21 Ways to Be a More Thoughtful Spouse, According to Experts
These tips from marriage therapists, psychologists, and more will help you be a more proactive partner.
Everyone knows that the key to a happy and healthy marriage is good communication. But sometimes, it's not just about voicing your wants and needs, and listening to your partner's as well. Being a more thoughtful spouse also means not waiting to be asked to do something, but simply anticipating it and doing it instead. It's what you do for your partner without being prompted that can make all the difference, whether that means complimenting a new haircut before they mention it or surprising them with something they've expressed interest in. Unsure as to where to start being more thoughtful? We've consulted the experts—marriage therapists, psychologists, and more—about some effective ways to start being a better spouse today!
Check in with them.
You should know how your partner is feeling each and every day. And if you don't, you should ask them. Emily Souder, a licensed therapist from Maryland, urges spouses to ask each other "how things are going" and "how you can love them better." Souder points out that relationships are affected by what's happening outside of the marriage, too—so taking the time to check in with your partner can help you understand them better and, in turn, connect with them better.
Pay attention and listen.
Some people have difficulty expressing what's truly important to them. But if you want to be more helpful and thoughtful, focus on your partner's behavior as well as what they say. That way, you can hone in on what they're really trying to communicate with you, says Vanessa Watson-Hill, owner of Living in the Second Half, her therapy practice in Montclair, New Jersey.
"To be a great partner, the importance of paying attention and noticing when your partner is trying to connect is huge," Watson-Hill says. "If someone fails to notice what is important to their partner, that relationship will experience difficulty."
Let them know you're thinking about them.
It's easy to get sidetracked by the responsibilities of our everyday lives, but it's crucial to make sure you're not putting your partner on the back burner. Clinical psychologist Beverly B. Palmer, PhD, previously told Best Life, you can be a more thoughtful partner by taking a few seconds out of your day to "let your partner know you are thinking about them and putting them first in your mind." A simple "I'm thinking about you" text lets your spouse know that they are loved and valued.
Plan a trip.
If your partner is stressed out or feeling down, thoughtfully planning a trip you know they will enjoy—whether it's a long weekend at a B&B or a day-trip to their favorite hiking spot—may just be exactly what you both need.
"With all the stress that everyone is facing on a daily basis, traveling should always be a must," says Simon Hansen, founder of Family Travel Planet. "This allows you to make up for missed dinners and date nights and be a better person for your partner."
Make eye contact.
Making eye contact with your partner on a daily basis can help keep your relationship strong and secure. As Carly Claney, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist from Seattle, previously told Best Life, eye contact is "a demonstration of true connectedness." Looking your spouse in the eyes says so much before either of you even have to speak. "It can communicate 'I'm here,' 'I'm listening,' 'I'm available,' and 'You are important,'" Claney explained.
Open the door.
Over time, it may seem like you don't have to keep up those small acts of kindness in a relationship. But in reality, no matter how long a couple has been together, little gestures make a big difference and make you a much more thoughtful spouse.
For instance, Carol Gee, author of Random Notes (About Life, "Stuff" and Finally Learning to Exhale), previously told Best Life, "No matter how long we have been married, my husband holding doors open for me [still] makes me feel special."
Surprise them with food.
It's true what they say: Food can be the quickest way to a person's heart. Why? Because, as therapist Susan Pease Gadoua explained to HuffPost in 2019, "food is nurturing and helps people feel connected."
"[When] you go out of your way to bring home a special food you know they will love, it's a wonderful way to put 'I love you' into action," Gadoua says. "If the favorite food is a meal that you make—rather than, say, a pint of Häagen Dazs—you'll undoubtedly get even more points."
Eat together (and sans phones).
According to Gee, another key to staying connected is sharing at least one device-free meal with your partner every day. "We have always tried to eat at least one meal together daily," she told Best Life. "As a working couple with different work hours, it's typically dinner. Not only do we enjoy a meal together, but we also use this time to talk about our day."
Give them compliments.
It's easy to assume your spouse knows how great you think they are—after all, you married them! But it never hurts to be reminded of all the ways someone adores you. Go out of your way to be more thoughtful and compliment your partner often and out of the blue. Not only will it make them feel more loved, but a 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One also found that receiving compliments helps people perform better in their everyday tasks and responsibilities.
Say "thank you."
Sometimes we may think that the gratitude we feel is implied or understood by our partners. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, which is why actually saying "thank you" to your partner is important—even when you think they already know how much you appreciate what they do.
"Just showing simple appreciation can go a long way," says Michelle Morton, an entrepreneur, wife, and mother. "We all take things for granted and our spouses are one of those things. It is easy to do, especially on a daily basis, but we need to step back and remember … everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated."
Say "I'm sorry."
Every couple fights, but not every spouse knows how to apologize. For a relationship to work, it's essential to know when you are wrong and to acknowledge that in the form of an apology that your partner didn't have to pull out of you.
"[A] happily married couple is one which—in my estimation—has been through a lot, has fought enough times, and now already knows enough to apologize to each other," health and wellness expert Caleb Backe told Fatherly in 2019.
Say "I love you."
Another phrase your partner should hear from you often and unsolicited? "I love you." It's not enough to just feel love for your partner, they need to actually hear you say it.
"When spouses say 'I love you,' they are saying that they value both their spouse and their marriage," Ili River-Walter, licensed marriage therapist, told Martha Stewart Weddings in 2019. "While the interpretation and importance of the message is specific to each individual and each marriage, overall, saying 'I love you' emphasizes care and commitment."
Write them a love note.
While it's important to vocalize to your partner that you love them, saying it too often can water down its meaningfulness over time, notes Morton. To keep that from happening, she recommends mixing it up and occasionally conveying the message in the form of a love note. It's a simple and thoughtful gesture that will go a long way with your spouse.
Hold their hand.
Holding hands may seem like a display of affection that doesn't carry that much weight, but it actually may mean quite a lot to your partner. As Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist, told Elite Daily in 2019, "Connecting of hands is, as humans, our first line of intimate touch." In relationships, "holding hands is that front line of communicating emotions physically," and lets your partner know you care about them in a way that they can feel both emotionally and physically.
Give them a back rub.
Another way to improve the physical connection with your partner—beyond sex, of course—is giving them a back rub when they look tired or stressed. Making this thoughtful gesture can create a type of physical intimacy that's just as powerful and important as the one established during sex.
"It shows that you want them to feel comfortable, to relax, and show your support for what they're doing," Grace Lee, founder of A Good First Date, told Elite Daily in 2018. "You aren't asking them to stop everything, but rather, you're meeting them in their environment."
Kiss them goodnight.
Couples who have stood the test of time understand that it's important to always make sure their partner knows they are loved—one way to do that is making a kiss part of your nightly ritual. As Joyce Smith Spears, who's been married to her husband for more than 60 years, told Southern Living, "always kiss each other goodnight because you never know what tomorrow may bring."
Give them space.
"Space" can be a loaded word when it comes to relationships, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage knows that giving your partner their own time is key to making things work. As relationship expert Susan Winter told Bustle in 2019, if you can tell your partner needs space, you should be thoughtful and suggest they take some time for themselves. "Each individual has their own need for private time," she says.
Do a chore for them.
Relationships aren't always 50/50. If you notice your partner is feeling overly stressed or overworked, do more at home by taking something off their to-do list. For instance, if they normally do the laundry, give them a break that week and do it for them. "Taking something off each other's plate shows that you appreciate your partner's hard work and want to help them and allow them time to unwind after a hard day," relationship expert Vikki Ziegler told Fatherly in 2018.
Talk about the future.
It may seem unnecessary if you've been married for years, but talking to your partner about the future makes it clear you see them in it, and that you care about what they want it to look like as well. "One thing that successful relationships all have in common is that the couples in them make plans for the future, both near and long-term," Barton Goldsmith, PhD, wrote for Psychology Today in 2013. "Making plans builds a bond and a stronger sense of security in our hearts."
Give them flowers.
Cliché as it may be, surprising your partner with a bouquet of flowers can make their day. A 2005 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that flowers can instantly change a person's mood and keep them feeling happier for longer. Hey, there's a reason why all the chivalrous characters do it in romantic movies.
Avoid keeping score.
When you're feeling insecure in your relationship, you may be concerned with keeping score, i.e. if you do something for your partner, you expect something of equal measure in return. But if you're in a healthy and happy relationship, you tend to be more thoughtful and generous without any expectation.
"When a relationship feels secure, it is easy to want to offer more than your fair share of tasks or thoughtful gestures to show your love for your partner," couples therapist Kari Carroll told HuffPost in 2019. "Whether moving their clothes to the dryer for them or going on their favorite hike again, highly fulfilled couples tend to maintain great satisfaction from being thoughtful and generous toward their partner rather than scorekeeping."