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By "Today" contributor
updated 1/20/2009 12:54:16 PM ET 2009-01-20T17:54:16

Q: My husband is the most unromantic man on earth. If he remembers Valentine’s Day at all, he gets me something like a flashlight. How can I make him understand that a household tool is not a suitable gift?

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A: Some men are great at being romantic. Others, such as your husband, don’t have a clue. For you, this seems odd; like most women, you find it natural to fantasize about romance.

Try not to take it personally. His lack of romantic gestures doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you — it just doesn’t occur to him to act in a romantic way. Part of this is that many men have trouble expressing emotions, believing (mostly subconsciously) that acting romantically is a sign of weakness or vulnerability.

Take into account also that people have different ideas of romance. It may be that a husband who gives his wife a Valentine flashlight might be worried about her safety in an emergency. Some women would really appreciate that. Flowers? To some women, a bouquet is a standard-issue, knee-jerk gift — something a man knows he is “supposed to do.”

Still, like dancing, behavior can be taught. We all learn — and improve — if we are instructed well. So if you want your husband to act more romantically, you need to teach him what works for you. Here are some ideas:

Spell out what you need. Your husband might have no idea of what you consider romantic bliss. If you say, “I would love a romantic evening just for us two,” you might end up on the couch watching football and munching pretzels. Your husband probably means well. He just doesn’t know better. (“Hey, I could have been watching the same game down at the corner tavern, but I thought it would be nice to be with you!”)

Instead, tell him exactly what you have in mind: “A romantic evening for me means dining by candlelight.”

Do more than just hint at the gifts you would like. Tell him clearly: “A bracelet would be so romantic. I love turquoise stones.” Or leave a note on his pillow or in his briefcase. Or have a trusted female friend call him and tell him.

Make it doable. Don’t ask for romantic gestures that are impractical (an impromptu weekend in Paris), gifts that are too expensive (a diamond necklace) or clothing that is hard to size (a bikini).

Be a role model. Act in romantic ways yourself so he knows to reciprocate. Touch his face tenderly, kiss him right there in the grocery aisle, give him a massage before he asks, hide love notes in his briefcase, and reminisce about the past. If he enjoys your romantic gestures, he is likely to reciprocate with some of his own (and eventually may do so without any prompting).

Reveal your emotions or fantasies. This creates intimacy and encourages him to return the thought.

Set the mood. OK, OK, so it sounds corny, but dancing, music, low lighting and sweet smells all serve to create an intimate atmosphere.

Give positive reinforcement. Tell him how much you love that turquoise bracelet. Wear it often. Let him know you greatly appreciate his romantic gestures, and generally make him feel rewarded for doing it right.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line:An unromantic man can learn to be romantic. But he can’t do it on his own — he needs you to both tell and show him.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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