         Tim glanced across the breakfast table at Ruth. As he looked at her, he came to a sickening realisation--"I don't feel in love with her any more...why am I even married to this woman?"
         Obviously, Tim's ailment couldn't be cured with two aspirin & plenty of fluids. He was suffering from the age-old problem of unrealistic expectations, thinking his mate would always be the 22-year-old he married. But she had changed in the past eight years.
         Typically, most of us expect our mates to retain their original physical & emotional attractiveness. But a funny thing happens on the way to retirement...we change. And if we change the things our mates once found attractive, we have to replace them with something better.
Keep a Spark Burning. There are several ways you can "keep a small spark burning" in your husband's heart for you. I know that you would love to see your husband initiate romance, but you may have to light the fire yourself for awhile. Even though you begin to practice some of the following ideas, your husband may not fall head-over-heels in love with you overnight. However, his affections will change gradually. So don't be surprised if someday you wake up & he's the one kissing you on the cheek. The ideas I suggest are by no means all-encompassing. There are probably thousands of ways to bring romance into your relationship. I hope that mine will serve as a springboard for your own creative ways.

Plan Activities that Will Make Him Feel Special. Here you can let your imagination run wild. Although the possibilities are endless, you know what types of activities would make your husband feel special.--Perhaps his favourite meal by candlelight, wearing his favourite perfume or a dress he really likes.

Occasionally be the Initiator in the Sexual Relationship. Men usually initiate sexual advances in marriage & do not really need preparation to be sexually aroused. A woman, on the other hand, needs to be prepared with gentle loving romance. Her responsiveness to sexual advances may even be affected by her husband's behaviour over the past days or weeks. Although you understand this, your husband may not. Even though it may seem unnatural, it is important that you occasionally initiate intimacy if you wish to increase his affection for you.
         For a woman to engage freely in love-making, she has to give her whole self to her lover. When she is unable to do this because of his bad treatment or inadequate preparation, she feels as if he is simply using her body. If you have felt similarly toward your husband, it may sound nauseating to initiate sex with him on sheer willpower. However, as your relationship grows & deepens, you will find it more natural to give yourself to him & even initiate sexual intimacy.
         When you do initiate it from time to time, use imagination to make the bedroom & your appearance as inviting as possible. Perfume, candlelight, gentle words, & a soft touch are just a few of the ways you can add creativity to the occasion.

Remain Flexible. If you want your marital relationship to deepen, it is very important that you learn to be flexible. I believe there is nothing as important to you or your family as a good, loving relationship. When he comes home & sees that you are willing to set aside your schedule for an unrushed conversation, he feels valued & loved.

Keep Yourself in Good Physical Condition. Health's most bitter enemies are lack of sleep & an improper diet. When they team up with constant stress, they can leave a woman irritable--not exactly an invitation to her husband's affection.
         Believe it or not, one major answer to the problem of fatigue, listlessness, & irritability is regular vigorous exercise.

Increase Your Responsiveness to Your Husband. A man loves a responsive woman! In fact, a man's self-confidence is directly related to the way others respond to him. Following are at least two ways you can increase your responsiveness to your husband:

Maintain an Openness & Willingness to Yield to Him. In suggesting a willingness to yield to your husband, I am not talking about the doormat concept of blind submission. God gave you a mind & feelings that He never intended your husband to trample underfoot. I am talking about the willingness to be open to whatever your husband has to say--a willingness to hear him out & yield, if you can do so without violating your own conscience.
         A man needs to have a submissive attitude towards his wife by considering her feelings & unique personality when making decisions. He needs to be willing at times to yield to her preferences. The more mature we are, the more willing we are to yield to one another.

Keep the Imagination in Your Relationship Alive. Most of us are not fond of our daily ruts. We flock to the unusual, the novel, the unexpected in life. It's no wonder that routine marriages break up. There are too many interesting carnivals all around. When a wife can predict her husband's every mood & a husband can predict his wife's, their marriage is in for trouble. As they say, "Variety is the spice of life." So put some spice into your marriage!
         Monotony can't set in when you add variety to your dinners, your conversations, your outings, your dates, your sex life, & your appearance.

Clear Up Your Past Offences Toward Him. Each time you offend your husband without clearing it up, you drive a wedge in your relationship. Nothing will remove that wedge except your humble request for his forgiveness. Write down at least three or four things you have done recently to offend your husband. Then go to him with a humble attitude & ask his forgiveness. You might even take it a step further & ask him what other areas of your life offend him.
         Sally was afraid to try this because her close friend had been blasted when she asked her husband how she could improve as a wife & mother. "But I'm still planning on doing it," Sally said, "because I saw how much it improved my friend's marriage." Sally's friend had finally let her husband's correction sink in & take effect. "She stopped dominating & let him lead out in public," Sally told me, "& it really improved their relationship."
         Perhaps the greatest step toward maturity is learning how to admit when we are wrong.

Use Your Natural Attractive Qualities. Years ago a friend of mine was attending a retreat for college students. He had been married for about four years & was actively involved in counselling college-age young people. On the retreat, a very attractive young girl came to him for counselling. In a moment of emotion, she put her arms around him seeking his comfort. He tells me that to this day, 16 years later, he can still remember her soft & gentle embrace. He said that in the course of his marriage, his wife, who had been so gentle & affectionate when they were dating, had never touched him so softly. But one moment with that young girl had melted him. He said he hasn't seen her since, but he's never forgotten that soft voice & gentle touch.
         What has happened to all the lovable characteristics that first attracted your husband to you? Perhaps it was your quiet, gentle voice...your gentle spirit... your ability to listen... your vivacious personality... your keen mind... your sense of humour... whatever qualities made the total person to whom he was initially attracted. Have some of them gotten lost through the years? Do you scream for his attention now? Are you too busy to listen to him? Have you lost your sense of humour?
         If you are to recapture his attention, you must somehow recapture & exhibit those qualities unique to you that first drew him to you. (These same qualities are very likely what might now attract him into the arms of another woman who exhibits them.)

Gently Teach Him by Sharing Your Feelings. Your husband may think he is one of the most affectionate men ever to walk the face of the Earth. If he's not, are you willing to teach him how to be? Maybe he assumes going to bed with you is all the affection you need. You & I both know nothing could be further from the truth. When you do share your feelings, wait for the right time & the right circumstances. Present your feelings as clearly & logically as you can. If he reacts negatively to them, wait for another time. But be persistent. Try not to pressure him, but patiently & gently explain to him how you feel.

         "Hi, Honey. Just a little note to tell you that I love you & miss you. Hurry back to me!"
         John smiled to himself as he folded his note & put it back in his wallet. During his ten-year marriage, he has had to travel a lot. He usually arrives at his hotel discouraged & lonely. But through the years, his wife has made those times of separation a lot more pleasant by hiding cards, letters, even cookies in his suitcase.
         "I get a warm feeling whenever I find a surprise," he says, "because I'm reminded of her love for me. It really makes me feel better, though I still miss her."
         John kept one of her notes in his billfold during his last business trip. Whenever he was down, he took it out & reread it. The note was a constant reminder of her love & appreciation for him.
         John's wife gained his praise & appreciation by freely showing appreciation for him. I have found that everyone has a deep hunger for praise & appreciation. Never in all my years of counselling have I heard a woman complain of too much praise from her husband.
         But I have heard the opposite. "My husband is always so critical. If he would only appreciate the things I do." Though many wives may feel there is no hope, I know a husband can learn to praise his wife. I have found two ways a woman can increase her husband's appreciation for her & at the same time stimulate his outward expression of appreciation.

Showing Approval of Your Husband. Men hunger for appreciation from others. They will gladly receive recognition from secretaries, employers, employees, friends, or anyone else willing to give it.
         When a man knows his wife approves of him, he enjoys her companionship. He will find himself spontaneously complimenting her in response to the approval she gives.
         Instead of demanding appreciation from your husband or shedding tears when he doesn't give it, try the approaches suggested below.
         One way to show approval is the "direct approach"--expressing esteem for your husband verbally or through letters, love notes & cards.
         Though it's true that all men need appreciation, not all men like the same form of appreciation. Be careful to avoid forms your husband might find gushy or overly sentimental. You can discern what will encourage your husband & what will embarrass him by trying several ways until a few really hit home.
         The "indirect" approach is another way to show approval of your husband. I could list thousands of indirect ways to show approval for your husband. My wife knows plenty of them. Just to name a few: She welcomes my suggestions about her wardrobe; she introduces me to new friends with a tone of voice that reflects admiration for me; & she constantly tells our children how much she appreciates me.
         I remember the time when I came home from work dead on my feet, too tired to protest when my daughter climbed into my lap with sticky fingers. "Daddy, Mommy says you work real hard to take good care of us." A warm sensation spread over me, & suddenly I didn't feel so tired. (Chances are, your children will let your husband know what's being said "behind his back." I hope for his sake that it's good.)
Three Ways to Alienate Your Husband. Wives often alienate their husbands by unknowingly expressing disapproval of them. Here's how one woman's disapproval drove a wedge between her husband & her.
         Joan always greeted Frank at the door with pushy advice about this problem or that decision. He began to dread his homecoming each day because he envisioned Joan as a stalking lion, ready to pounce on him.
         A man often interprets his wife's bossiness as a lack of approval. "She must not think I'm too capable, judging from all the advice she gives me."
         Another way wives show disapproval for their husbands is by discrediting their feelings or desires. As a highly skilled art critic, one wife decides to quietly dispose of his pitiful Rembrandt reproduction. As an expert seamstress, another wife criticises that "custom-made" suit he got on sale. Or, on a more realistic plane, the veteran gardener ignores her husband's desire to plant a pine tree on the front lawn & opts for a maple instead.
         If you will listen closely, you can hear your husband expressing his desires every hour. Right now he may be mumbling behind his newspaper about chicken spaghetti with sour sauce & cherries on top like his mother used to make. Pick up on his subtle statement & make it for him. If you don't, he'll wonder whether he's worth anything to you. Resentment may spring up alongside his doubt, & soon he'll make unconscious efforts to eliminate things that please you. "I know what you want, but I don't want to do it" becomes the sad response of many husbands.
         The third & most common way wives show disapproval of their husbands is by contradicting them. Have you ever sympathised with a husband who could hardly get a word out of his mouth before his wife jumped in with both feet to correct him? "No, that's not the way it was. It was like this..."
         Contradiction is hardly an invitation to most husbands. No one wants to live with a know-it-all.

Gently Teach Your Husband About Your Need for His Approval. Judy loved teaching because her principal commended her regularly for her skill & methods. Rarely did a day pass without a gentle, encouraging word from him. It seemed the more he praised her work, the better she became.
         Imagine the effect constant praise would have on your attitude as a wife. You would work harder each day to be the mate your husband talked about. You would also be absolutely free to praise him once you knew your work was appreciated. Don't be embarrassed to request his praise. there's nothing wrong with the boost you receive from sincere praise.
         Be specific with your husband about when you need his praise. Try something like, "I know you want a happy marriage. Dear, would you like to know what you can do to make me a very happy wife? It won't cost you a thing. No energy--just a little creativity."
         "You can show your approval of me by praising me for who I am & what I do. For instance, I especially need your praise when I fix a special meal for you or go out of my way to do something extra. I just need to know how you liked it. I need it, & it's okay to need it."

Light Up When He Praises You! The last way to teach your husband about your need for approval is to "light up" whenever he praises you. Reward him with enthusiasm & excitement, making him desirous of praising you more often.
         As human beings, we all need & respond to praise. There is nothing shameful about longing for an occasional "pat on the back." So demonstrate your legitimate need by responding to your husband's praise with a cheerful face & bright expressions. He will be sure to remember it next time you need approval!