Want to be a better husband? The first step is to, well, try to be a better husband. Sounds weird but it’s true. The best marriages are those in which both members play active roles, where they not only identify their flaws (i.e. “I invalidate your feelings too much”; “I often have too much work stress”) but also find ways to fix them. In attempting to know yourself better — your strengths, your weaknesses, your sometimes-good-sometimes-bad-tendencies — you will become not just a good husband but an evolving one. In other words: Make an effort, do the work, and you’ll be rewarded. Want to start? Well, there are a number of small, simple things that all of us can focus on to be happier, more present, and better husbands and partners. Like these nine items right here.
1. Do Your Share of the ‘Emotional Labor’
The majority of women bear the weight of not only management of daily tasks but also their personal feelings and their partner’s in order to accomplish everything. This is often referred to as “emotional labor,” or the invisible work necessary to run a household. Constant overseeing of their families’ needs can take a major toll. And if this burden goes unrecognized, it can have a very bad effect on your marriage.
One of the best ways to do your share of the emotional labor is to talk about it and arrive at a plan. This can just be a plan of what both people want to get out of their relationship and what matters to each of them. If both partners’ goals are clearly outlined, it can be much harder for things to fall by the wayside. “As far as lessening emotional labor on a wife,” says Phillip Young, who founded Better Together Breakthroughs with his wife, Brittney, “a husband can always refer back to this — hopefully in a weekly family meeting — to check in with his wife on how they are living this shared creation.”
2. Put Down Your Damn Phone
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has found that phone snubbing, or “phubbing,” actually generates relationship dissatisfaction on an almost-subconscious level by creating emotional distance between romantic partners. This is yet another study in a growing body of research that highlights how our phones are distracting us from authentic human interaction — and there are very real, very deep consequences. The best remedy for this is also the most difficult: Just put the phone down and focus on your partner. Make eye contact. Have a conversation. Be human.
3. Be Mindful of the Energy You Bring Home
Life is full of stressors. We can’t control them. What we can do is decide what energy we bring home — which is essential for staying present with your partner. “Choosing the energy we wish to bring into our home is so important before walking in,” Rose Lawrence, a psychotherapist and the owner of Mind Balance, Inc., told Fatherly. “When we do this, we have more control over our intentions, our mood, and our behaviors. It involves a thoughtful choice each day, each hour.”
4. Express Appreciation More Often
According to Jonathan Robinson, a couple’s therapist and author of the new book More Love, Less Conflict: A Communication Playbook for Couples, one of the most core aspects of a relationship is that “people want to be understood and they want to feel like their emotions are being valued.” One of the best ways to go about this is to simply tell your partner you appreciate them. A simple note, text message, or compliment can go a long way in a relationship, Robinson says. Just letting your spouse know that he or she is appreciated and that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed can help them to feel validated and understood. “The number one correlation with happiness in couples is the number of appreciations they give to each other,” he says.
5. Learn to Press the ‘Pause’ Button
In any relationship, it’s easy to overreact when you’re being criticized or questioned. One of the best things you can do: Understand that you need a minute. When your partner comes at you with a question, don’t immediately go on the defensive. Take a second to hear what’s being said and understand it before your craft your response. “We’re wired to retaliate when attacked,” says Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a relationship therapist in Manhattan. “By taking a breath, you give yourself time to shift your focus inward and to find a more constructive way to respond.”
6. Prioritize the Positive
At the beginning of a relationship, positive emotions are flowing with regularity. Excitement, joy, and passion are all right at your fingertips. But, as the relationship progresses and you both get more comfortable with each other, some people expect that those positive emotions will just happen without any effort. Not so, says Suzann Pileggi, who, along with her husband, James Pawelski, director of education at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, authored Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.
“The research shows that the happiest couples with the most sustainable marriages are the ones who actively cultivate them all the time and prioritize them as opposed to waiting around for them to happen,” she says. “Because, like with anything, the newness of something, those heightened positive emotions, the level and the frequency just naturally don’t occur as much as in the beginning of a relationship, the falling-in-love stage.” What does this mean for those in long-term relationships? It’s a matter of asking themselves what can they do each day, what activities or actions they can do in order to keep positive emotions flowing in a marriage.
7. Use ‘I’ Statements During Arguments
Arguments happen all the time in marriage; they don’t have to be atom bombs. When you do argue with your spouse, try and shift the focus by not casting blame and saying, “You did this” or “You need to fix this” and instead use “I” statements. “When you use ‘you’ statements, they feel blamed and their ears turn off,” says Robinson. “So, when you use ‘I’ statements, you avoid that. You can take responsibility by using a statement like, ‘One way I see I contributed to this upset is…’ What you’re trying to do is not have your partner become defensive and an ‘I’ statement, or taking some responsibility, helps with that.”
8. Be Specific When Expressing Gratitude
Just saying “thanks” to your partner isn’t enough. True gratitude lies in the specifics. Consider this: If your spouse gives you a gift or does something kind for you, don’t just thank them — say something like, “You really know what I need, and you’re such a good listener,” or “You’re so thoughtful, and I can see how thoughtful you are with our children and the way you are at work.”
It’s about being deliberate and specific in how you express appreciation. “Express your thanks and express it well,” says Pileggi. “Which means focusing on your partner and her actions and her strengths rather than solely on the gift and the benefit to you.” In fact, per Pileggi, couples who did this greatly increased their marital satisfaction.
9. Flirt More Often
The happiest relationships are those in which the people constantly remind each other that they’re loved, respected, and having fun. Flirting, therefore, is an essential skill. “For whatever reason, when we’re married we don’t think we have to or need to do the things we did when we were dating,” says Fran Greene, a couple’s counselor and author of The Flirting Bible. “Somehow when the commitment is there we feel like we can say, ‘Thank God, I don’t have to do that anymore.’ But it’s the opposite.”
10. Let your spouse feel your presence
“Being available might be one of the more difficult things to do with the demands from work, home obligations, personal needs and responsibilities,” says Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a licensed mental health clinician, author, and motivational speaker. “However, making your spouse feel that you are present in the moment will help taking away a lot of irritation, miscommunication, and other tiring aspects that your spouse experienced.” Here’s a good start: When your partner is talking about something personal, give them your full attention. That means, put your phone (or tablet or laptop) down. Make eye contact. Nod. Affirm. Reciprocate. Be there fully. “Sometimes,” per Dr. Holland-Kornegay, “looking at your partner with loving eyes and a smile on the lips can be enough.”