Laura Gilliom, Ph.D.
It is easy to think of lots of things that your partner could do better, or ways that he or she is just not measuring up to your idea of the ideal spouse/significant other. But how much time do you spend thinking of ways to make your partner happier? Be honest. Unless you are still in the early stages of romance, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about what to have for dinner than how to please your partner.
"But why should I?" You ask. "He/she is certainly not making any efforts to please me, at least not that I can see." That may or may not be true. But here is why you should give this some attention.
Are you convinced yet? I hope so. If not, let me tell you Sheila and John's story. After 15 years together, Sheila thought everything was fine, even great, in their marriage. Then she discovered that, unbeknownst to her, her husband was feeling sorely deprived of physical affection. Not sex, just the everyday hugging, kissing, cuddling kind. It took a crisis in their marriage for this to come out, because he'd never been one to complain even when he should. As someone who grew up in a family that was loving but not particularly touchy-feely, she didn't realize how important touch was for him in conveying love. In fact, she felt sort of smothered by his affection at times and would push him away. But once she realized that physical touch was her John's primary love language, she made a big effort to "speak" it more often. As she did so, she realized how little she had been touching him and how easy it was to give this gift to him. The more she did it, the more natural it felt and the more enjoyable it was for her too. He responded with lots of gratitude and with efforts to make her happier too. Their marriage is stronger than it has ever been.
If you want to take action to improve your relationship, think of what small everyday things make your partner feel loved and valued. Is it touch, like John? Is it making time for them? Is it complimenting them, cooking for them, writing love notes, laughing at their jokes? It's not necessarily the things you like best or the things that come most naturally, but if you think about it you probably know what it is. For more help, I highly recommend The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
Once you've identified one or two things, do them! Make a point of doing them every day, at least once, for at least a month. After that it will become much more natural and habitual to do. Chances are good that your relationship will be improved. And even in the worst case scenario -- if your partner does not reciprocate by making more effort him- or herself -- you will still be a better partner and a more generous person.