1. Build Capital Flowers, foot rubs, and any other gestures of goodwill are best extended when they're least expected. Just crashed her car? Call Maaco, not 1-800-flowers—digging yourself out of a hole gains you zero emotional capital. Spontaneous and unwarranted acts of kindness come next in the hierarchy—she'll feel reassured that the relationship is sound—but it's when she just plowed your car into a shopping cart that your kindness will pack the most punch. Use the high ground wisely and buy yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card for when you mess up.
2. Flirt Like She's Watching Seasoned veterans have learned the limits the hard way. Here's a simple rule: Never say anything to another woman that you wouldn't want your significant other to hear. So, what if you're at a party and you realize you've been talking to a smoldering brunette for 20 minutes? Consider the line crossed. Cut off the hot chick (midsentence, if necessary) and move back over to your lady. Fess up (a simple "sorry" is enough) and make nice. Acknowledging a mistake starts to undo it.
3. Be Angry, Not Pathetic The one-word indicator that a relationship needs a defibrillator? "Whatever." Conflict sucks, but it's actually a sign of an engaged relationship. It's far worse when one—or both—of you shuts down emotionally.
4. Don't Coach Her Say you're great at snowboarding, and she stinks. How can you teach her without causing her to hate you? You can't. In fact, she might already hate the fact that you're better than her at something—and she's continually reminded of that fact every time she bites the fluff in a flurry of limbs and fiberglass. Smart money buys her a lesson and doubles back at the end of the day for a few coed runs. Compliment her on what she's learned, and massage all those sore muscles on her backside.
5. Clean to Her Peeves News flash: You don't have to keep everything clean all the time. You just have to keep the mess out of her hot zones. Collect intel: Figure out what she cleans first—the kitchen counter, the toilet seat—and make sure you're never the source of messes.
6. Help Assess Her Dress Any formal event or social engagement involving friends or family she hasn't met means you have to pony up three crucial pieces of information: who will be there, what they will be wearing, and what everyone will be doing. Tell her at least a week in advance. Want extra credit? Look up the weather.
7. Don't Force Your Friends on Her She hates Joe. But Joe is a great guy—I mean, come on, he's the friend who took down that bottle of Goldschlager and streaked through the dining hall your freshman year. Exactly, she's thinking. So compromise. You can go out with Joe; just don't bring him home. And meet Joe out with her once in a while. But agree in advance that when she's had it with him, she can give you a signal (the ear tug, the hair toss, the neck rub) and you'll acquiesce. She'll love that you let her take the social reins.
8. Choose Jealousy Wisely Odds are, she's not thinking of her ex-boyfriend every time she wears the sweater he bought her 5 years ago. It's just warm. It's cashmere, for Pete's sake. But she also probably wasn't just looking for companionship if she stumbles in at 4 a.m. after a trip to his apartment to return some CDs. Ration your response: Suck it up if you're inventing the cause of jealousy; stand your ground if you're not. Remember: She loves you more than you know. And she definitely loves you more than she loves her ex.
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