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Sometimes, it's easy to become complacent in our relationships — especially when improving them seems like a lot of work. But you don't have to go big or go home when it comes to being a better spouse.
"It is the simple, small things we do for one another that really make a difference in our marriages," says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. "Even when things get stressful and busy over time in our lives, don't forget the small things in your marriage. Small things, consistently, show your partner that he or she is special and important to you."
With that in mind, here are nine easy-peasy, expert-approved ways to be a better spouse.
Show your appreciation.
And not just when your husband brings home a bouquet of flowers. He deserves kudos every time he takes out the trash, too, says Barbara J. Peters, certified counselor and author of He Said, She Said, I Said. "Tell each other how the small task made life easier for that moment," she says. "Although to say 'thank you' seems like common sense, this practice will improve your relationship by making each person feel valued for his or her contribution."
Ask open-ended questions.
Close-ended questions are those that only require a "yes" or "no" answer from your spouse. By asking open-ended questions, you "let your partner know that he or she is noticed and special," Orbuch says, and give him or her more of a chance to share his or herself with you.
Shower one another with compliments.
"This plan works because we all love to hear what we did well!" says Peters. "Compliments make us feel loved for who we are." Aim to compliment your spouse every day, "even if it is just to tenderly say, 'I love it when you smile.'"
Really listen to your partner.
Too often, we're only "concerned about what you are going to say next," says Orbuch. Instead of zoning out as your plan your prolific response, try to really hear what your spouse is saying. "Listening is just as vital as speaking. It shows your partner that you hear him or her and care about him or her."
Appreciate your partner's personality.
Unfortunately, it's often easier to focus on what our partners do wrong than what they do right. "Does she have some flaws? Does he make some blunders? Probably so," Peters says. "But look for what you do like, and appreciate those things. Our relationships, when built on appreciation, can more easily weather our mistakes."
Resolve conflict constructively.
"All relationships have conflict — it is how you deal with those disagreements that is important and critical to happiness and stability of a marriage over time," says Orbuch. Resolving a conflict constructively means "no name calling, staying calm, being respectful, asking for clarifications, and avoiding words like 'always' or 'never.'"
Do something "just because."
It's easy to do something when asked. But the truth is, it's just as easy to surprise your partner just because it's Tuesday. "This strategy shows a thinking process that says, 'I have a special someone in my life, and I want to let him or her know it,'" says Peters.
Put your spouse first.
That might mean sacrificing what you want in the moment. "Be available to help out if asked, even if it means letting some task go for a while that was on your own to-do list," says Peters. "Your partner will see that you rate your priorities with your relationship in mind."
Initiate new experiences.
Feeling blah? "All relationships go through times that are called 'relationship ruts,'" says Orbuch. But you can break out of those ruts by trying "new activities together to add excitement and passion."