Published March 18, 2013
You never know what goes on behind closed doors, but wouldn't you like to find out?
Well, now you can take a peek inside other people's hearts, minds, and bedrooms, thanks to The Normal Bar, a new book by Chrisanna Northrup, a San Diego–based wellness entrepreneur who wanted to improve her marriage.
With the help of Pepper Schwartz, a popular sexologist at the University of Washington, and James Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, Northrup surveyed more than 70,000 couples worldwide (making it the largest relationship study ever done), asking questions like "How often do you kiss your partner?" and "Do you keep secrets from each other?"
The answers provide a voyeuristic look into how the average duo behaves—and if you have any of the love issues here, you'll see you're not alone and that there are ways to make your own relationship one to envy.
The Issue: "I wish my guy looked better."
The Norm: More than a third of both women and men wish their partner would care more about looking good.
The Takeaway: Lead by example. Impress him in small ways—get dolled up for a night in or opt for sexier PJs—and hope he'll do the same.
"People who put that effort into themselves, even around the house, keep the relationship alive a little bit more because it makes them both feel better," says Northrup. If he's not getting the hint, tell him how hot he looks in that button-down (the one you bought for him).
"Guys love compliments," says Northrup, "and he wants you to be attracted to him."
The Issue: "I'm worried he might stray."
The Norm: Only 39 percent of women completely trust their partners. This may be for good reason: Sixty-nine percent of men said that if propositioned, they'd be tempted to have sex with someone outside of their relationship.
The Takeaway: Don't give in to your suspicious mind yet. "Being propositioned is one thing, but people aren't going to cheat for just any old reason," says Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., department chair of psychology at Monmouth University. To find out how he really feels, nonchalantly bring up the latest headline-making bout of infidelity (thanks, Hollywood). "Ask, 'Why do you think they cheated?'" says Lewandowski. "Then segue into what, if anything, would make him think about straying.
By talking about it in an abstract, non-threatening way first, the conversation can turn to his own relationship expectations." What he says ("I might slip up if I didn't feel appreciated" or ". . .if we never had sex") can help you understand what's important to him—and how to keep your union strong.
The Issue: "We never kiss."
The Norm: Seventy percent of couples have make-out sessions from time to time, and more than half of couples say they kiss like crazy several times a week.
The Takeaway: If you're more prone to perfunctory pecks, grab him for a 20-second hug first, says Marsha Lucas, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., and author of Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness. This stimulates the release of oxytocin, the hormone that brings people closer. From there, full-out kissing is a natural next step.
"Kissing, and doing so presently and passionately, can actually help a great deal with bonding," says Lucas.
The Issue: "I have no idea how much money he earns."
The Norm: Eighty percent of extremely happy couples know their partner's salary.
The Takeaway: "If a couple has good communication, they tend to discuss money," says Joan D. Atwood, president and CEO of Marriage and Family Therapists of New York. Anything you hide from your partner can harm the relationship, including secrets about your cash situation.
While new couples don't need to go further than agreeing on who's shelling out for the next date, Atwood suggests engaged or committed duos kick-start a cash conversation by each writing three lists: one of all your assets, one of your liabilities, and another of what you're saving for. Then show and tell. "Spell out your current finances so you can decide how you want to handle them," says Atwood.
The Issue: "We use cringe-worthy pet names."
The Norm: Good for you, honey! Seventy-six percent of couples who say they're happy do too.
The Takeaway: Sure, outsiders may think your nicknames for each other are downright ridiculous, but small, affectionate gestures—giving each other monikers like "monkey," for instance—can turn ordinary moments into intimate ones. "I never called my husband a pet name," admits Northrup, who now uses "sweetheart." "It was hard, but it makes us both feel special and loved—and that's what we all want from a relationship." If you're new to pet names, Northrup suggests using one in texts or voice mails first, or practicing on another person (she used her son).
The Issue: "I think about breaking up with him constantly."
The Norm: Thirty-seven percent of both men and women fantasize about leaving their partner "all the time or often," and another 33 percent "sometimes" have these thoughts.
The Takeaway: "It's normal to wonder 'Would I be better off if I left?'" says Lucas. That's your natural fight-or-flight response kicking in when things don't go your way. But instead of automatically pushing eject the next time he cancels on you to hang out with his buddies again, note your immediate physical reaction. Has your heart rate, body temperature, or alertness increased? If so, stop yourself from taking any action until you feel more normal. Then analyze the situation from both sides. Maybe he wouldn't have blown off your plans if you had told him how much you were looking forward to date night. It's this kind of thinking that stops you from always reaching for the suitcase in the hall closet.