In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Dillard wrote the passage in respect to how a writer’s life must be regimented and that spending your time writing — not thinking about writing, not planning to write, but writing — is crucial. If you don’t, you’re only talking about writing and not actually writing. You’re spending your hours, and days, wanting to write instead of doing it. The point of Dillard’s advice, and which can be applied to other pursuits, is to encourage people to play an active role. How we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our years.
Dillard’s words can be applied to many different areas, including relationships. While, yes, yearning to be better is important — we are what we do, not what we want to do. So it’s good to think about the words to say to your partner — the ones that reassure them, that inspire them, that let them know that you truly see them — more often. Think about it: How many times do you consider telling your partner something funny or sweet but, for whatever reason, don’t? How many times do you quietly witness them win one of life’s tiny victories, but don’t acknowledge it? We’re all guilty of this from time to time. Life with kids is busy, after all, and moments pass quickly. But there are some words and phrases that you should make a point to say — and not just think about saying — with a bit more regularity.
To offer some examples, we spoke to a few relationship experts about what couples need to say to each other more often. No, you shouldn’t wear these out or think that they’re some sort of panacea for other issues. And no, you don’t need to repeat them verbatim. But when they become part of the DNA of your relationship, they make it clear that you respect, appreciate, love, and support your partner. They help make what is often unsaid, explicit, and help ensure that both of you are spending your days — and therefore years — expressing the right sentiments.
1. “Thank you for doing [insert thing here] today.”
Whether or not we admit it, we all want to feel appreciated. Routinely expressing appreciation for your partner is an easy way to help your partner feel seen. After all, true appreciation is the act of externalizing what is often taken for granted. It is saying, “I noticed this great/thoughtful/patient/wise/funny thing you did, and I wanted to acknowledge it/ express my gratitude.”
This can be as simple as saying, “Hey, thanks for defusing that tantrum this morning. You really have a calming effect on the kids.” Or, “Hey, thanks for listening to me vent today, I obviously needed to get it out.” Either way, expressing gratitude and appreciation regularly — and precisely — says Brianda Teterukov, a licensed professional counselor, couples therapist, and the founder of AZ Therapy Quest, helps keep a relationship in a healthy place. “By showing gratitude, couples can start to shift their attention to the positive aspects of their relationship versus getting caught in the cycle of negativity.”
2. “We will figure it out together.”
One of the biggest draws of being in a loving relationship is knowing that you don’t have to face challenges and chaotic moments alone, right? Right. Making this clear is important. So, when your partner is suddenly faced with something frightening or unexpected, let them know that you are — and will be — there for them and work hand-in-hand to solve the problem together. Done frequently, this helps solidify a “we” mentality, creating trust and a stronger bond, and makes intentions obvious. “Strong relationships are built upon trust and being able to count on each other when your world is turned upside down,” Teterukov says. Reminding one another of this goes a long way.
3. “I like the way you think.”
Validation is important in every relationship. But specifically telling your partner that you like the way they think is particularly meaningful, says Teterukov, as it clearly tells them that you value their insights and opinions and what they have to offer intellectually. Saying this regularly can also create a deeper sense of security. “While most compliments include physical attributes, appreciating the intellect can help encourage each other to share more of your reality and come up with solutions,” Teterukov says.
4. “How was your day?/Let me know if you want to talk about X.”
Asking your partner about their day is an offer to connect. Whether you know they had a crappy afternoon and are offering them a venting session or simply want them to know that you care about what their world is like when they’re away from you, the question, regularly asked, makes it clear that there is space. Space to share the good, the bad, the silly, the peculiar — anything. “Having an outlet to let your partner know what is really going on can help build intimacy and help you feel heard,” Teterukov says. Importantly, she adds, accepting the request to share helps you both understand where the other person’s head is at. “We are not mind readers and even after years of knowing each other, we cannot predict how our partner is feeling and thinking,” she says. Offering a peek is important for the health of your relationship.
5. “Let’s plan something fun.”
Life is very chaotic, and finding time for each other while juggling family, careers and other daily stresses can be an almost impossible task. It’s important not only that you make time for each other but that your partner knows that it’s a priority for you. “One of the biggest barriers to intimacy includes burnout and feeling overwhelmed,” Teterukov says. “Building good habits around activities that you both like can create more emotional bandwidth in other areas of your life.”
6. “I support you.”
It’s simple: Life is hard and everyone — even those who have things under control — needs affirmation. Knowing that your partner has your back and reminds you of that fact can be a huge shot in the arm. “Having someone in our corner who lifts us and reminds us that we have an unshakeable teammate during tough times is invaluable,” says Lauren Barry, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the clinical director at We Level Up. “We all benefit from knowing that there’s someone rooting for us, ready to stand by our side when life gets complicated.”
7. “What I love about you is…”
Yes, it’s nice — and important — to hear “I love you.” But hearing our partner say specifically what they love about us and what our good qualities and strengths are can go a long way to improving one’s general outlook and the health of the relationship. “This act not only builds self-esteem but also fosters a sense of mutual appreciation,” Barry says. “It becomes a delightful and gratifying exchange, creating a win-win situation for both partners in the relationship.”
8. “I’d rather be with you.”
No, this isn’t about being clingy. It is, however, about recognizing a simple truth: You love your partner and want to spend time with them — time that’s often booked running errands, doing work, or just handling all the little things that keep life humming along. Yes, it’s important to have hobbies and separate interests from your partner and a little time away every now and then can help you both recharge. But when you’re doing those things, it’s nice to know that your partner wants to be spending time with you. “When we communicate this to our partners,” Barry says, “we demonstrate a deep appreciation for the positive impact they have on our lives and emphasize that their presence is genuinely cherished.” Who doesn’t want to hear that?
9. “You were right, I was wrong.”
Stubbornness can sink relationships. The ability to look at an argument from your partner’s perspective and see where you may have been in error can be a great way to show humility and that you’re willing to put your own ego aside and forgo the need to be “right” in favor of more honest communication. “Such a practice fosters trust between partners and creates an environment where it feels safe to acknowledge mistakes or moments of defeat,” Barry says. “By valuing honesty and humility, we pave the way for a more profound connection and understanding in our relationship.”