When your man is stressed out, you both suffer. Not to worry — these sweet, pampering moves will send Mr. Cranky Pants packing… and earn you major girlfriend brownie points.
By Jennifer Benjamin
Sure, stress sucks for him, but it’s no picnic for you either. When something is eating at him — whether he’s had a bad day at work, money is tight, or his favorite team just lost a big game — he doesn’t have the energy to give your relationship the attention it deserves. "Stress is a major stumbling block for couples," explains JoAnn Magdoff, PhD, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York. "It’s difficult to feel connected to your partner when he’s anxious or distracted."
Of course, you could just plop him down in front of the TV and wait for the storm to pass, but we have a much better solution. Treat your guy to a few stress busters that will help him return to his former, fun self.
1. Treat His Feet
Giving your man a foot rub probably doesn’t fall too high on your list of favorite things to do, so the fact that you’re even offering it lets him know just how much you care. Plus, it feels damn good. "We hold a lot of tension in our feet that connects to other spots on our bodies, so working out the kinks there can help relax us all over," says Jamie Ahn, owner of Townhouse Spa in New York City.
Her tips for giving the ultimate foot rub: First, pop a small, damp washcloth in the microwave for a minute. Find a cushy spot where you’ll both feel comfortable, and have him lie down with his feet in your lap. Then use the toasty washcloth to cleanse his feet, which will warm the area and, for your sake, eliminate any foul odors.
Rub a half dollar-size dollop of an essential oil or body lotion in your hands, grasp the arch of his foot with one hand, and rotate the foot in circles, moving clockwise to the right, down toward you, up to the left, and back toward him to loosen up the joints and muscles. Next, take both thumbs and move them up the bottom of the foot, from the arches to the toe pads and outward. Repeat multiple times.
Between kneading moves, intermittently take your hands and gently glide them all over his foot and up and down his calf. Lastly, gently pull each toe. Then give the other foot the same treatment. Once you’re finished, clean his feet once again with a warm, damp washcloth.
2. Whip Up Some Comfort Food
If you are overwhelmed, you might want to curl up on the couch with a box of chocolates and a bag of buttery popcorn. Men, on the other hand, usually want a hearty, stick-to-the-ribs meal, though they may not even be cognizant of the fact. So it falls on you to create home-cooked fare he will love. "When it comes to comfort food, the simpler, the better," says Food Network chef Dave Lieberman, author of Dave’s Dinners. "The classics, like chicken soup, steak, and mashed potatoes, are always winners…and even better, they are easy to make."
The presentation should be equally fuss free. "You don’t even need to bother setting the table," adds Lieberman. "Just bring out what you need and put it on the coffee table so it doesn’t feel labor intensive and there’s no pressure for it to seem like a special occasion."
A few Dave-recommended menus: roast chicken with mashed potatoes, pan-grilled rib-eye steak with sautéed spinach, and pasta with a hearty meat sauce and garlic bread.
3. Tuck Him In
No, you’re not his mother, but if you see him sleeping on the couch or passed out on top of his bed, throw a blanket over him. This nurturing move brings him back to a kidlike place subconsciously, when paying rent or getting ahead at work didn’t weigh so heavily on his mind. There’s also a bonding benefit.
"Even in a sleep state, he’ll feel a surge of affection from your caring gesture," says Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles psychologist specializing in relationships and self-esteem. "You’re making him comfortable, keeping him warm, and showing him that you pay attention to what his needs are."
4. Make Music
"Music is one of those rare channels that allow men to express their feelings more naturally, whether they’re playing air guitar or even singing," explains Magdoff. "It helps them get out any mindset." When he pops in a playlist, he mentally transports himself back to a great concert, spring break, or his first date with you.
To help bring him to that feel-good mental state, have him lie down, and plug his headphones into your iPod. While you’re both lying there, scroll around, playing stuff that will make him smile. "It’s an instant mood-lifter and an opportunity to show just how well you understand him by choosing songs you know he loves," says Thomas.
5. Cross a Chore Off His To-Do List
No one enjoys ironing shirts, doing laundry, or cleaning the bathroom, so if you jump in and do it for him at a particularly stressful time, he’ll be eternally grateful — especially since the burden of all the things he has to do may be stressing him out even more. "By dealing with one of his mundane tasks, you’re taking some of the load off of him," explains psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, MD, author of Anatomy of a Secret Life. "It’s also a labor of love that shows him you’re invested in making his life easier in whatever way you can."
6. Have Just-for-Him Sex
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to put a man at ease, it’s a mind-numbing sexual release. Unfortunately, he often is so caught up in making sure you orgasm, he stresses himself out even more. "Guys become so concerned about performing for you, they’re not able to enjoy the sexual experience as much," says Dr. Saltz. "Obviously, you like him to ante up for you, but occasionally, he’ll appreciate sex that’s all about him and his pleasure."
So tell your guy: "Since you’re always such a rock star for me in bed, I’d like to return the favor and tonight just make you happy." Not only are you giving him a free pass, but see how we threw a little ego boost in there as well? You can further alleviate any pressure to please you by offering him oral sex instead of intercourse.
7. Give Him a Warm Wake-Up Call
No noise is worse than the sound of your alarm clock jarring you awake on a weekday morning. A more pleasant alternative is rousing him yourself. As soon as you hear his alarm sound, quickly reach over and switch it off (it’ll be easier if it’s already on your side of the bed). Then make him a cup of coffee, and bring it to him. "You’re starting his day off with a warmer, softer approach, which sets a more relaxed tone for the rest of the day," says Dr. Saltz.
8. Add a Special Touch
Maybe you already do nice things, like making his bed or cracking open a cold beer for him so he doesn’t have to get off the couch. "But once it becomes a habit, it loses some of its effect, so sometimes, put a twist on it," explains psychologist David Niven, PhD, author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships.
Some sweeter-than-usual suggestions: Top off his bowl of ice cream with crumbled bits of cookie, put a dash of cinnamon or cocoa in his morning coffee, or leave his beer mug in the freezer all day so it’s iced by the time he gets home. "These treats are not only thoughtful, but they give him permission to indulge and live his life, rather than worry about his waistline," adds Thomas.
You don’t have to go the food route either — maybe replace his everyday shaving cream with a high-end, luxe brand or throw his towel in the dryer right before he gets out of the shower so it’s nice and heated up when he wraps it around his body.
9. Create Sudsy Fun
Speaking of showers, when your brain is fried and your muscles are tense, sometimes the best thing is a hot shower or bath. And it’s even better if you join him.
"Water has relaxing, therapeutic properties already, and when you enter into the equation, it becomes a sensual experience as well," says Dr. Saltz. "You can pamper him, and possibly even put him in the mood, by getting the shower or bath ready, making sure the water is warm, and setting out sexy-smelling bath oils." Also, let’s not ignore the fact that you’ll be buck naked the whole time. That’s a surefire way to help him forget about his hectic day.
10. Play Hooky
When was the last time you two spent an entire Saturday or Sunday indoors, doing nothing but watching movies in your pajamas? Sounds good, right? "In our fast-paced world, we feel the pressure to be productive all the time," explains Thomas. "That’s why it’s so important to lock yourself away every now and then; and if you do it as a couple, it feels fun rather than antisocial."
So rent a whole bunch of light, brainless flicks that you will both enjoy (like comedies and action films — skip the documentaries on the world’s various problems). "The point is to give your mind a break, not overwhelm it with more anxiety-provoking thoughts," says Thomas. Then hole up at your pad all day, completely guilt free. Consider this an essential opportunity to recharge as a couple.