We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, onto today’s topic: how to make your partner feel appreciated.
Q: “My boyfriend and I have been together for five years, living together for three. We love each other deeply, but I feel like we fall into a lot of the traps that most long-term couples fall into — working too much, not making enough time for each other, bickering over little things, etc. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend said he felt unappreciated. He’s not one for talking about his feelings, so I know he must be feeling very hurt. For as much as we might drive each other crazy sometimes, I never want him to feel unappreciated. I’d love some ideas for simple ways to let him know that I do appreciate him and everything he does. I don’t want to do anything too dramatic right now, because I worry it will come across as not being genuine.“
A: Thanks for the question! Far too many relationships suffer from a basic lack of acknowledgment and appreciation. It’s a sad reality that we very quickly start to take our partners for granted in relationships. I think you’re on the right track by looking for little, everyday ways to let your partner know you care. Grand gestures are nice, but it’s the things we do every day that really count. Here are eight small but impactful ways to let your partner know you appreciate them.
Say “I’m Sorry”
I’m guessing that when you first heard your boyfriend say he felt unappreciated, you may have started thinking, “no way! I’m not unappreciative!” It’s natural to feel defensive when someone you care about tells you you’ve hurt them. But one of the best things you can do to help your boyfriend feel better is to acknowledge his feelings. It’s important to think about the difference between intention and impact. I’m sure you never meant to make your boyfriend feel unappreciated, but he does.
Rather than getting into an argument about whether or not you’re actually appreciative, say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I heard you. I never wanted you to feel unappreciated, and I’m sorry that you do. I want to work together to make sure you don't feel that way again.”
...And "Thank You"
The best way to show your appreciation for your partner is simply to acknowledge the things they do when they do them. Sounds painfully obvious, but it’s just not something that a lot of couples do on a regular basis. We get too comfortable in relationships, and we start expecting our partners to do things rather than appreciating our partners for doing them. If you want your partner to feel more appreciated, be more mindful about thanking them for the things they do as they do them — “thanks for giving me a ride to work,” “thanks for cooking dinner.”
Call Out Things They Did Without Being Asked
In particular, keep your eye out for things your partner did without being asked. In long-term relationships, most of us do lots of little things for our partners without being asked. We’ve gotten to know our partner so well that we know what they need without them having to specifically spell it out. For example, maybe your partner always pulls down a new roll of toilet paper because they know you’re too short to reach it. It’s a small gesture, but it shows they were thinking of you. Unfortunately, most of us tend to focus on the things we asked our partners to do, but that they didn’t, rather than the things they did without even being asked. Start recognizIng those little acts of love. Say something like, “it was really nice to see all my laundry folded up so neatly. Thank you for doing that.”
Acknowledge Them For The Emotional Stuff
It’s great to say thanks for tangible things, but you can also acknowledge the ways your partner contributes to your relationship mentally and emotionally. Maybe your partner is always there for you when you need to talk about your complicated relationship with your mom, or when you need to vent about work. Thank your partner for the specific ways they show up for you or have your back. Or you can simply say, “thanks for being you” or “I’m so lucky I get to share my life with you.”
You’re not always going to be physically together when you notice something your partner has done for you, or when you feel a swell of appreciation. You can always send your partner little texts or leave them notes to say thank you. Let them know you were thinking about them, and feeling lucky to have them in your life. There’s nothing sweeter than getting an unprompted love note.
Praise Them In Front Of Others
A lot of couples tease each other in front of their friends. This usually starts off good-natured, but can quickly turn uncomfortable. I'm sure you've had experiences of hearing your friends air things out about their relationship that were probably best kept private! Instead, try bragging about your partner in front of your friends. Don't be obnoxious or over the top about it, but say little things like, “this guy right here is so thoughtful. He surprised me with a box of my favorite candy after a really awful day at work last week.”
Do Things For Them In Return
You can also show your appreciation for your partner by taking good care of them in return. There are so many little ways to show your partner you’re thinking about them. Surprise them with a date night out to the movies. Put together that IKEA bedside table you've both been ignoring.
In particular, think about your partner's pet peeves. What is your partner always on your case to do? What would it make them really happy to see? For example, maybe your partner always nags you to empty the dishwasher. It wouldn’t take that much effort to force yourself to be extra mindful about the dishwasher for the next few weeks. I promise you — your partner will notice!
Ask Them What Makes Them Feel Appreciated
Finally, I would recommend simply asking your boyfriend what makes him feel appreciated. We each experience appreciation in different ways. You may be trying to show your boyfriend appreciation in the ways that you like to be appreciated, but maybe you both have different styles. Maybe he's more of a physical person, and hugs and cuddles make him feel appreciated. Maybe spending uninterrupted quality time makes him feel appreciated. When things have settled down between the two of you, try asking him what types of gestures or actions make him feel seen and acknowledged.
Wishing you both the best!