What if the standard methods of showing love don't speak to your mate's heart? What if your attempts at showing love fall flat?

One day, I asked my husband, Ron, to make a list of things he wished I would do for him: things that would make him feel loved. It was an amazing revelation. I made a wish-list, too, and when we started doing the things on each other's list, our marriage moved from frustrating to fulfilling.

Here's why I asked him to make a list:

One Saturday afternoon, Ron was happily watching a football game, but I was in the mood to be outside. So I spent two hours washing and waxing his new red sedan. It looked wonderful, and I was very proud of myself. I thought, I'm the greatest wife in the world!

When the game was over, I was bubbling with excitement as I said, "I have a wonderful surprise for you. Follow me!" As we walked out to the driveway, I pointed to the car and boasted, "I washed it and waxed it! Isn't it beautiful?"

His face froze, as he said, "Why did you do that? The windows are all streaked. Besides, I like to go to the car wash."

I planted my hands on my hips and said, "I did something nice for you . . . gave you a gift . . . and you just spit on it! My old boyfriend, Mike, was always thrilled when I washed his car!"

"Well, I'm not Mike, am I? I don't want you to wash my car. If you want to do something to please me, wash some dirty clothes. The laundry pile is big enough to ski on!"

"That would make you happy?"

"I'd be thrilled! That pile drives me nuts!"

I was shocked. "I had no idea that dirty laundry bothered you. It's never bothered me."

"Obviously."

That was when I asked him write down a few things I could do to please him. Over the years, we've put a positive spin on it by calling it a love list.

When we speak to couples' groups, we give them a sheet of paper and tell them to write down the top three things they wish their spouse would do for them. You'd be surprised at some of the things on their lists . . . or maybe you wouldn't. The man typically includes " more sex," but we rarely see that request on a woman's list. The woman's list usually includes "Talk to me more," but I've never seen that on a man's list.

The requests most likely to be honored are those that are both specific and doable. For example, "be more romantic" is too vague; that could mean different things to different people. "Bring me flowers once a month" or "Kiss me good-bye every morning" would be more specific. Also, your request must be doable. Don't ask you wife to, "Look like a super model" or "Keep the house clean all the time." Instead, you could write, "Wear a dress for our date night" or "Make the bed in the morning." If your requests are reasonable and realistic, your mate will be more likely to honor them.

One of the things on my list is, "Wait for me while I'm getting out of the car." In the early years, when we'd arrive at our destination, he'd be inside before I had time to round up my purse, find my keys, check my lipstick, and lock the car. I explained, "I feel abandoned when you leave me. I want to walk in—together." Once he knew that was a big deal, he got much better at waiting. His willingness to please me made me want to please him too.

Study your mate as if he or she was a textbook, and you are studying for a final exam.

If we make an effort to learn about our mates' preferences and priorities, they'll feel understood and appreciated. If we educate ourselves about the various differences between us and our mates, and work on ways to play to each other's strengths, we'll build strong hedges around our marriages.