If you want to become a better spouse, be like a turtle:
One slow step at a time.
If you try to sprint toward your goal, you will be gasping for air quicker than a fish gasping for water on the kitchen table.
The trick is to be constant and consistent with your actions.
Because connection happens in the small moments.
Let’s get started:
1. The one thing I’ve learned from a seduction guru (no, it’s not about sex):
A quick story:
A couple of years ago, I was in the Philippines to meet friends.
We decided to go to this delicious seafood restaurant I always visit when I’m in Manila, and they invited that guy, let’s call him Dave, to come along.
We arrived first and were waiting for him.
We started talking, and the conversation was quickly about Dave and that he had attended a course on how to seduce women.
Not sexually, just to turn a woman into his girlfriend.
And they told me that he’s pretty successful.
I was curious to meet him.
Fifteen minutes later, Dave approached the restaurant, and I peeked through the window.
I’m not going to lie:
My jaw dropped a little when I saw him.
He’s an unusually short Filipino, a little chubby, nothing exceptional about him (from a superficial male’s brain perspective, so be easy on me. It’s a story :-)).
And this beautiful woman accompanied him.
My friends started giggling.
I asked them: “What’s so funny?”
- “Ah, nothing. We just expected a different girl.” (lol)
They came in and sat down, and we hit it off right away.
He’s such a cool guy who is fun to be around, and, man, he knew how to make me talk about myself the whole night.
After a couple of beers, I asked him, “So Dave, what’s your secret?”
He said, “It’s nothing special.
Just ask questions.
Get interested in their lives, character, hopes, and dreams, and the connection will happen automatically.”
When he said that, I realized he had used those “seduction” techniques on me that night.
Not to seduce me, obviously, but to build a connection.
I’m sure you already know what comes next:
Ask your spouse questions when they talk, even if you’re not interested in the topic.
The point is:
Get interested in your spouse!
Tip: don’t offer solutions when your spouse talks about problems. This is about them, and you’re the active listener.
2. Surround Yourself with people that lift you up
Have you heard about this before?
"You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with."
Your success in being a better spouse heavily depends on other people’s influence on you.
Think about it:
If you want to become a millionaire, does it make sense to spend time with people who barely make ends meet?
Or would you prefer to hang out with millionaires who can show you how to do it?
The same applies to your marriage.
Suppose you’re spending time with unhappy couples, people who don’t respect the opposite sex or boundaries or making an effort to be in a better relationship.
In that case, you will likely end up with exactly that.
Don’t get me wrong.
They certainly are not bad people.
But you have a goal.
And as far as this is concerned, they will drag you down and might even cause you to fail to become a better partner.
Does that mean you have to cut all ties?
Of course not.
I have friends who are far away from where I want to be in my life.
They enjoy drinking a little bit too much and too often.
It almost seems that all they do is grind in a job they hate and wait for the weekend to get totally sh*t-faced.
But I meet them once or twice a year because they’re the best people to party with. 🙂
However, when it comes to the influence I want to have in my life, they’re a terrible choice.
Actively seek a connection with those who are where you want to be and reduce the time you spend with people who suck the life out of you.
3. Schedule quality time
Did you know that only 11% of couples schedule quality time at least once a week?1
How crazy is that?
Because scheduling quality time is the easiest thing, you can do to connect with your spouse.
Here’s how to do it:
Free up an hour on Saturday night.
No phones, no TV, no tech, no distractions whatsoever.
Just the two of you talking about what happened during the day.
When I do this with my wife, we usually start with “How was work?”
Then jump from one topic to another and end up laughing about things that happened to us years ago.
This is not the time to talk about your problems. You won’t be able to make this “quality” time.
Make a plan and write it down.
Because without a written plan, you won’t put your ideas into action.
What I want you to do right now is:
- Grab your calendar or phone (whatever you prefer).
- Put in “quality time” on one day every week for the next three months.
- To get started: planning 1 hour of quality time is fine.
- Write down your ideas in a notebook. For example: go for a walk together, try a new restaurant (which one?), lie on the bed and just talk, play mini-golf.
- Do everything to make them happen.
And keep it simple.
“The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” - Steven Covey.
Your spouse is one of those priorities.
If it’s on your calendar, you will have no choice but make time for it and try to push away any obstacles that might be in the way.
You will be 20 % more likely to achieve your goal if you have a written plan.2
Make Regular Date Night Happen
It's easy to get caught up in the responsibilities of life (particularly when you have kids). Work, home, and every other personal responsibility takes a lot of time and attention! It becomes really easy to neglect the fun aspect of your relationship and the time and effort you put into dating in the early stages of a relationship.
Make date night a priority! Put it on the calendar. Don't let other things take over. It doesn't even need to cost money; there are so many amazing free date ideas to enjoy!
Make an effort to dress up (even if just a little) and look and feel your best. Give each other dedicated time. Carve out intentional fun in your life. Make each other a priority. You can find thousands of excellent date night ideas here!
4. Intentional affirmations
This is powerful:
You show your spouse that you appreciate them.
And when your partner feels appreciated, they’re more likely to be satisfied with themselves AND your relationship.3
It creates a positive feedback loop.
The point here is being intentional.
You actively look for situations where you can nurture your spouse’s desire for affirmations.
It’s a no-brainer if your spouse’s primary love language is “Words of Affirmation.”
Here are some examples to get you started:
- “Even after all these years, I enjoy being around you.”
- “You make me a better person. I can feel it every day.”
- “You’re looking hot today.”
- “I can’t imagine doing all the things you’re doing for our family. I want you to know that I don’t take it for granted.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
- “You’re doing such a fantastic job raising our kids. They’ll turn out great because of you.”
- “I couldn’t have done [action] without you.”
- “Your support means so much to me.”
If you find it hard to say them out loud, text them.
It doesn’t make them less powerful.
Tip: keep a list of ideas.
If you find it hard to find good words that you can feel, don’t worry.
It’s a skill that can be acquired and improved.
Listen to podcasts, google examples, ask other married couples, or ask strangers on the internet for ideas.
Do whatever fits your style, and write them in your notebook.
5. Tame the household monster and make it your pet
56% of married couples say that sharing household chores is very important to a successful marriage.4
I’m not surprised.
Household chores can quickly escalate into full-blown fights that are not about the chores anymore.
But you have to talk about them if you want to get things done.
Here’s how you can divide them and make both of you happy:
- Grab a piece of paper, make three columns, and list every chore that needs to be done daily, weekly, and monthly.
- Before dividing the chores, talk about which ones you want to keep and which you hate doing.
For example, my wife hates cleaning the toilet or changing our bed sheets. I’ve got no problem with that.
She, on the other hand, loves doing laundry. (Don’t ask me why. I don’t understand it either.)
- Now, you can discuss who does what and your expectations.
- Pick specific days to complete the chores, but they don’t have to be on the same days.
I prefer to do them on the same day as my wife because we turn up the music, I sometimes make some goofy dance moves to make her laugh (that’s my wheelhouse), and we’re just trying to make this fun.
It’s important to share the mental load of the household as well, not just the chores.
Research shows that women carry most of the hidden cognitive labor of running a home – mental tasks like remembering to pick up milk for breakfast and keeping track of important dates like birthdays and school registrations.
For a more harmonious home life, this mental load needs to be balanced as well.5
Tip1: If you both hate doing some chores and have the money, hire someone to do it for you.
It can be a big relief for your relationship if you tend to argue about these things.
Tip 2: Get a Roomba - one of the best investments we have made. Our house has never been so clean since we’ve got Dusty (that’s his name).
A nice side-effect:
My wife doesn’t leave any of her clothes on the floor anymore 😀
We even bought a new bed and couch so that it could go under there as well, haha.
6. Who should make the first move?
Because you’re the one reading this article.
You’re the one who wants to become a better spouse.
The most obvious thing I’m observing in troubled relationships:
Neither is making an effort because they wait for their spouse to take the first step.
A classic example:
“If they really want to spend time with me, they have to say and plan it.”
That’s a fantastic way to shift responsibility toward the other person.
So, both are waiting for their spouse to take action while the relationship gets worse.
It’s almost funny to think about if it wouldn’t be so sad.
But getting out of this vicious circle is simple:
Take the first step out of your comfort zone.
When you finish this article, you will have a boatload of ideas.
The first few tries will almost always be rejected, depending on your relationship's stage.
But keep going like a salesperson who’s going from door to door. Eventually, he will make a sale if he is consistent.
7. Keep your eyes glued to your spouse like you’re watching Game of Thrones
Now, I don’t mean that you should be staring at your spouse like a maniac.
Our eyes naturally wander around during a conversation.
It’s more about the eye contact itself where you pay attention to what they say.
It shows that you’re listening, interested, and present.
What I mean is this:
Don’t be busy when your spouse talks, even if what they’re saying doesn’t seem important to you.
I had the habit of washing the dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, and cooking while my wife told me about her day.
That’s not good.
She deserves my undivided attention as much as I deserve hers.
When we talk, we stop what we’re doing, sit down and listen.
It’s a simple act that your spouse will notice.
8. Touch your spouse as often as you touch your smartphone
Okay, okay, touching your spouse 214 times per day might be a bit of an overkill.9
And you cannot carry them around in your pocket.
Nevertheless, don’t underestimate physical contact.
Studies have shown that when you touch your partner, you tend to feel closer to them.10
It releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone.
While the stress hormone cortisol is reduced.
And our serotonin levels increase which is our body’s natural anti-depressant and anti-pain chemical.
According to Dr. Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, holding hands, hugging, and cuddling are excellent forms of touching.11
Other studies show people do better if their partners have hugged them before any stressful situation.
My wife and I have developed some small rituals over time to give you an idea:
- When we get in the car, we kiss each other (not sure why we just do).
- I smack her bottom a little when we’re passing each other (I do that a lot, haha).
- We hug when she comes home from work.
I know it sounds trivial (because it is), but these little actions help us remain connected and affectionate with each other.
Give it a try today.
9. Give assurance
I clearly remember the first time my wife did this (we weren’t married back then):
She asked if I wanted to accompany her to a concert which was three months away.
She basically told me: “I want to be with you. Now and in the future.”
It’s an incredible feeling.
Sure, you could argue that it was at the beginning of my relationship with her, but isn’t it nice to have this same feeling after 10, 20, or 30 years of marriage?
“I still want to be with you. I want to share my experiences with you. You’re the love of my life.”
But how exactly can you do this?
Make plans for the future.
When you make plans for the future, you give your partner security.
You let them know that you have a future together and that you’ll be in it.
Talk about where you’d love to travel with them (insert your dream destination here).
Tell them about the places you’d visit there together and all the stuff you’d do.
Share your personal goals for the next few months or years and how you see the two of you together in that vision.
Ask them about their plans too!
Doing so will help you and your partner align your goals, according to Kim Chronister, Psy. D.12
Support your partner’s dreams and passions
In a relationship, you’re a team.
That means you need to work together to achieve the same goals.
Your partner’s interests will give you a better understanding of who they are as a person.
If your partner is passionate about something, support them and try to give them a helping hand.
10. Be vulnerable
As Brene Brown, bestselling author and research professor shared in one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time:
“For a connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.”
“Vulnerability is necessary, showing the willingness to say I love you first, do something with no guarantees, invest in a relationship that may or may not work out, and love wholeheartedly.”
In relationships, we should not be afraid to express our true selves.
Openly talk about yourself and what you feel.
Allow yourself to express your thoughts and emotions without feeling judged.
Admit you suck at something.
Take responsibility and admit that you’re wrong if you messed up.
Be comfortable with your emotions and your flaws.
Allow your true self to be seen.
Sharing your ideas, fears, concerns, doubts, and anything else on your mind fosters empathy and open communication.
It also signals to your partner that you’re comfortable sharing your thoughts and ideas.
You can show your true self. You won’t feel held back by insecurities and inhibitions.
And the more you do it, the more likely they’ll do the same.
This builds trust and helps bring increased intimacy and closeness.
Early in my marriage to Otto, the two of us had a running argument about his “tone of voice.”
A typical scenario that would start an argument was when I was trying to figure something out on the computer and asked him for help. To me, I inferred from his tone of voice that I was stupid and he was superior to me in all ways.
I would say something like, “Don’t use that tone of voice” and he’d come back with saying he didn’t have a tone of voice – and off we’d go with accusations.
After doing this several times, I had a light bulb moment. We’d started our relationship with the agreement that we’d be vulnerable and honest with one another and not run away from tough issues. Well we’d both been running away from communicating honestly from our hearts.
The next time, I needed computer help and “heard” Otto’s blaming tone of voice, I paused and took a moment to focus inward.
I was surprised to hear my father’s voice telling me I was stupid, which he never did but I inferred from his actions.
When I told him what I’d remembered and was vulnerable, taking responsibility for my upset, Otto paused as well.
He admitted that his tone of voice actually came from fear that he couldn’t solve the problem I was asking him to solve.
We both saw beyond our stories we’d made up into the love that is the foundation of our relationship.
After that, we never struggled with that particular issue and it showed us how pausing to get in touch with what’s inside, taking responsibility and sharing it is where the magic of connection begins.
11. Inspire self-care
We need to maintain a healthy lifestyle – physically and mentally – to create a foundation for a healthy relationship.
Here’s what to do:
An excellent way to show your support for your partner is to be active with them.
Studies have shown that couples who work out together can experience improved mood and satisfaction.13
You can help your partner get the exercise they need by committing to a regular time and place to exercise with them.
My husband and I started taking daily neighborhood walks together when the pandemic began.
With both of us working from home, we needed a good reason to stop working at the end of the day, plus motivation to get out of the house.
We recently splurged on Fitbit watches, and that has reignited our interest in daily walks.
Even on days when we don't walk as far, we enjoy the quality time together. In fact, I love these walks so much that I recommended them in my post about self-care in marriage!
Getting enough sleep can improve your mood significantly.
It also keeps your body healthy and your mind sharp.14
My husband is an early bird, and I'm a reformed night owl.
When we first got married, we both adjusted our schedules (and our expectations) so we could get ready for bed together.
I'm off my computer by 9pm at the latest, and he tries to stay awake until at least 9:30pm.
We don't fall asleep at the same time, but we're both in bed when he falls asleep.
At that point, I do my extensive skincare routine before reading in bed for awhile. I try to go to sleep about an hour after my husband does.
If you're feeling anxious, avoid caffeine late in the afternoon.
Some studies show that caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns 6 hours after consumption.15
If you’re a coffee junkie like me, it will be hard but well worth it.
I replaced my coffee-drinking habit with tea.
It’s easy to feel tired or stressed when your body doesn’t have the energy it needs.
You can help your partner eat healthy by buying healthy food or cooking healthy meals together.
Self-care isn't just about looking good – it's about being well.
It’s about taking care of yourself, so you’ll have more time and energy to spend with your loved one and keep stress at bay.
Marriage might have improved my sleep habits, but it definitely improved my husband's diet!
He's a notoriously picky eater, but with a bit of encouragement and experimentation, we have discovered healthy meals to eat together.
We both enjoy eating baby carrots as a snack. We make homemade mashed potatoes with cauliflower blended in. Frequently we split a large apple after dinner for dessert. And my husband has also supported me with eating healthily.
I've had dietary restrictions to help with my Crohn's Disease, and he's always willing to work with those limitations.
12. Work on yourself
You can’t thrive in a relationship if you don’t care for yourself.
But what exactly does personal development entail?
Personal development is about helping you become a better version of yourself.
It's about making small changes and forming new habits that will help you reach your potential in life.
You’ll also have more confidence, and you’ll have a stronger sense of self.
This will make you more capable of handling stress and emotions.16
Some activities you can do to improve yourself:
- Read books.
- Learn something new.
- Take classes.
- Join a club.
- Get out of the house.
- Do things that challenge you.
- Practice gratitude.
Every couple I have ever worked with (including my own of 13 years) always seems to be at its worst when subconscious triggers get activated from unresolved past gunk that gets projected onto each other.
We like to argue about how frustrating it is that our partner left their clothes on the floor for the 400th time, but really the feelings that this annoyance invokes is often way deeper than that.
I like to think of relationships and partnerships like mirrors.
The more intimate the relationship, the more magnifying the mirror exposes. With this comes the beauty and the hardship of really having to ‘do your own work’ in being mindful of your triggers from past trauma, as well as learning how to manage them effectively.
Often times our partner can ‘bring out the worst in us’ because they are illuminating our very real unmet childhood needs and/or sensitivities. Doing personal therapy, as well as couples counseling, can be really enlightening and helpful in allowing more intimacy, trust, and connection to grow interpersonally, all well as together.
13. Laugh together
Laughter reduces stress, strengthens relationships, and brings people closer together.
It’s a simple act yet powerful.
Watch a funny movie, make inside jokes, poke fun at each other – do stuff that will spark giggles and laughter in your days.
Sometimes, the pressures of everyday life can be a bit too much that we take things a little too seriously.
Think about the things that matter and stuff that you’re thankful for.
And as cliche as it may sound, laughter is indeed the best medicine.
Especially if you’re doing it with your loved one.
14. Be generous
One study showed that couples who were generous to each other were five times more likely to say that their marriage is “very happy.”17
But what does it mean to be generous?
- you can surprise your spouse with a cup of coffee in the morning when they’re rushing to work.
- Cook their favorite meal.
- Give them a massage when you’re both chilling on the couch.
- Pick up their favorite snack on the way home.
- Let them have the last bite (you know, the one that you saved for last because you want to end your meal with the best piece).
Simple but powerful.
15. Show more decisiveness
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about:
We’re planning to go out for dinner, but where should we go?
Greek? Italian? German? Indian? Croatian? Thai?
It’s so annoying.
For both of us.
Why is it so damned hard to choose a freaking restaurant?
I have no idea, but you can use making a decision to your advantage.
Because your partner will appreciate your decisiveness – even if you choose an option they disagree with.
How can you be more decisive?
Pause for a second instead of automatically reacting with, “I don’t know. What do you want to eat?”
I usually imagine eating the food. I rule out every option that I don’t want to eat right now and then go for what’s left.
Choosing a restaurant is a basic example, but you can apply the process to any situation.
Try making it a point one day a week to swap your dynamic and see how it feels.
Usually when there is one person that mainly makes the decisions, they are generally used to making decisions their entire life. Those people tend to be adult children, the oldest children, children of alcoholics, etc, and even though they secretively crave someone to take initiative for them, they have a hard time with letting go of the reins.
On the flip side, often times people who are more adaptable, less picky and don’t often make decisions, are generally that way because they have gotten the messages throughout their life that their options don’t matter anyway.
This can be a product of having pushy siblings, demanding parents, parents with mental illness, etc. So it’s important to appreciate the ying and yang that you both bring to the relationship.
If it feels off balance though, making one day a week that is specifically designated to flopping roles, can be an interesting exercise. The person who is used to being in control has to step down and agree on whatever their partner makes for dinner, while the person who generally goes with the flow has to stop over thinking and be brave enough to make mistakes or not have a perfect outcome.
16. What makes your spouse special today?
In a relationship, you should take the time to observe your partner.
Observation doesn’t have to be a passive activity.
Stop, take a moment, and observe what makes your partner special.
Then let them know why they are special to you.
For example, instead of saying something generic like “You’re beautiful,” you should say, “I love your hair today.”
Scientists have found that compliments can light up the same parts of your brain that get activated when you get paid a monetary award.18
- The spaghetti was terrific! The kids and I can’t get enough of it 🙂
- Wow. You look sooooo good in that outfit.
- Big thanks for helping my sister with her project. She told me you helped her seal the deal with the client!
When we express appreciation to our spouses, we express our need for them, fulfilling a deep human desire and connection within them.
17. Prolong deeper conversations
Learn to say, “tell me more.”
Conversations in a relationship need to go beyond the surface.
This means that you need to learn how to maintain a conversation. You have to learn how to ask questions and keep the conversation going.
Ask open-ended questions
One easy way to do this is by asking open-ended questions.
For example, instead of asking, “How was work?”, you should ask, “What was exciting about your day at work?”
- What do you think?
- How did you come up with that idea?
- What’s your favorite thing in our house?
- What weird thing stresses you out more than it should?
These questions are great for prolonging conversations because it allows your spouse to elaborate on their opinions.
When you deepen your conversation, you deepen your understanding of each other, which in turn builds emotional intimacy and connection.
The more interest you take in your partner’s inner world, the more loved and appreciated they will feel.
18. Set rules of engagement
How you treat and respond to your partner during arguments creates a sense of safety so you both can engage with trust and respect.
When having arguments, you should:
- Focus on resolving the dispute, not on winning the fight.
- Listen with empathy and a genuine desire to understand their reasoning. Ask for clarification when you don't understand.
- Tell them that it's okay to "agree to disagree."
- If you feel you're about to go nuclear, take a time-out.
- Don't judge, be sarcastic, or belittle them.
- Don't interrupt when they're talking.
- Bringing up past resentments and previous grievances is a big no. Stick to the current topic of discussion.
Adopt the mindset, “Help me understand.”
According to the statistics, most married people are married to someone other than themselves. This is a fact.
Since you are two different people, it is natural and expected that you see and experience the world in different ways. You will laugh at different jokes. You will enjoy different movies. You will be offended by different comments, etc.
If your spouse is bothered by something, it is senseless to try to explain to them why they should not be bothered. This is true even when the source of the bother is you.
The first step has to be, “help me understand.”
Help me understand why you’re upset right now.
Help me understand why this bothered you.
I don’t live in your brain; I’d like to join you and understand you better because I love you.
Don’t explain the problem away. Don’t try to solve it. Don’t even apologize. Until you fully understand what the problem actually is, none of those help.
First stop: help me understand.
Arguments aren't necessarily bad.
Often, it merely signals that differences between the two of you are surfacing.
Conflicts can be an opportunity to address these differences so the relationship can grow and mature.
Just make sure to "keep it clean" and aim for a solution that will satisfy both of you.
When you're in a relationship, there's always something your partner will do to piss you off or make you mad – even if that's not their intention. The only way to ensure true happiness as a couple is to learn to forgive and let go of your resentments.
Each time you fight, make a genuine effort to resolve your conflict in a healthy way instead of keeping scores and looking for a way to get back at your spouse. Most importantly, avoid bringing up past issues during conversations, so you don't have to fight about the same things over and over again.
19. Be like Pinky in “Pinky and The Brain.”
In case you don’t know that TV series from the 90s:
Pinky and the Brain are two genetically modified mice.
And in every episode, Brain tries to achieve world domination.
Pinky is his best friend/assistant and does everything to help him.
Yeah, I know; if you saw the series, the analogy is lacking a little bit, but you get my point:
Look for ways you can actively support your spouse (especially if they want to take over the world, they need all the help they can get).
As a matter of fact:
A supportive spouse is a secret to success, personal growth, and better relationships.19
Also, those with supportive spouses are 25% more concentrated at work and have significantly reduced stress levels.20
The simplest way to start:
Ask them about goals they have this week/month/year, and help them achieve them.
1. Does your spouse want to lose weight?
Help them create a plan, work out with them, help them cook, and choose recipes.
2. Do they want to be promoted and need to take some classes to get there?
Help them learn, take care of the kids more often, free up some study time, etc.
3. Do they want to go out with friends on the weekend but have too much on their schedule?
Take the kids, take over their household chores, etc.
Be the bulldozer that pushes away the obstacles.
20. Don't be afraid
I’m talking about being afraid of making mistakes.
Because it prevents you from executing.
If you don’t execute your plans, it’s like writing a shopping list for groceries but never going to the supermarket.
So, let me ask you this:
What is the worst possible outcome?
Think about it.
Could you make things worse?
Could it push your spouse away?
But what happens if you do nothing?
It will happen anyway and probably faster.
"Imperfect action trumps perfect inaction." - Harry Truman
Don’t aim for perfect.
Aim for improved.
Step by step, you will become a better person and partner to your spouse.
Now, I want to hear from you:
Tell me one thing from the list that you will do to become a better spouse today.
Or did it inspire you to come up with your own idea?
Share them in the comments.