What keeps a man crazy in love

It's (surprise!) the little things. Learn how to make the steak of his dreams, play poker like one of the boys — and 11 other moves that'll super-glue your marriage.

Couple Playing Cards

So far you've gotten along just fine as a wife, riding on your considerable skills as a lover, best friend, and career adviser. But why sit still? Why not, instead, be a surprising, fun, smart, knows-it-all-does-it-all wife who just blows him away with her wonderfulness? Sound exhausting? Guess again. REDBOOK has compiled an essential list of wifely skills guys love — along with easy secrets for mastering them from the experts who should know. Learn each at your leisure, then spring them on him gradually, adding layer upon layer of, well, awe.

Oh, and by the way, here's what's in it for you: a totally content and grateful husband, a more playful and interesting marriage, and the proud feeling you'll get every time you take on a new challenge — and triumph!

Play Poker

Why: So you can socialize his way for a change.

How: The most popular home version of this casino classic is seven-card stud, says Debbie Burkhead, a professional poker player in Las Vegas. How it works: The dealer gives each player three cards, two of them facedown (you can look at your own). You place your first bet this round, "seeing" (matching) or "raising" (increasing) the previous bet, depending on the quality of your hand. (If it's really bad, you can "fold," meaning that you opt out of a hand.) After a round of betting, each player gets another card, until all players either have folded or are holding seven cards. The winner of the pot is the player with the best five of seven cards.

So how do you know how good your hand is? Hands rank as follows, from best to worst; each hand beats all the hands listed below it. The higher your cards in any given hand, the better; aces are high, deuces (2s) are low.

Straight flush: five cards of the same suit, in sequence (e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of clubs)
Full house: a pair and a triple (e.g., two 3s, three 4s)
Flush: five cards of one suit, in any order
Straight: five cards in sequence, in any suit
Three of a kind: three cards of the same number
Two pairs: two sets of two cards of the same number
One pair: two cards of the same number.

Give the Perfect Backrub

Why: Because there's more than one way to make a guy moan in complete and utter satisfaction.

How: Make him putty in your hands with these tips from Roberta Rolnick, spa supervisor at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in California.

1. Set the stage: Dim the lights, put on calming music, and light some candles. Then have him lie down on a mat (since it's firmer than a bed).

2. Add a few drops of essential oil (such as lavender, which is calming, or citrus for a more invigorating rub) to mild vegetable oil (meaning something with no scent — say, corn or canola oil rather than peanut or olive). Kneel, either at his head or by his side. Now pour a quarter-size drop of oil into one palm, rub your hands together, and hold them about an inch above his body, moving your hands up his spine "so he can sense the heat," says Rolnick.

3. Slowly slide your hands down his upper back, down both sides of his spine, and over his sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of his spine). Gently squeeze his buttocks, then hook your fingertips under his hipbones (one hand per hipbone) and run your hands up his sides, with your thumb on top and your fingers cupped around his rib cage; then let your hands travel across his shoulders and up his neck. Rest them on the back of his head.

4. Get ready to work it. Begin stroking up the sides of his back, gradually increasing pressure and eventually putting your full weight on the heels of your palms or even your elbows. Move parallel to his spine or zigzag your hands across it: Tuck both hands under one side, then draw them alternately across his back, letting one hand overlap with the other. Another neat trick: Knead fleshy areas, such as his bottom, with your fists (but don't apply direct pressure to bony areas, like the spine).

5. For a fabulous finish, try "feathering": lightly brushing his body with your fingertips. "That really soothes the nerves," says Rolnick. "Some people can take an hour of just that."

Tie His Tie for Him

Why: Because it's such a sexy, retro, little-wifey move.

How: To make the classic half-Windsor knot, says Lino Zanella, a salesman at the fabulously fashionable Louis Boston fine-clothing store in Boston, hang the tie around his neck, with the narrow end on his left side and the wide end hanging down about twice as long on his right side. Cross the wide end over (to his left), under (to his right), and then back over the narrow end. Now pull the wide end up through the opening at his neck and down through the loop you've just made. Tighten the knot, but not all the way. Putting your thumb or forefinger just below the knot, make that small, sexy dimple you've seen on men of style, then pull the knot up to his neck and tighten it.

Make a Mean Steak

Why: That hulking slab o' beef appeals to his most manly side.

How: Go for a porterhouse cut of USDA prime beef. Because it's part filet and part sirloin, you get two super-rich cuts in one, says William Rice, author of Steak Lover's Cookbook. (You're most likely to find it at a butcher shop.) "Make sure it's cherry red," says Rice. "The less red a cut of steak, the drier it will be." Also, look for a cut with flecks of fat throughout and with close-trimmed white fat around the border. (Hey, he doesn't eat like this every day.)

Pan-Broiled Porterhouse Steak:

Sprinkle one side of a 1 3/4-pound porterhouse steak with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme; pat the seasonings into the meat. Coat a plate with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and place the steak, seasoned side down, on the plate. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme on top of the steak and drizzle with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Lightly coat the bottom of a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet with vegetable oil using a paper towel. Heat the skillet on medium high until hot. Place the steak in the skillet and cook 5 minutes; turn and cook 5 minutes more for medium rare, or to desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 minutes and then slice.

Wake Him Up in the Morning

Why: So he'll start his day with a smile — at the very least.

How: To hand your man a sexy surprise one morning, Gregory Godek, author of 1001 Ways to Be Romantic, suggests taking off that supersize T-shirt and slipping into a satiny nightie. Then climb back into bed and start nuzzling his neck, rubbing his back, maybe landing a few butterfly kisses (softly flutter your eyelashes against his skin) on his cheek. As he crawls toward consciousness, murmur, "Open your eyes: I've got a surprise for you." Just make sure you turn off the alarm; you're not going to want any interruptions after that.

{headline]Give Him a Barbershop Shave{/headline}Why: He'll get a sexy little thrill from letting you wield all the power while he submits to your capable hands.

How: Give it to him the way some of the most powerful men in the country get theirs — at Senate Hair Care, next door to the Capitol building in Washington, DC. The shop's manager (who discreetly declined to disclose his name) says: Recline his chair or have him lean back in a comfy easy chair (place some towels on the floor, unless you're planning to schlep furniture into the bathroom). Wrap his face and neck in a hot, wet towel to soften his whiskers and baby his skin; leave on until cool (some guys — senators and countrymen alike — enjoy a second towel treatment). Then slather his face and neck with lotion or shaving cream.

Now you're (both) ready: Moving around him as you work with his razor, shave with (not against) the hair growth. Start at one sideburn and shave down to the neck, slowly working around his face. Repeat the hot-towel routine, then shave again — this time against (not with) the growth — and from the neck up. One more hot towel, please, and then a cold one to close the pores and perk him up. End with more conditioning cream or a splash of aftershave. He'll feel smooth, pampered, refreshed, and ready for...anything.

Strip

Why: Because he really — please, baby, please — wants you to.

How: Visualize yourself strutting your stuff in a way you can be comfortable with, advises Lily Burana, a former stripper and author of Strip City, an account of her farewell take-it-off tour: "Maybe something kittenish, coy and old-fashioned — all feather fans and boas," she says. "Or something bold and crazy, like pole dancing, or more 1930s cabaret." This will help get you in the mood for showtime, and only when you feel sexy, Burana explains, can you act sexy. Attitude trumps attire here, so no need to drop a bundle on that Elizabeth Berkley costume. Instead opt for clothing with easy closures (snaps, not buttons) or no closures, such as a simple sexy slip.

Music is optional; rehearsal is not. "Do a dry run, just you and the mirror, testing out moves," says Burana, like slinking with your arms above your head, slowly twirling, maybe teasingly flashing a little flesh. "Dance for a while, then practice sliding the straps of the slip off your shoulders and pulling it down over your hips or up over your head," she says. "When you feel comfortable with the movements, they start to look good."

Embarrassed? Shy? This will help: "Keep on your feather boa or scarf — which makes a great prop anyway — or your bra or panties," says Burana. "Plenty of strippers have made a mint by holding something back, so it's not just a good psychological comfort, it's a great gimmick!"

Have a Conversation with His Boss

Why: Because he or she is the adult who, after you, matters most in your husband's daily life. So you want to play it just right.

How: Forget everything you've ever learned about getting in there and impressing people, says Julie Dolan, wife of a company exec and one of five sisters who host the ABC Radio Network talk show Satellite Sisters. This one's all about old-fashioned self-effacement. Job one, says Dolan, is to let the boss shine. So go bright-eyed when he rambles on about the cooking course he took in Provence. Job two: Let your husband shine. Bring the conversation around to your guy's interests or lead him into a story that you know he tells well. Only when the time is right (i.e., when there's a lull and you sense it's your turn) should you let yourself shine a little, says Dolan. "Be ready to talk about something — perhaps a nonpolitical event in the news, maybe a book you've read — if only because it's simply good etiquette to be able to hold up your end of a conversation."

Oh, and do be business-sensitive. "You need to know what's going on," says Dolan, so you won't launch into a big discussion about your big shopping spree the day the company's stock did a nosedive. The flip side is, don't show you know too much, either. His boss values discretion; she's aware that your husband passes office gossip and inside information along to you, but she won't appreciate hearing you flaunt the details of some junior exec's pilfering of the petty-cash account.

{headline]Throw Him a Super Surprise Party{/headline}Why: Because he'll never forget that you made him feel so special.

How: Consider a twist on the old crowd-jumps-up-from-behind-the-couch routine: the semi-surprise, says Ilene Rosenzweig, an author of Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life. Let him in on your plans, just not on all your plans. To wit: Rosenzweig once told her guy she was taking him to a country lodge for a few days to celebrate his birthday — but didn't mention that several friends of his would show up throughout the weekend. If you're taking the party path, invite some completely unexpected guests, like his favorite high school math teacher or an old boss, she says, "to give it that added This Is Your Life frisson."

Leave Him a Sexy Voice Mail at Work

Why: So he'll have a really compelling reason to get home on time.

How: You want to be suggestive and provocative — not so explicit that he has to cover his lap at his next meeting. Just turn on your sweetest or most sultry voice and murmur something like the following, suggests sex therapist Gloria Brame, Ph.D., a former phone-sex operator:

"Do you remember when you asked me to [fill in the blank with some sexual request from him that you were too tired or timid to act on]? I've been thinking about it all day, and I can't wait to see you tonight!"

"I was going through my lingerie drawer and remembered how you get when I wear [fill in the blank]. Well...I'm planning to wear it tonight."

"I've spent the last hour thinking about how incredibly sexy you are, and how you're the only man who can turn me on. When you get home tonight, I want to prove it to you."

Quote at Least Three Lines from The Godfather

Why: Guys believe the Corleones know what it is to be a man. Yours just wants to know you get it. Capisce?

How: Memorize these quotations:
1. "A man in my position can't afford to be made to look ridiculous."
2. "In my home! In my bedroom! Where my wife sleeps! Where my children come and play with their toys!"
3. "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever."
4. "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

Make Heart-Melting Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Why: Because they're the essence of wholesome, and he knows you're not. A potent combination.

How: For a truly spectacular variation that my own husband swears makes him stick around, try this recipe. (A little inside scoop for you: It's the high ratio of brown to white sugar and the addition of oats that makes them so special.)

Ultimate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt; set aside. Beat together 1 cup butter-flavored solid vegetable shortening, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until creamy. Beat in 2 eggs until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and 2 cups old-fashioned oats. Stir in a 12-ounce package of semisweet chocolate chips. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 52 cookies.

Kick His Style Up a Notch

Why: Initially, for your own pleasure. But then the compliments will start rolling in, and he'll seek out your impeccable advice.

How: Tiny touches make the man, says salesman Zanella. Try these style shifts:

1. Replace solid sport or dress shirts with a pattern — for instance, stripes or a small check. Some nice color combinations: light blue and white, and gray or khaki with black.

2. Striped ties, in all kinds of colors, are back, so grab a handful.

3. If he's reasonably fit, ditch the pleated pants and get him into a pair of flat-fronts; they're sexy and stylish.

4. Invest in a casual suit — say, for this time of year, a linen one in a light shade of brown, blue, or gray. Patch pockets (pockets sewn onto, rather than into, the jacket) are another casual touch. His new duds will do double duty as a sports jacket when worn with jeans or khakis.

5. Replace his raincoat with a newly fashionable three-quarter-length coat that hits just above or below the knee.


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