How To Be A Genuinely Helpful Spouse, From Couples' Therapists
They may hate to admit it, but even the most independent and self-sufficient people need help sometimes. In any type of relationship, but especially within a marriage, it's important to be able to provide support when you can sense that your partner needs it. If you're hoping to be a better husband or wife to your partner, here are some expert-approved ways to be more helpful:
Learn your spouse's love language.
"Being a helpful spouse truly depends on each person's individual ideas about helpfulness," couples' therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, tells mbg. Looking through the lens of the five love languages, it's easy to see how that concept can be defined in many ways, she says.
For example, if their love language is acts of service, then lightening their load would be most helpful, "such as picking up their laundry from the dry cleaner, taking out the garbage, making the bed, or filling their car with gas," Muñoz suggests. "If your partner's love language is quality time, however, being helpful will center more around being truly present and emotionally supportive."
Be more attentive.
Becoming more attuned to their everyday emotions will ensure you're helping them in the ways they need. "Pay attention to the small things your partner says about tasks that are a burden," Muñoz says.
For example, "If your partner says, I don't know how I'm going to find time to mail these letters, make a mental note of that, and do it for them," she suggests. If they get stressed out preparing a meal, chop the vegetables and measure out the ingredients for them. If they have a presentation coming up at work, agree to take the kids out for the afternoon so your spouse has uninterrupted time to prepare.
If you're not sure where you could be of the most assistance, just ask.
Have a flexible mindset.
Being a helpful spouse sometimes means sacrificing your own time and energy. It's important to do that non-begrudgingly, says licensed marriage and family therapist Weena Cullins, LMFT, and having a flexible mindset can help. "Being willing to meet our partner's needs and consider their preferences, especially when they fall outside of our comfort zone, is a characteristic of a helpful spouse," Cullins tells mbg.
For example, if your partner has a specific way of doing the laundry or the dishes that they prefer for the task to feel fully complete, oblige their preferences—and do it with love. Or if your partner asks you to take on a task that you don't usually do or asks you to do it at a time when you'd rather be relaxing, be willing to take on the bit of discomfort and make small sacrifices to support your partner.
Don't complain about the task you're taking on.
"When a task is particularly heavy or burdensome, this can be a huge sacrifice on your part while being a tremendous help to your spouse," Cullins says. However, if you complain to your spouse each time you do the task, it no longer feels like a genuine act of love. Over time, it could even lead to resentment.
Rather than complaining, "Enlist someone else's help or pay for services to meet your spouse's needs," Cullins says. Then pick up the slack in ways that don't feel as burdensome to you.
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Participate in something solely for your partner's benefit.
Participating in something solely for your spouse's benefit can "serve as motivation for your partner to overcome a fear or procrastination or allow them to enjoy something they've wanted to experience with you, despite your lack of interest in the activity," Cullins says.
For example, if you don't think couples' therapy would be beneficial for your relationship, but your partner does, just give it a try. If you have two left feet, but your spouse wants to take dancing lessons, stop taking yourself so seriously and sign up. If you're really not feeling comfortable with what they're asking, be willing to communicate openly about your concerns rather than shutting your partner down.
Be transparent when you just don't have time.
If you want to be helpful to your spouse but don't have time that week, let them know. "Expressing that to your partner can go a long way toward helping them feel seen, cared for, and supported," Muñoz says.
Here's an example of how to communicate that:
I know you've got a lot on your plate right now, and I wish I could be more helpful. I hate that I don't have time to do more for you, but I'll make more time to support you next week.
And when next week comes, be true to your word, she advises.
Show appreciation when your partner is helping you out.
On top of being a helpful spouse, it's important to show appreciation for having one. "Going back to love languages, knowing what makes your partner feel loved will help you know how to show appreciation when they're helpful," Muñoz says. "If your partner lights up when you give them gifts, then spontaneously buy them a bouquet of peonies or roses, along with a note expressing your gratitude. If physical touch means more to them, then offer to give them a back or foot rub."
Showing gratitude will go a long way in sustaining a healthy and supportive partnership. Just remember not to go over the top if your partner doesn't like being fussed over.
"A simple but meaningful thank you is appropriate each time, but making a bigger gesture periodically to help your spouse in return can speak volumes," Cullins says. "Be sure to pick a gesture that they will like versus something you would like or want them to have."
The bottom line.
Willingness to be flexible and helpful to your spouse is a critical component of a healthy marriage. Paying attention to how your partner likes to receive help, knowing where they might need it most, and relieving them of burdensome tasks without complaint are just a few ways to show support. And when life gets too busy for you, communicating that to your partner and asking for help yourself is also vital.
If you want to really overhaul the way domestic tasks are divided in your relationship, here's our full guide to sharing housework equally.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.