What Do You Do To Show Your Partner You Care?

Working on being kinder to each other.

Almost one year ago exactly, I picked an epic fight with my husband about an article on APW. The post was written by a woman I love and admire (you know her as Manya), and on the surface was a deeply poetic ode to the little things she and her husband do each day to show they care. At its core, Manya’s piece was really about the way we grow into love over a long period of time, but I was too distracted by the minutia to see that (they bring coffee to each other in bed?! WTF?). Allowing the parts to substitute for the whole, I saw the article as proof of the shortcomings in my relationship, in the same way that I see Pinterest as proof of my shortcomings as a home decorator. Filled with insecurity and dread, I wrote a rebuttal to Manya’s post that reminded everyone not to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides, and that we should be careful not to try and keep up with the Joneses. When I was done, I felt better.

That wasn’t the end of it by a long shot, though. While my post tied itself up neatly at the end, the article in question actually broke open my relationship in a very real way, exposing a problem that had been festering for some time: Michael and I just weren’t being very nice to each other. To be clear, we weren’t being mean. But over the course of a decade of being together, we’d fallen into a lazy kind of familiarity, and started to take each other for granted. We’d replaced generosity with petty selfishness, and had officially become “that bickering couple.” I remember leaving dinner with APW editor Kate and her husband one night last year and exasperatedly asking Michael why we just couldn’t be nice to each other like them.

So Michael and I talked. And I cried. And we fought for months. Over who was going to buy groceries. Over snuggle etiquette. Over hanging out with each other’s friends. And ultimately, over who would make coffee on Saturday morning. (Why I hinged the well-being of my relationship to the part of Manya’s post about bringing each other coffee in bed is beyond me. But there you have it.)

We didn’t resolve to do anything except to try to be nicer to each other. Which is about as easy and as hard as it gets.

But then there was a cup of coffee. Sitting on the counter top, one Saturday morning, a 12oz white flag, waiting for me to ruin it with Coffee-mate and sugar. You know how sometimes you talk and talk and just assume your partner isn’t hearing anything you’re saying? And then one day they surprise you with how easily they can recite your words back to you without error? This was that, in coffee form. So I made breakfast. Then one night Michael made dinner. Soon, I stopped complaining about going out to drinks with his friends. And he agreed to help me finally decorate our kitchen wall. Before I knew it, I began cherishing our new routines, and that tiny act of making coffee before I get up in the morning on Saturdays was the act that finally broke me of my habit of overworking myself and not putting enough time into my marriage (which, it turns out, was the crux of the problem all along).

Lately I’ve been reading a bit about the Christian principle of serving your partner in marriage. I’m not religious outside of being a recovering Catholic, but I’ll take good advice when I see it. I used to think that serving meant sacrificing. And that when people said marriage was work, they probably had crappy marriages. But as we cross the halfway point on the fifth year of our marriage and approach twelve years of our relationship, I’m starting to see things a little differently. Loving Michael has always been effortless, but a loving marriage isn’t always. It’s in my nature to be self-sufficient, but self-sufficiency has a way of turning into not caring about anyone’s needs but my own.

Getting up an extra fifteen minutes early on Saturdays and making my coffee takes work. Dedication. It’s hardly an impossible task, but if it were effortless we wouldn’t have been bickering about to begin with. Had it been up to me, I might never have been the one to make the first move (I told you Michael was the best). But I can reciprocate. I can take the extra minute inside my head to act with generosity. I’ve been surprised at how effortless the cycle now feels when we’re both taking tiny steps toward fixing a bigger problem.

After five long years of struggling uphill in our marriage (sick dog, crappy jobs, move after move, and working way too much), I feel like I finally understand how this marriage thing works.

A few weeks ago, Michael and I went camping for the first time since our wedding. (To give you an idea of what a success that was: “camping items” were number one on our registry… five years ago. We “wanted to go camping a lot in our marriage.”) As I woke up from a chilly and restless night in our tent, I found the sleeping bag next to me empty, and Michael outside attempting to master the ratio of coffee grounds to water in our questionable camp percolator. So I made breakfast. And on it goes.

So tell me, what are the small, but significant everyday things you do to show each other you care? What are the things you need to work on as a couple to be kinder to each other?

This post was sponsored by Keurig: enabling tiny kindnesses since 1998. Thanks Keurig, for helping make the APW mission possible!

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  • Victwa

    I super-love this post. I remember reading an article a million years ago that asked a couple who had been married a million years (or something like that) what was the secret to a good marriage? And one of them said, “Infinite kindness.” And my goodness, I love that deceptively simple but often excruciatingly difficult piece of advice. My husband is one of the kindest people I know. He is quite good at many of the “little things”– making coffee, making sure he gets me a beer if he’s getting himself one, checking in during the day “just to say hi.” (I mean, he clearly has his share of irritating habits, but overall, he’s much kinder than I am.) I am working on asking for things that I need help with (let’s both chip in on the cleaning!) in kinder ways and not the generally critiquing-voice that I am more comfortable asking for help with.

    • Lindsey d.

      Ditto to the first part of this. My husband is the kindest person I know, and I am simply not nearly as kind as he. Working on the little stuff too.

    • Meg Keene

      Or as my grandmother used to say, “Making him his favorite foods.” (Which David does, not me. But boy does he do it.)

    • LavenderHoney

      Me too – my husband is so kind and always doing little things for me like buying the tea I like or making sure there’s fuel in the car when he knows I’m going somewhere.

      I’ve learned so much from him about the tiny gestures that can make your partner feel good and feel that little squeeze of love around their heart. Him being so good has made me a better person because now I look out for nice things to do for him too. There is something beautiful about learning from your loved one.

  • MisterEHolmes

    The every day thing is that we text each other, sort of randomly, throughout the day. Sometimes they just say “Love you” or sometimes they are about something we’ve seen that the other “needs” to know about (the spiders paragliding outside my car window), or just a little check-in. When we very first started dating, this felt smothering to me: now I can’t imagine a day without it.

    And we’ve started a morning ritual: whomever wakes up first spends a few minutes cuddling with the sleeper before getting up. It makes for a nice not-quite-awake time and makes the day better.

    • Laura C

      The random texting really helped us get through being long-distance for a while. Just the kind of frequent, not very purposeful check-ins helped maintain a sense of connection no matter how busy we were. And we still do it some if he’s out all day.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    One nice but significant thing I do is offer to make my husband’s plate for dinner and if he says yes (which isn’t that often actually) to actually do it. That’s a big deal to me because I have an aversion to making yo man a plate of food.

    My husband has always been the kinder and more thoughtful partner. He’s always doing little things like bringing me my phone, taking my stuff out of the car and just generally thinking of my comfort. I could definitely be better at this.

    • alyssam

      I think this can be hard for women when balancing being a good partner and being a “good feminist.” I loved the piece Rachel wrote on here awhile ago about it… And her rule of “would I do this for my mother?”

      • Lauren

        I thought the rule was, would I need to do this in a zombie apocalypse? So many wise words it’s hard to keep straight :)

  • mmm-good

    I love this.

    My partner and I have very different ideas of being kind to each other. Mainly he’s great at this little day to day stuff (“hey you said you wanted pretzels the other day, so I stopped at the store and bought you pretzels”) while I’m way better at the big stuff (“it’s your birthday so I threw you an awesome party and made your day super special”). So now we’ve sort of given each other the project to try to meet the other person in the middle. I try to get better at the little things that make each day wonderful and he tries to get better at those big things you tell your friends about to make them a little bit jealous of how great your partner is.

    • Sarah E

      That’s us, too! I finally realized that I need to actually ask for a birthday party and birthday cake if I want them (which he then happily gives me). He’s so much better at just chilling with me, or letting me stay on the couch while he starts dinner, brings me a drink, etc. It makes me think again about what I do for him and also not to ask for things just out of sheer laziness and knowing he’ll comply (at least, less often).

    • Marcela

      This is our dynamic too!
      My husband is amazing at the day to day things…driving me to and from work, packing my lunch, keeping the house clean…etc. I’m a big picture person. I buy him a giant TV so he doesn’t have to sit so close when playing video games or get us tickets to a wildlife sanctuary where we played with a baby tiger cub. My stuff is big and flashy, but its the work he puts into our relationship that keeps us going day after day.

  • Lawyerette510

    Loved this entire post. Thank you so much for it, especially:
    “You know how sometimes you talk and talk and just assume your partner isn’t hearing anything you’re saying? And then one day they surprise you with how easily they can recite your words back to you without error?”

    A lot of the time, I don’t know if my FH is listening, because he doesn’t react in the same manner I would. I’m more extroverted and he’s more introverted and it takes near constant reminders from me to myself that just because he isn’t talking doesn’t mean he’s not processing. That said, he’s also taking steps to find ways that he can acknowledge that he is not only hearing, but listening and thinking on something.

    • alyssam

      EXACT same thing with us. Just because he didn’t respond doesn’t mean he’s ignoring me… And if I want a real response I’d best be willing to sit in silence for a and let him process… It’s hard, but I’m learning.

    • EJ

      Yes…this is something that my bf and I are working on as well, as I’m the extroverted one who can have a very hard time when I’m talking to him and he’s not saying a word in response. I do need to keep reminding myself that he can still be listening even if he isn’t talking! I’d be interested to know what steps you two have found that work for him to signal to you that he is, indeed, paying attention and thinking about what you’re saying.

      • Lawyerette510

        We read “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking” at the same time and would talk about it, that was kinda the first step. Then I talked about what I felt/ perceived when I talked about my needs/ feelings/ anxiety/ whatever and he didn’t verbally respond. He then talked about what he felt when listening, and we talked about ways he could show me that, like nodding, echoing words/ sentiments etc and ways I could give him space to do so, like mentally counting to 20 to give him a chance to say something, like telling him what I wanted to discuss well ahead of when I wanted to discuss it and us setting up a time to discuss it. It’s been a work in progress, and I haven’t always handled it maturely, but it’s coming along.

  • RShel

    Leading up to our wedding, I started making us say three nice things about eachother before bed. It could be something general that we like about the other (“You’re driven,” “you like hanging out with my friends” ) or something that the other did that day (“you made me breakfast,” “you called the plumber,” “you made me a cocktail”). We only do it occasionally now, and he will roll his eyes when I make him do it, but he’ll always participate! It’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s nice to actually remind eachother why we fell in love with eachother and to note the nice things that we do for one another that we may otherwise take for granted. It’s a nice minute to reflect on our relationship.

    • Shotgun Shirley

      Totally going to co-opt this idea!
      ETA: I think I’ll be sneaky about it too, and not let the hubs know what I’m doing.

    • Sarah E

      A friend of mine has a similar go-to. She asks everyone, all the time “What was the favorite part of your day?” (but really fast and in a southern accent) Anytime there’s a lull in conversation or if she’s seeing you for the first time that evening, or if you’ve hung out all day long. She’s the sunniest person.
      It sticks with me, though, because it brings the focus back to the positive.

      • Jessica Nelson

        I’ve sometimes tried replacing “how’s it going?” as a greeting with “what was the best part of your day/weekend?” and “what was the worst part?” It’s amazing how much people are willing to tell me when I ask, when they would’ve just replied “fine” to the first question!

      • Lindsey d.

        Stealing this. Our normal exchange is me asking him “How was your day?” He answers “It was okay.” And then I have to pry anything else out of him.

    • Victwa

      We actually instituted a weekly night with the kiddos where everyone is on the “hot seat” and we go around and everyone says what they appreciate about the person. The pre-teen was not totally enthusiastic but she goes along with it, and when there was a time that it fell off, I really felt the absence. I think that it’s been actually one of the most important things for our stepfamily functioning as well as it does. When people know that the the actions and ways they are in the world are appreciated, it makes lots of the hard stuff much easier. Take that away and it’s easy (well, if you’re me) to fall into negative narratives, particularly when managing emotions and trying to address everyones’ needs is HARD. Our culture is not generally big on the gratitude phenomenon, but no one ever complains about feeling too appreciated.

    • Jenny

      My husband and I do something once a week where one of us will ask the other, what’s one thing I did this week that made you feel loved. It makes me think about my actions, and reflect on all the little nice things he’s done for me over the course of the week. (like yesterday he picked me up from work, but also had a cold fountain diet coke waiting for me because he knew I had a busy day).

      • We do that too (ok, sporadically, but we mean to do it every Sunday night). That question has been so helpful. Things that feel like love to both of us can be so different and unexpected, it’s really helped us to learn to love each other better.

    • mere…

      When we first got married my husband and I would list off the 3 best-or-worst parts of our day and 3 things we were looking forward to about tomorrow each night when we crawled into bed. We’ve stopped doing this somewhere along the way, but your comment just made me realize how much I miss those little moments of reconnecting. I think I’ll try to reinitiate this little habit.

  • Elena

    Such a timely post. I’ve been slipping on my kind acts since the little one came along. Now, it seems like the biggest kindness either one of us can give the other is to take the girl for a few minutes in the morning to let the other one sleep longer. We are both pretty seriously sleep-deprived these days (oh the joys of teething), so this goes a long way.
    Thanks for the very honest and lovely post, Maddie.

    • Meg Keene

      We ended up realizing that we just had to set up a SYSTEM, because that was the kindest thing. Kind acts are hard when you’re sleep deprived, so sometimes you have to plan. These days, I’m the night parent, he’s the morning parent. (Mornings are coming EARLY.) One day, hopefully, there will be no night parent, and then hopefully we’ll rotate.

      Anyway. Singing the praises of the pre-planned kind acts which are what gets us through right now. I do the daycare runs, he does the dishes while I catch up on work, etc.

      • Elena

        Love this. I never realized how important having a PLAN was until the girl came along. I mean, I’ve always been a bit of a planner, but now *everything* is on the shared google calendar. Sleep has been harder to plan for because our little tyrant demands my attention in a way that she doesn’t of my husband, especially when she’s in pain, and my husband has to be at work super-early (like before our daycare even opens). I’m hoping that this particular imbalance will even out a bit once we wean her, but for now, it’s kinda what’s going on. But you’re right: sometimes setting up a system is a very kind (not to mention practical!) thing to do.

        • Meg Keene

          Oh god, don’t get me started on the imbalance ;) Our issues are all the same, really. But having the PLAN has helped some. Like, I was super bitter about having to do both daycare runs everyday, and how much that cut into my work day. But having him to the dishes so I can catch up did a HUGE amount to fix that. Which is funny, because daycare run takes maybe an hour out of my day, dishes are maybe 15 minutes. But it still feels like it fixed it.

          • swarmofbees

            oh the bitterness of daycare responsibility. When the other half works 12+ hours a day at an office and makes your lifestyle affordable, it logically makes up for daycare, dinner and dishes. But, bitterness is not so logical sometimes.

          • Meg Keene

            When earnings don’t balance out that way, it makes it REALLY complicated. For everyone. In a whole lot of different ways. Sometimes it feels like everyone has a different short end of the stick. Complicated.

            (Not that the other way isn’t complicated too. It’s just differently complicated. SIGH. TO ALL OF IT.)

          • swarmofbees

            everyone has a different short end of the stick – I think that pretty much sums it up for so many families.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Gurrrlllll I so feel you on the daycare runs. I never realized how much time they actually really take. We started out with me doing both but I was getting to work late (I have to tack on 30 mins extra for drop off, timing from when we walk out of the door) and I was doing pick up which meant I had to leave work early which wasn’t working. I was sooo resentful for about two weeks and then I was like, wait, we are each going to pick one. And obviously some days he has to do both and some days I have to do both and if that happens, no biggie. I would rather do baths and bedtime with ours than do dishes and the latter is much faster and less involved.

          • Meg Keene

            I swear to you ON EVERYTHING, that if David was a woman, he’d get the flexibility we need for daycare runs. But corporate office culture, even in the best offices… isn’t… there yet.

  • Laura C

    We’re so everyday nice to each other I sometimes worry we’re covering over the deeper stuff. I don’t know if it’s true, and maybe it’s just that A is so much sweeter than me — he’s sweet, I respond in kind because how can I not — but I worry. When he’s not in the room, anyway.

    • Lindsey d.

      I have the same fear sometimes, that we are OVERLY polite to each other. It’s not as big a deal now that we live together, but now I also fear that we are going to go too far and not be polite anymore. Arg…

      • moonlitfractal

        I try to always be polite to my husband when I can, especially when I’m annoyed and would rather yell and curse, but it’s led to some misunderstandings. Once he confused my politeness with passive aggression. That conversation ended poorly, but we’re on the same page now.

    • Rowany

      I don’t think being polite and going into the deeper stuff is mutually exclusive. One of the big things is hearing someone say “why shouldn’t you be nicer to the one you love most than anyone else?” Yet it can be really easy, like Maddie says, to take that person for granted. You can argue and be polite. I think sometimes it can be easier to go over the deeper stuff when you’re polite because the other person doesn’t always go into defensive mode if you bring up the issue in a considerate and understanding way. TLDR; as long as you do actually talk about that stuff, I think you’re ahead of the game!

  • jashshea

    Jeez Louise! I’ll admit to being a tad hormonal right now, but this made me sorta weepy.

    Funny how the walls we’ve all built around being independent or self-sufficient take FOREVER to dismantle, huh?

  • I just finally finished reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly (so good!) yesterday, and this bit from her chapter on (of all things) parenting really struck me as relevant to all kinds of relationships:

    “[Toni] Morrison explained that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room. She asked, ‘Does your face light up?’ She explained, ‘When my children used to walk in the room when they were little, I looked at them to see if they had buckled their trousers or if their hair was combed or if their socks were up. … You think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. What’s wrong now?’ Her advice was simple, but paradigm-shifting for me. She said, ‘Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?'”

    I’ve been thinking about that kind of thing a lot post-divorce. We have this idea that authenticity involves communicating clearly about stuff we’re upset or pissed off or frustrated about, but what’s really more authentic — the temporary upset or the love you feel for the person you’re upset with? I want to get better about sucking it up and smiling first thing, at communicating the love before I communicate the anger. Sure, our loved ones should “know” we love them no matter what, but that’s just not how being human works.

    • Cat

      oh that is GOOD! Thanks for sharing!

    • I LOVED Daring Greatly! The whole vulnerability part is something that is a constant struggle for me. My first phrase as a toddler was “I do it MYSELF!” and independence has always been something that was really important to me. Opening up about needing help and needing other people is a constant struggle, and something that I’m really working on.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      This is brilliant. Going to check out Daring Greatly now!

    • swarmofbees

      This is such a powerful way of thinking/expressing a need in any relationship. Thank you for posting this! I definitely need to work on this aspect of life – I tend to have a list of things that need to be done, and a long list of things that should have been done, by myself and others, and I think it shows on my face when those I love the most walk into the room. It is hard to put aside the pain you see coming from the shared list coming to light and focus on the more important shared love.

    • Great way to look at this! Thank you!

    • Guest

      Thanks for this! I so needed to hear that. I will try to put it into practice :)

      • Meg Keene

        Is that your wedding picture?? SO PRETTY.

    • Meg Keene

      Yup. That’s my guiding parenting philosophy.

    • kelly

      Love this. I’ve started doing something similar with my husband.

      It’s so easy to get into the habit of asking him to do just one more thing. And one more thing. And also this. Sometimes, after asking for X, Y, and Z, I’ll remember something else, just as he’s on his way back to whatever he was doing. I’ll reflexively say, “Oh! And…” and in that brief moment, I can see his face fall. (“Now what?” it says.) I’ve started taking this moment, instead of asking for the 15th thing today, to simply say, “I love you.” It always makes him smile and I usually realize whatever I was asking for wasn’t that important anyway.

      I think it helps me to see him for how wonderful he is.

    • Lauren

      Similarly, the marriage ‘guru’ Gottman says that the hallmark of a successful couple are regular “that must be hard, dear” responses. It’s not meant to be infantilizing, but rather really strong couples lead with compassion/understanding, and not solutions or devil-advocacy. That kind of validating sounded a bit hollow to me at first, because my instinct is to SOLVE THE PROBLEM. But just stepping back and leading with love rather than a caring/critical eye is so much better.

    • I read that book while going through divorce. It’s an excellent book that I am all the time recommending to people! (I just chose the time I did because I was afraid I would shut myself off emotionally from future potential relationships due to my experience.)

  • Janna

    I remember having the same reaction to Manya’s post last year. I, too, fixated on that damn coffee in bed. It’s been a long year of work, but I think my husband and I are learning to be kinder to one another. Sometimes it’s a matter of seeing the ways he is kind to me that I don’t remember- the millions of times he washes the dishes, or get groceries for breakfast on Sunday, or gets me a glass of water when I am already warm in bed. I often forget those when trying to have the life I thought I would have when I got married- which mostly consisted of him waking up early and bringing me coffee.

  • Acres_Wild

    Love this. I felt much the same way about Manya’s post, beautiful though it was. My partner and I are both kind of cynical/snarky people by nature, and it takes work not to let that spill over (too much) into our interactions with each other. We’ll never be the most lovey-dovey of couples, and sometimes it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with our relationship. But I have to remember that we do show each other kindness, in dishes washed, dog poo picked up, dinners cooked, and happy hours at our favorite restaurant after a long week – and it doesn’t have to look just like someone else’s relationship to be perfect for us.

  • Peekayla

    My Dan is most definitely more thoughtful than I am. I always used to think of myself as the thoughtful partner in relationships until I met him. Heck, the other weekend he woke up early on a Saturday and couldn’t go back to sleep so he started painting the next coat on the room we’d been painting while I slept!
    Sadly, in return for his kindness I have found myself slipping and not being as kind or thoughtful as I once was.

    I’m also discovering that our irritation levels and how we react to them are different. I can get irritated quickly, but it passes just as quick. Dan takes a while for something to bother him, but when it does he stews on it for days. This difference has definitely caused some tension.

    • megep

      Same with the irritation thing. We’re coming up on our one year anniversary (wedding) and have been together for 8…we still haven’t figured this one out perfectly.

      • mere…

        Same here as well.
        I can get really upset, really quickly. Give me about 90 seconds though and I am past it and have processed it enough to realize that whatever it was wasn’t actually the universe trying to destroy my happiness. However, if someone interrupts me during those 90 seconds and accuses me of overreacting or starts trying to suggest ways sane, rational ways to solve the “problem” I get incredibly defensive. My husband is incredibly easy going though and lets the things that do bother him slowly build until eventually he will unleash months of frustration all at once…and he’s really upset by it. We’ve been together for almost 7 years and are still trying to understand our anger processes and how we can best help each other out.

  • Valerie Day

    I really love this post and will re-read it. Very real.

  • Shotgun Shirley

    Oh man, and I just picked a fight last night… because he was watching Portlandia during bathtime and not paying attention to me? Except that in the previous 2 hours, he was reading to and feeding our daughter, and washing the dishes. I am 34 weeks pregnant doing MINIMAL those things because bed rest. Doing/making things is my love language and my capacity for that is very limited right now. I think I’m going to adopt the ‘three nice things before bed’ idea already mentioned.

    • Meg Keene


      That is all.

      • Shotgun Shirley

        I like this logic. =D

  • lady brett

    i think sometimes these sort of ordinary kindnesses have less to do with whether we’re doing ordinary and sweet things and more to do with whether we view the ordinary things we do as sweet.

    i mean, on the one hand, it is *always* sweet when my honey makes me coffee, because they don’t even drink coffee, so it’s clearly a matter of going out of their way for me (or is it just self preservation to get me caffeinated as soon as possible).

    but on the other hand, buying avocados while grocery shopping is just practical. and exactly what i’d have done had i been shopping. but it felt like a sweet gesture because it made me happy and my honey’s the one that did it. or how i always feel like it’s a personal show of love when my honey cleans anything (rather than a fucking chore that *ought* to be shared…which is how i feel when my honey *doesn’t* clean things ;).

    p.s. on the coffee front, i make my own coffee in bed now: coffeemaker on the bedside table for the win. to be fair, it was the spouse’s *idea* – and now i can have coffee in bed without *anyone* having to get up.

    • Meg Keene

      COFFEEMAKER ON THE BEDSIDE TABLE, you are hilarious.

      So, I have to ask. Do you use a pod coffee maker, or something like it? Because the idea of coffee grounds on the bedside table seems like… a lot? And now I’m obviously fascinated by this setup.

      • lady brett

        ha. it was really life-changing =) i used to use just a cheapo, but programmable, drip coffeemaker. which means *waking up to the smell of already made coffee* holy shit.

        but i’m a coffee snob and a luddite at heart, as well as really sensitive to noises (coffee grinder!), so now i have a small electric kettle, 1-cup french press, manual coffee grinder (which i love so very much) and some little freezable snack cup for milk. also an hourglass for timing, because clearly.

        so, yes, it’s a bit of clean-up and prep in the evenings (i just don’t do that part in the morning), but even with my silly manual setup the mornings are smoother and easier than stumbling around the kitchen ever was.

        • KC

          That is awesome.

        • NB

          You are a genius. That is all.

    • Jess

      I’ve been trying to recognize those ordinary kindnesses with R (I once ruined a relationship because I only saw them in hindsight). Usually this means I smile and say, “Thank you!” a whole lot, but at least it gets me to remembering that there are so many small things every day.

      I’m trying to learn to do them back, but I think that will come with time. I’m not sure what works best yet.

  • When my fiance and I first started dating, I remember sitting on the couch, and as he handed me a glass of wine, he asked, “Can I do anything else to make you feel more comfortable?” (Little did I know at the time, this is pre-programmed dialogue from his career as a hairdresser, but after years of dating guys who wouldn’t even open the door for me, I was shocked–in a good way.) Now it’s just part of our interaction. Any time we get out of bed to go to the kitchen, we ask if we can get the other person anything, or if it’s been a rough day at work, we’ll ask if we can do anything for each other to make it better. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but sometimes, just having someone ask if you need or want anything is a small, wonderful gift.

    • Cathi

      That little gesture means so much.

      Even though it’s common courtesy. Even though, if your partner *never* did it, you’d start to feel resentful.

      It’s so amazing how treasured that can make you feel. They’re thinking about you, they care about your needs, they want to make you happier. It’s incredible, and so small, and so easy.

  • CH

    I think it’s helpful to know one’s partner’s “love language.” (I haven’t actually ever read the “love language” book, but I am familiar with it.) I like *hearing* that I’m loved and my husband likes being *shown* that he’s loved…so I’m constantly thanking him and telling him I love him and praising him for all the wonderful things he does, and he’s always helping out with housework and remembering to put gas in the car and putting a glass of water on my nightstand before bed.

    I do believe my husband and I are generally very kind to one another, but this is a good reminder that I can make more of an effort to speak his love language.

    • SarahRose2

      This is us too! Exact same split. It’s funny that even being aware of it how hard it is to remember to “speak” the other person’s love language.

    • Amy M.

      OK, either my first comment got moderated (if so, sorry APW, I didn’t mean to be offensive!) or Disqus ate it, but I’ll repost a shorter version which is- the love languages idea is very helpful to me and my partner. We haven’t read the book either, but there is a quiz online that takes 10 minutes and helped us start a really good discussion about the ways we show love, appreciation, and affection that the other person understands the most. I recommend it as a conversation starter!

  • MC

    “To be clear, we weren’t being mean. But over the course of a decade of being together, we’d fallen into a lazy kind of familiarity, and started to take each other for granted.”

    My partner and I have been together for 9 years (?!) and this really resonated with me, and I think it’s the crux of some small-to-large arguments we’ve had over the course of living together for a year. And somehow… I think we figured out the kindness thing without verbalizing it. We’ve probably both just realized that we are both happier when we go slightly out of our way to be kind to each other.

    After working through some trust issues in our relationship, I think the shift comes from the fact that I now 100% trust that my kindness and goodness toward him will be reciprocated. Nothing is worse than doing your best to be kind and loving toward someone and feeling like your efforts are wasted – and, on the flipside, nothing is more awesome than giving kindness and love and getting it right back.

  • This is really lovely Maddie. I remember those posts and sharing them with Matt.

  • april

    Things he does: makes me breakfast on weekends; loads the dishwasher; offers to make me tea when he’s making some for himself; brings me a blanket when I’m looking chilly
    Things I do: make him dinner most weeknights; unload the dishwasher; offer to buy him coffee when I’m bying one for myself; turn up the AC when he’s looking miserably hot
    Things he’s working on: texting or calling when he knows he’ll be home late (seriously, this drives me nuts)
    Things I’m working on: not complaining about small things (I do this without thinking, and I’m pretty sure it drives him nuts)

  • NicoleT

    My main thing is to stop taking out my frustrations with the world on him. I’m passive aggressive, so I will bottle up everything inside. Eventually, I will just explode and start sobbing huge crocodile tears over, say, him being annoyed at me because our rabbit chewed a pillow. I had an epiphany one night (while stressing out about what I’m doing with my life) that my relationship with him is more important than anything. I need to hold onto that relationship because it has made me a better, happier person than I thought possible. If my job, acquaintances, insert-X-here ever stress me out to the point that it affects our (future) marriage, I decided that I will not hesitate to get rid of it.

    • Meg Keene

      That said. Crying big huge crocodile tears over… whatever… is normal and what partners are there for, right? Within reason, obviously.

      • NicoleT

        True! He’s had his fair share of dealing with valid crocodile tears :)

  • Emily

    He makes me coffee, pretty much every morning. I love that he does it so much, and have to *try* not to be too grumpy on the occasional morning I have to make my own, so as not to seem like I take that kindness for granted. I do return the favor sometimes, and get it set up the night before so he just needs to turn the machine on in the morning.
    Just this afternoon, I had lunch waiting for him when he got home from school. Normally he forages around and finds something for himself, so it was a nice surprise.

  • this is why we are going to put this line somewhere in our wedding ceremony: “may you do things for each other not out of duty or sacrifice but out of joy” (from the art of marriage). which is how we’ve already been doing it. he impressed me early in our relationship by doing or getting thoughtful and practical gifts for me. i like to get him treats that i know he likes when i shop at the grocery store. he gives me a wake up kiss and hug every morning before going to work. and so on.

    • Meg Keene

      “may you do things for each other not out of duty or sacrifice but out of joy”

  • Ann

    On my very first date with my partner I got up to go to the bathroom and while I was gone he cleared away our plates and got each of us a glass of water. The moment when I returned to the table is still crystal clear in my memory and I remember that feeling of “oh wow” that ran through my mind. On our second date he opened the car door every time we got in, and to this day (several years later) he still opens the car door for me, no matter if we’re going to the grocery store or out for a celebration.

    I had always imagined I’d be the most thoughtful member of whatever pairing I ended up in, but it turns out that P can really respond in kind. Not always, not even most of the time, but he has done some genuinely lovely things for me. Usually, I’m feeling disgruntled a few months into a relationship because I’m the one doing the little things, the sweet reminders, the little presents, and other thoughtful gestures. It’s truly lovely to be with someone who thinks of me just as often as I think of him!

    So now the challenge is, as we move into married life later this year, to keep this feeling of joy and happiness at all times! And continue to make the little things a part of our lives.

  • KC

    I would just like to note that I initially misread “Over who was going to buy groceries” as “Over who was going to buy gnomes”, and got really baffled.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this. :-) The work of marriage is not always icky work, but… there’s a difference between “effort” and “not”, and even tiny efforts to demonstrate that you value the other person can make a really big difference in a relationship.

    • Meg Keene

      Who IS going to buy the gnomes?

      • KC

        I…. I just don’t know…

  • InTheBurbs

    She talks to our mechanic, and in this whole house buying thing is our primary communicator with the mortgage folks. Because that shit send my anxiety level to hilt…and in turn, I clean the fridge because food that is the slightest bit turned does the same to her. One of things that makes our relationship click is how we balance one another.

  • Gina

    Hoo boy. First off, it is so apropos that this post is sponsored by Keurig, because that’s exactly what my husband does every morning–turn on the Keurig maker so when I get up an hour later, I don’t have to wait *one second* longer than necessary to get that liquid gold.

    But if I’m being honest, being kind in our marriage has been more of a process for me than it has for him. He finally called me out on it when we gained a temporary roommate for a few months, and I was being more than a little nitpicky about things. And boy did I get defensive. But he was right. I felt like I was doing most of the household chores, and rather than ask nicely for help, I got bratty. We had a great conversation about what he could do to make me feel loved–including chores!–and what I could do to be kinder. And ever since then, it really has been an effort in trying to out-love each other. Said roommate noticed a huge difference, and he actually commented on it.

    I can honestly say, from watching my parents 35-year marriage, that doing little things for each other adds up to the big things.

    • Meg Keene

      And that, totally honestly, is why we told Keuring this is the conversation we wanted to have. Because YES. EXACTLY.

  • Rachael

    I don’t drink coffee so that doesn’t get me but what does get me is the damn car door. Or any door. We’ve been together for 8 years and I can count on one hand the number of times he has opened a door for me. In our early days, I assumed this meant he didn’t really love me. If he really loved me, obviously he would want to open the door. Because, insecurity. What I eventually had to realize is that it just wasn’t about the car door. I had pinned our entire relationship and all of his feelings for me in that split second before we got in the car, and I had missed all the things he actually WAS doing to show me he loved me. He wasn’t loving me the way I wanted, but he sure was loving me the way I needed.

    • Meg Keene

      Interesting. Are you in the South? This is (now) so super regional, I think.

      One of my grandfathers used to open women’s car doors. It was a HUGE bone of contention between him and my mother, so I cringe when men do it now. That SAID. My husband (cough) did not learn a thing about opening doors. And the number of times he has let a door slam shut on me with my arms full of something, OMG. I’ve worked hard to re-train him on that one. I don’t need chivalry, but you better hold the door open when my arms are full.

      • Stella

        This is really interesting, I don’t know what the other Brits on here think but I feel like it’s still really expected in the UK that a guy should open a door, let you first out of an elevator (lift! ha!) etc. On the one hand, I feel maybe it’s a bad and un-feminist (if its coming from a place of – women are too weak and useless to open doors by themselves or something), on the other hand, I like to look at it as a nice gesture recognizing that guys do still have a lot of advantages over women and the least they can do is open a door once in a while…

      • jashshea

        I’m a New Englander transplanted in the South, but I think everyone should hold doors for everyone. I don’t expect the average guy to hold a door and let me walk in first (though, fine if it happens), but I think if he’s walking into a building in front of me, he should hold the door open for the next person.

        Now, cars are a different story. Holding car doors open is just not efficient time-wise.

    • i understand the door desire.

  • Violet

    We show kindness by showing gratitude. “Thanks for refilling my water!” “I saw you did the dishes, thanks!” This is ESPECIALLY important for us as my partner is a “giver” and I am a “matcher.” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201311/the-best-kept-secret-highly-successful-couples) I might not ever be as effortlessly kind as he is, but I can let him know each and every time that I see, acknowledge, and appreciate what he does for me. It works for us.

    • Meg Keene

      My parents taught me this. Thank your partner as often as you can remember to, especially about little ordinary things that you do everyday. “Thank you for making dinner” “Thank you for picking up the baby, I know it cut into your work time and I appreciate it.” “I really appreciate that you do the laundry every weekend on your own.”

      It goes a LONG way, particularly since marriage is full of harder problems without easy solutions. This one is easy and constant. (And doesn’t need perfection to do. You miss some thank yous, you throw a few in.)

  • Our little act of kindness is always saying thank you for chores done, usually for making dinner. It’s a small thing but I think it keeps either of us from feeling under appreciated. Another form of kindness is just…actually being nice? I don’t like being around people who are constantly giving everyone around them a hard time or always saying kind of nasty/snarky things but then saying “just kidding” and ask you why you’re being so sensitive. So I really appreciate that we don’t give each other a hard time or mock each other for sport.

    On a personal level, I grew up in a household with lots of bickering/bitching/nagging/snapping and that tone is just…draining. I really, really try to keep that from our house. On the rare occasion that I do slip into that tone, I check myself and ask what my problem is. Am I tired, hungry, or stressed about something else? Then I apologize for snapping and explain why I’m cranky. And if I’m none of those things and whatever I’m snapping about IS justified, I try to deal with it head on and not dwell on it or let it escalate so it’s like CLEAN UP YOUR SHIT ALREADY and then I’m right back to Miss Congeniality.

    • MC

      I just read this article this morning: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/04/15/301780516/voodoo-dolls-prove-it-hunger-makes-couples-turn-on-each-other

      I read it aloud to my partner and said, “I’d like to think that most of the time I wouldn’t stick any pins in your voodoo doll… but if I did it would probably be when I’m hungry.”

      Appropriately, last night I was hungry because I was waiting for him to get back from the gym so we could eat together but he was there longer than I thought he’d be. I was super irritable when he did get home, but instead of just being cranky I realized that I was hungry, told him what was up, and ate some food. And because he knew I was grouchy because I was hungry he brought me dessert afterward AND did dishes. Communication!

      • Bryan and I are the king and queen of hangry. (Hungry + Angry) To the point where I’ve considered buying this shirt. http://www.thuglifeshirts.com/products/i-m-sorry-for-what-i-said-when-i-was-hungry

      • Lindsey d.

        I get sad and frustrated when hungry. It makes me want to give up on the world. Seriously, the last full day of our honeymoon my blood sugar dropped so far that I just wanted to go home, like home home. My husband saved the day with fish and chips in a dive bar; it doesn’t get any better. Turned out to be one of our best days.

      • Kirstin

        Yes! The kindest thing that my partner can do is remember to feed me! Sounds silly enough, but our fights are most likely to occur when I’m hangry. When we are out and about, he always wants to wander just a little longer, or fit in just one more thing. I typically have to be very direct and say “I have to eat. Now.” I can tell he’s being thoughtful when he initiates getting food and at a regular meal time. Because I honestly think if I wasn’t there, he just wouldn’t eat.

    • Rachael

      Add to the avoid list couples who are constantly making passive aggressive remarks to each other and people who can not say a nice thing about their significant other. We have a few couples in our lives that are just constantly negative to each other in social situations and we found that when we hung out with them we started mimicking that behavior to … I don’t know, fit in? It was awful, I hated it so much. We had to make a real conscious effort to avoid that.

      A lot of my female family members especially, but also some of the women in our extended social circles, seem to thrive on partner bashing. It’s never countered with anything positive, it’s just a litany of complaints. I don’t even think all of these people are necessarily that unhappy in their marriages, but that it’s more somehow a means of communicating with other women. It’s very confusing and simultaneously stomach churning.

      And I also grew up in that kind of household and I can hear my mother in the way I interact with my husband sometimes. It’s the worst. I haven’t been the best at controlling that, but I’m working on it.

      • sara g

        Yeah, I had some coworkers at my old office who would ALWAYS complain about their partners. The whole “ugh, men are so dumb” schtick. Drove me nuts.

        My fiance and I have a rule that we don’t talk about the other one to our friends in a way that could come across as disrespectful (e.g. none of that “wow, women are so emotional, amirite dudes?” or “men are such pigs, ugh”).

        (Note: We are absolutely okay with asking advice from trusted friends/family if the need arises.)

        • Violet

          Ugh, I HATE the “men are so dumb” schtick. How is that any different than “ugh, women are so e-mo-tion-al”? And isn’t it worse coming from the *partner*?!
          I met up with a girl I knew from high school over winter break. She said her fiance was starting his “first big boy job” the next day. I was dumbfounded. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say.

          • sara g

            No kidding. It’s 2014, people, can we stop with the gendered insults/”teasing” already?

        • Meg Keene

          YES. We feel the same way. No bitching about your partner. It’s just… rude.

          That said, totally fair (and important) to have a real conversation with someone you trust about a problem you’re having with your partner. But that’s different from just disrespecting them in the regular in conversation… or worse (and more common?), online.

    • Meg Keene

      I wrote about this up thread, but yes, we do the thank you thing too.

      What I try to avoid is yelling at my kid. Yelling at my partner… happens. (But it’s a “in a fight” thing, not a “on the regular” thing, which feels very different to me.) Yelling at my kid, well. We’re working on avoiding that as much as we can. I grew up with that (not in a awful way, but still) and I don’t like it much.

      • Meg

        this is really important to me too. I grew up with that and will go ahead and say it WAS awful. I think a lot of my baseline day to day anxiety is thanks to living in a house like that.

    • mere…

      I grew up in a household where you could say anything, in any tone when you were upset and there were no consequences because everyone else was saying equally awful things in loud, aggressive tones of voice. We were all really good at forgiveness and even better at just not hearing certain things so no one really ever took to heart what was being said and no one was offended. However, this is something that is really important to my (and my husband) that I not bring into my household because it’s just incredibly negative and well, rude. Turns out it’s an incredibly hard habit for me to break.
      One baby step I’ve learned is that when I actually hear myself adapting a bitchy tone is to just say “I know my tone is really rude right now, but my intent is not to be rude and I am not upset at you I am just tired/stressed/hungry and slipping into my default tone. So I’m going to keep saying things in a really mean voice for a minute and can you please just not listen.” It’s definitely not ideal, but it’s slowly teaching me to recognize when I let myself default which is HUGE because for the longest time I didn’t realize how often I did this. It also lets my husband hear that I am working on it and gives him a chance to not get defensive and feel like he needs to match my tone- because he gets to hear what I’m saying and not how I’m saying it.

      • Kara E

        That’s really a vulnerable and self aware thing to be able to say. Awesome!

        I’ve started calling my husband on his “stop asking me stupid questions because I’m tired” tone (gently gently gently) and asking him to call me on it too – we have a little girl now and I want her default tone to be kind.

        • mere…

          Absolutely. We are pre-kids and working really hard to overcome some of our biggest (what I’m calling) default flaws that we inherited from our upbringing. We both grew up in wonderful homes, but there are definitely a handful of “Nope, that’s totally dysfunctional!” traits we’d like to eliminate before we bring home a little one.

  • Jen

    This is a wonderful reminder.

  • Meg

    “Why I hinged the well-being of my relationship to the part of Manya’s post about bringing each other coffee in bed is beyond me. But there you have it.”
    UM I can think of a few reasons!! coffee is very important :)

  • Kina

    “It’s in my nature to be self-sufficient, but self-sufficiency has a way of turning into not caring about anyone’s needs but my own.”
    Wow, Maddie, THANK YOU. I needed to hear this, as I pride myself so much on self-sufficiency but had never stopped to consider the other side of that and how it could potentially affect the husbo. This is definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for from here on out!

    • jenny

      Yep, that sentence really resonated with me! I think for me it can also turn into my husband feeling like I don’t need him, or appreciate him, or trust him to pull his weight.

  • Cara

    Wow, this is such a good reminder to be giving. Often I get wrapped up in myself, and think “why doesn’t my husband bring me flowers for no good reason” or “why do I always have to be the one to clean the toilet.” But in reality, it’s up to each of us to make the move, to choose to do something for the other just because, and to truly just serve each other. It’s not hard to focus on the negative, but so much more beneficial to see all the positives. And not do things for the thank you, or the you-owe-me, or because it’s my turn, but to show that you care and want to take care of them. I guess this also ties into score keeping.

    Should definitely talk to my husband about this! I hope he’s not keeping score!

  • “You know how sometimes you talk and talk and just assume your partner isn’t hearing anything you’re saying? And then one day they surprise you with how easily they can recite your words back to you without error? This was that, in coffee form.”

    This part brought tears to my eyes. This has happened to us a few times, and it’s so moving.

    I need to process the rest of this before I comment, because like it could have been written just for me/us. So I’ll just say THANK YOU for putting this out in the world. I really needed to hear it.

  • JDrives

    Gonna go ahead and bookmark this for when (hopeful me says “if,” practical me says “when”) D and I fall into a similar pattern. We are at our 1.5 year mark and are experiencing more stressors than ever – new jobs, second jobs, new dog (sick dog), wedding planning, family illness, tax crap – and I notice sometimes how dealing with these things can lead to neglecting being nice to each other. We have both been talking about this often and have promised each other that we will strive to make things easier for the other in this time of lots of change and strain.

    So every morning when I take the dog out, I put on a kettle to boil water for his coffee. Sometimes he can sense that I just want to sleep in, so he will take the dog out for me, and I will still get up and make him coffee. When I come home from my 13-hour days, he has dinner and a glass of wine ready for me, and in turn I do the dishes while he watches Frasier. Sometimes I come home and he has picked me up a “prezzie,” some pretty or funny thing he thought I would like. In those moments I can feel the stress and frustration disappear, and I feel so lucky and loved.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      You know, I left it out of the post because it’s a WHOLE other conversation, but a huge part of this shift for us has come from finally being in a place where the hard stuff isn’t on our minds ALL THE TIME. It is really hard to be nice when you’re working long ass days and the dog is sick and the bills are overdue. I think that might be when it’s most important to be nice, but it’s when it’s hardest for sure.

      • Emmers

        Yes!! Right now I am in wedding planning freakout madness, (previously followed by when-will-we-get-engaged-madness), and I keep having to check myself and do nice things. Because usually I do not want to do nice things. I want to cry and stress out about finding a venue and bitch about feeling like I am doing lots of work and this is hard.

        So I’m planning on making breakfast for us on Saturday. Can’t promise there won’t be a freakout about this stuff this weekend, but gonna try to do something nice!

      • JDrives

        WORD. It’s been so effortless up to this point, for which I know I am a lucky duckling, so now it’s like – wait, you’re grumpy. And I’m grumpy. This sucks. So when we are both open about “OK life is harder than usual right now so let’s do what we can to make each other’s day easier/better” it’s SO AWESOME because I know this is not the last time it will be hard to be kind. Having a partner who is committed to not letting the little things slide, and who does loving things for me even when he is stressed and even when I am grumping all over the place, is such a blessing.

  • NB

    When we did our (church-mandated, but still valuable) pre-marital counseling, the very wonderful older couple leading our group spent a lot of time talking about love-as-actions.

    They gave each couple this very simple little magnet that reads “How Can I Love You More?”. Three years later, it’s still on our fridge. Right now, my loving him more means making the coffee in the mornings. His looks like filling up my gas tank when it’s empty (it is *always* empty, guys). And, for me, it snowballs—when he is kind to me, with no expectation of return, I feel grateful and inspired to be kind to him. I can’t say that we’re always as kind or generous as we could be, or maybe even as kind as we should be—but wow, does that little magnet reminder put a lot into perspective. Small things, and maybe obvious things? But, it’s so easy to get lost in the bustle of everyday, and forget that people, like gardens, need tending sometimes.

  • We are getting married next month and don’t live together yet, but we have been together 4.5 years. It’s easy to fall into patterns and we can fall into ruts from time to time. One thing my fiance does is fills up my gas tank if we’re driving along and he notices I need gas, without asking. I take care of the dogs when he has to work late (we usually share this responsibility). I write him little notes, too, and draw him pictures to find when he comes home (yes I’m a dork). Writing this has made me realize there is more small stuff I could do to show him I love and appreciate him. I know once we are married and living together, in the daily grind of life, it will be easy to take each other for granted. I need to work on showing kindness everyday. This is a great reminder of that!

  • Learning To Love

    “Marriage is nothing more than the opportunity to learn how to love someone else.” – from a recent wedding I attended.
    A few weeks ago there was a Ask Liz post about having children and how the writer had some concerns about having the full support from her partner who also doesn’t help out around the hosue very much. I sent it to my husband with the intention of having another discussion about having children. I came home to a spotless apartment…like, really clean…like worthy of having company over CLEAN. I was so freakin’ happy about it. I also forgot that I had forwarded him the article. I asked him what inspired him to clean. He said “I think Fridays will be my day to clean, so that you don’t have to do it on the weekends anymore.”
    I was blown away. That he would do that, and that he would think of me with so much care. Still, after dating and marrying this man I am still kinda surprised when I’m loved so thoughtfully. It’s still new and surprising to me. As much as I am learning to love this man, I’m learning to receive love and that’s challenging too in it’s own way.
    I’m learning to be more intentional about the things I do and say. Recently I’m learning the value in a good shoulder neck massage. This man of mine would move mountains for me if I just rub out that one lump in his shoulder.

    • “As much as I am learning to love this man, I’m learning to receive love and that’s challenging too in it’s own way. ” Yup.

      • KEA1

        I have struggled far more with learning to become a more gracious recipient than I ever struggled to learn to become a generous giver.

    • Meg Keene


    • OH FUCK that quote is everything!!!

  • SarahRose2

    I love this post, so much. It was actually my high school best friend that taught me this kind of kindness. I was grumbling about a small favor she had asked, like sharing some songs via email, and she stopped and was like, “Why are you making this into a negative thing? You love me and this isn’t hard for you. Just be nice about it.”

    My husband and I are now pretty good about the little kindnesses, making each other food and tea, cleaning up around the house, swinging by the store to get things the other likes, taking the early dog shift. I think the key thing for me was realizing that, for living with him, (as dumb as this sounds) it was pretty important not to treat it like being a teenager fighting over chores with parents/siblings. Turns out I’m an adult that chose to live with someone I love, not a whiny kid ordered to fold the laundry.

    • Violet

      I love that your friend can be candid with you, AND that you can receive that type of feedback from a trusted person rather than just get defensive.

  • Jeanine

    A kiss before he leaves for work and I’m still snoozing in bed. And a kiss before we fall asleep, whoever is awake kisses the other person to sleep. Its part of our routine, but also my favorite parts of the day. :)

  • D

    I read Manya’s story a time ago. It was very nice, but not something I related to, or desired for myself or my relationship. But this post: this is pure romance to me!

  • Lisa

    This is what it’s about. Acting in service of the other person’s soul. Experienced that way, relationships are spiritual journeys. And I’m an atheist:).

  • K_

    I get stressed out about properly disposing of things that are supposed to be recycled but are difficult to recycle (i.e., our handyman told me (several times) to disassemble old light fixtures to recycle the parts separately). Now, I ask my husband to take care of it, and he makes a big deal that I look away while he puts the item in the trash. Also, buying peanut butter stresses me out, so I ask him to do it. It is easier to spread pb with added sugar, but I am conflicted because pb doesn’t need sugar to taste good. Hubby likes “saving the day” with these simple actions.

  • Rachael

    My husband and I definitely are both really pretty good at picking up the slack when the other person is really busy with work. I’ll take the extra 10 minutes to make him a lunch for the next day if I know he won’t have time to do it himself. Whoever has an extra minute gets the coffee ready for the morning. When I’m out of town he makes an effort to clean most of the house before I get home. He does most of the grocery shopping because I hate it – and so I can have some time to work without him distracting me on the weekends. We’re both really good at thanking each other for all of these things, too, which I think is key.

    But what I really love is that we often vocalize the big things (ie. honesty, integrity, loyalty, personal drive) that we love about each other. It’s usually in the context of something trying that is going on in our work lives and right when the other person needs to hear some of those good qualities about themselves.

  • THIS. LOVED. My husband and I have a fondness of lazy weekend mornings that evolve elaborate breakfasts, and freshly ground coffee. Sometimes I cook breakfast. Sometimes my husband cooks breakfast. ANd I love this ritual of our love.

  • He does the laundry. All the laundry. Even my delicates.

    In exchange, I cook all the food. Manperson dutifully eats whatever I bake/cook and doesn’t give me an opinion until I ask him. Sometimes I know it’s terrible and don’t need him telling me so.

    He also gives me a warning before turning on the bedroom light in the morning (he wakes up two hours before me) even though he knows I always wake up when his alarm clock goes off. It’s his way of trying to minimize my inconvenience in the morning. I appreciate the effort.

    We also gift each other 5 minutes each time we come home. We don’t start conversations or ask questions until the homecomer puts down their bag. That’s the signal that we have put our work lives down and are ready for our home life. It has done wonders for a certain person (read: me) who comes home cranky from work not to feel bombarded.

    • LOVE your last paragraph. The two people are on different energy plains when the home-comer comes home. Your method is so wonderful and helpful. I can usually never have a real conversation till all my shit is down and im on the couch, in comfy clothes, with some food, maybe a drink, and then hey, let’s talk!

    • NB

      I also love that 5-minutes rule. We’ll be instituting that at our house, too!

    • Kirstin

      I love the 5 minute rule! I am an extrovert and he’s an introvert. We are trying to learn to respect each other on this, but it’s hard when I want to talk right when we see each other for the first time at the end of the day (I’m asleep when he leaves for work), and he just wants to decompress after talking all day at work. Perhaps this would be a good compromise for us.

  • Jessica Nelson

    Thanks for this perspective! It was a great reminder of the importance of kindness. :)
    However, the phrase “recovering Catholic” jumped out at me — as a practicing Catholic, I think it implies that I’m currently suffering from a disease, trauma, injury, etc, (ie something bad from which one “recovers”), due to my religion. I know it’s a common phrase, but I think “former Catholic” would be a less offensive way of expressing your religious background.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I describe myself as a “recovering Evangelical.” I mean to imply the connotations of “recovering alcoholic.” You’re never a “recovered alcoholic”; if you’ve struggled to leave alcoholism, you will always have to deal with that inclination. Likewise, being an Evangelical created habits of thought in me I’ll never be able to fully shake, even if I wanted to, though many of them I don’t want to shake. By the analogy to alcoholism, I’m just referring to the continuing internal struggle, not that I think Evangelicalism is a disease like alcoholism. “Former” doesn’t convey the continuing struggle, in my mind. I don’t deal with being a “former student” or “former resident of Virginia” in the same way.

      Some of how I experienced Evangelicalism was traumatic, though.

      • Meg Keene


        I mean, I get it. I actually get both points of view a lot. I know a lot of people who feel pretty damaged by their faith experiences, and others who feel the opposite.

        I also just… I’ve been religious a long time, in two denominations and two faiths. I’ve seen a lot of good and bad, and tend to think a lot of things are funny. So. Yeah. As someone raised half anglican with an anglican parent, for example, I’d think it was HILARIOUS if someone said they were a recovering Anglican, or a recovering Presbyterian. There is a lot of nuance there.

        HOWEVER. I also get that there are times when religion isn’t funny, and phrasing like this is really hurtful, and I totally honor that.

        On this one, I get both sides, and totally respect them. I get why Maddie phrased it that way, I also totally get why you found it hurtful, and I’m sorry.

      • NB

        The way you describe being a “recovering” Evangelical pretty perfectly captures something I’ve been trying to explain to friends for a while—even when a person doesn’t identify as a practicing XYZ, there’s something about having been awash in that religious (and cultural!) tradition that informs part of who you are….sometimes, in ways that don’t even look strictly Evangelical (or in my case, Catholic). It’s just..part of my history, and part of my me-today, in complicated and bone-deep ways that sometimes play out at Mass, and sometimes play out in my politics, and sometimes play out in all sorts of other interesting ways.

        Anyway. I digress. You are clever. Please do not mind too terribly if I appropriate your explanation when I’m trying to explain my own singular sorting-out-of-me-ness.

    • Meg Keene

      Sorry! Responded to you in part below! Not here!

  • Cleo

    My person HATES, with a fiery passion, the question: “How was your day?” He already experienced his day, he doesn’t want to talk about it any more unless there’s something worth mentioning and then, he’ll talk about it without preamble. For me, on the other hand, that question makes me feel loved and cared for. So even though he thinks it’s a stupid question, he asks me about my day when I come home. Every. Single. Weekday. And when I run errands on the weekend and come home after a few hours, every time, he asks me how it went.

    When my man comes home, he takes a shower to decompress. And every evening, I ask him what he’d like to drink and make whatever he requests (as long as we have the ingredients) while he’s in the shower, so he has a fresh drink waiting for him as soon as he gets out.

    • a drink out of the shower sounds amazing right now.

    • Meg Keene

      DRINK AND A SHOWER. Whut. Perfect.

      Harder to juggle with a baby but perfect.

  • Kelly

    Haven’t had a chance to read the comments yet, but thank you for this reminder. We’re both stressed out grad students and lately caring gestures by both parties have been getting twisted into reminders of shortcomings. If my partner makes me coffee, I react with, “Thanks for pointing out how bad I am at getting up on time and not having my shit together and how I’m selfish for not being the one to make you coffee” What nonsense! “I can take an extra minute inside my head to act with generosity.” Yes, I can.

  • Posts never make me cry (for the record, neither did The Notebook, though Steel Magnolias gets me every time) but reading that your husband was outside the tent working on coffee made me tear up a little. Marriage is hard because life is hard and it’s those little kindnesses that make such a big difference. Especially when you know he knows that particular little thing will mean a lot to you, which is why the campsite coffee thing got to me. Of course having someone do those things for you is really nice, but I think doing those small things for my husband benefits me more than receiving the things he does for me. Seeing him made happy by something I did inspires me to do more and makes me a little less selfish every time. Though waking up to already made coffee is pretty great too.

    My husband has been at sea for a couple of months and should be home soon. While being apart sucks, it does really point out all the things I could otherwise take for granted. (Pulling the !@#$%^& recycling bin up the !@#$%^& hill every Friday!) And gives me an opportunity to surprise him with a six-layer cookie cake upon his return. You know, assuming his return doesn’t get postponed too much longer. I’m currently home alone with six giant cookies that won’t survive too many more “another delay, I’ll let you know when I know something” emails.

    • Violet

      I don’t cry reading either, but I think there’s a law of Physics that states when Sally Field cries, we all cry.

    • I don’t even have to see all of Steel Magnolias to cry just the “I just want to know why” speech. It’s ridiculous!

      • Yup. On those “I need to cry for no particular reason” type of days, Sally Field can always give me a reason. Cue “Shelby was right – it IS a brown football helmet” aaaaaand tears!

  • Sara-L

    Thank you for this Maddie! My partner is kind to me by being really nice to me when I go crazy-pants with tiredness – I get really irrational but he just keeps being kind. Occasionally we’ll draw each other microsoft paint pictures too – childish but oddly touching. We could probably both work on doing more of the little practical things for each other, and not keeping score.
    For what it’s worth, I’m another practicing Catholic who found ‘recovering Catholic’ a little jarring… I hope you’re using it light-heartedly, but if you’ve been hurt by the Catholic church I’m really sorry.
    Anyway, thank-you for all the work you do on apw, it’s been such a comfort to me many times, and I hope the next five years bring you less struggle and more joy!

  • okay this had me in tears for some reason. i really relate to your writing a lot..especially certain aspects of your personality that you mentioned that I see in myself. and ironically, this past week I was talking with a married friend of mine (I’m engaged) and we were talking about how lots of Christian marriages do so well because they work together for a greater good – they serve something- they never go into their relationship or marriage thinking it’s about ME (at least that’s the idea). I think it’s so important in today’s world where we are so conditioned to believe that it’s the outside world’s job to “make us” happy. That we aren’t responsible for our own happiness, and just as damaging- that struggle is “bad”. I know I went off on a rant there, but when you mentioned Christian marriages and good advice it came to my mind. Relationships are work and, in my opinion, they are far less about the feelings your other partner “makes you” feel and more about being forced to examine yourself and learn about yourself and how to practice real love…learning about what true unconditional love is, for yourself and your partner.

    as far as kind things we do for one another (and can I just say I LOVE THIS OPEN THREAD), I will say I get up every morning and make my fiance coffee when she’s in the shower and pack her breakfast to take to work. She gets me vegan cupcakes if she sees them. One time when she picked me up from the airport she surprised with home-made vegan peanut butter chocolate cups (you can tell the way to my heart is through my stomach). I like that (at least half of the time) we make the bed together in the morning.

    things we could work on….I am definitely working on being more vulnerable and to stop internalizing shit. I think we can both be guilty of the latter. As you mentioned for yourself, learning to make more space in my very own-world-self-sufficient-live-in-my-head self to take care of her feelings and needs.

  • Kayjayoh

    “Allowing the parts to substitute for the whole”

    And because I am a nerd and just learned the meaning of this word, I thought, “synecdoche!!!!” in triumph. And then had to laugh at myself.

  • meeliebee

    I love this! Thank you for the reminder.

    On another note I’d like to say that THIS is how you do a sponsored post! I’ve read so many contrived sponsored posts on other websites and I appreciate that you all presented a genuine and honest article here.

  • Lou

    Heyyyy APW….

    I feel really bad posting this because I would prefer to just focus on the article itself, which is brilliant and one of my favourite so far, so thanks Maddie!

    And I understand the need for sponsored posts, and while I sometimes feel uncomfortable with having an important conversation wrapped around a sales pitch, I felt that this one was very well done and I appreciate that.

    BUT. Keurig? Last year, Keurig’s parent company produced 8.3 BILLION K-cups. And only 5% of these cups are recyclable. This represents a huge use of fossil fuels to create these single-use, plastic cups, and a massive amount of landfill waste once they’ve been used to brew their one cup of coffee. It’s kind of atrocious, and frankly, I think it’s unethical.

    I feel uncomfortable bringing this up but… I think that, in the same way that LGBT rights and women’s rights and racial equality are not fringe issues but are issues that EVERYONE needs to care about, I think that environmental issues need to not be labeled a fringe issue. I know that APW would never accept sponsorship from or run ads for a company that worked against gay marriage, for example, but if, somehow, that happened, I would feel like it was my duty to speak out about it. I don’t really know why this should be different.

    Please consider placing the same importance on environmental issues as you do on social justice issues. It’s not just the realm of crunchy granola types. This planet is home to everybody.

    That said, again – I LOVE the article. I LOVE the amazing comments that are coming in because of it. It’s a great conversation, and a coffee company is a natural fit. Just please, not one that seems to be trying to choke the world in plastic.

    • Rachel102712

      I couldn’t have put it any better myself. After reading this lovely article, seeing the shout-out to Keurig sponsorship was like hearing a loud record scratch.

  • Natalie

    Way late to the party here, but the comment about Christian marriages here caught my attention. I grew up Christian, my fiance is a Christian – I’ve never known anything other than that a relationship is a vehicle to communicate God’s love to one another, and that mutual submission is a must. Now by submission, I’m not talking about forceful submission, or giving up who you are for another person, but it’s giving up little comforts, and sometimes big comforts for the other person.

    By things we do to to be kind to one another? On Fridays I bring him coffee to work. On Saturdays he comes to my house and we take a long walk to talk about our week and decompress. When he has a bad day I give him a massage, and when I have a bad day he takes me to ice cream – or gives me a stuffed animal (yes, I’m 25.) One time a few years ago he got me a cute elephant and carried it around with him in his backpack for weeks until I had a bad day, then he pulled out the little elephant and gave him to me. None of these are big things, though there have been big sacrifices we’ve made for one another. But the little things that we do for each other on a daily basis, those are my favorite :).

  • Amanda

    This was such a beautiful post. It is so, so easy to get in habit of not doing the small things for each other and/or not recognizing/appreciating the small things that are done for you but of course it’s those things that really change the way we think, feel and process our relationships.

    One of the things I try to do for my fiance is the little things that I can tell he really, really doesn’t want to do. For example, if we are laying in bed and he mentions really wanting a glass of water but I know he’s dreading getting of bed to get it, I volunteer to get it for him. And, intentionally or not, of course he ends up doing the same sorts of things for me. It’s a small act but sometimes there are those little things that you’re dreading doing for no real reason (like making your own coffee on Saturday mornings) and I think if the other person can step in and do it that time it’s just a really great act of partnership, appreciation and love. Plus, as the doer I think you get the benefit of feeling like you’re doing something small but nice for your partner. If my fiance really wants water and I hop out of bed to grab it for him, he feels happy, loved and taken care of and I feel his love and appreciation for having done it. It’s simple but I think it’s really helped us to foster our appreciation of each other.

  • Guest

    Thank you for this post, Maddie. Since I am pre-engaged, I have yet to experience such marriage doldrums, although after 3.5 years I can see my relationship getting to the “we’re just not nice to each other anymore” stage. Thank you for reminding me how to work on my relationship and stay positive, to actively work to avoid the marriage and relationship doldrums. It really struck me when you said “Loving Michael has always been effortless, but a loving marriage isn’t always.” It is just too easy for your routine together to lead to taking each other for granted.

  • Alyssa

    This is so beautifully open and honest. Congrats on the hard work you two have put in…I know how hard it can be when loving your partner is effortless, so it seems pointless to put work in to strengthen your marriage. Clearly it’s paid off; you sound much happier and more secure than last year’s post. With our second anniversary a month away, which sometimes feels silly in the context of 11 years together, this is a great reminder. Thank you.

  • Gill

    Thank you for this, Maddie! I remember having the same reaction to Manya’s post as you did, and appreciating your rebuttal. I appreciate your update here even more. Thank you for sharing the true work that goes into your (all) marriages – and congrats on your progress!

    Big YESES to getting out of the habit of being nice to each other (we’ve been together 12 years, and married for 4) and “recovering catholic” – I snorted out loud.

  • elle

    Best Comment Thread Ever. Seriously. I’m going to keep coming back to this for all the solid advice.

    For us – I value being told that I’m loved, and right now our relationship isn’t where I feel it should be (for the very practical reason that we work in different cities, but still) so it’s particularly important to me that my partner verbalises what I mean to him and shares thoughts about our future.

    Other valuable acts of love: tea in bed is always appreciated, though I need to get better at showing that when I’m sleepy.
    He likes being recognised and acts of love not being seen as “just something you SHOULD do” (even when they legit are), which I’m working on.
    Sharing funny/cute stuff he finds
    Doing the washing up
    Checking in after one of us drives home

  • Beth

    One thing I’m trying to get better at is being affectionate and both showing/remembering that I love my partner even when I’m stressed or irritated with him or just in a generally bad mood. So lately, when I’m grumpy, I’ll try to remember to touch him and rub his back or say that I love him. Aside from being nice to him, it helps me remember that this is someone I’m choosing to stay with and that I love him for many, many reasons. It keeps me from spiraling into bickering.
    One of my favorite things about our relationship is that every night before bed, the two of us walk the dog together. It turns what would otherwise be a chore into a cherished time of our day. We talk about what we did that day and our hobbies or whatever is on our minds and it gives us a chance to reconnect. Every so often we’ll have to miss the joint-walk and I always miss it.

  • I remember really connecting to Manya’s post. And less than a year later, and I’m in a really different place and reading this post and the comments made me cry. I don’t really have anything useful to say but that I liked hearing how people are caring for and by cared for by their partners in those beautiful, thoughtful day-to-day ways…

  • Laura

    I really had to learn this. We both did, but I REALLY did. And have to make the point to. It’s still not natural. Maybe someday but not yet. :) It is the counter balance of the self-sufficient person, to give the little kindnesses and also to notice when they are being done. Ours involve routine check ins. Because we work opposite shifts. He sends me a text when he’s home safe from work and I leave him a quick voicemail during my lunch break. I make the bed because know he likes that. He makes sure I get a snack right after work because I’m always so hungry.

    • laurabird

      In the teeny little avatar picture, I swear I almost thought you were me. Plus my name is Laura too, so that was weird. :-)

      I feel you on the always hungry. And the check ins when you work opposite schedules. It makes such a huge difference, but it can feel so small in the moment. Totally worth it.

      • Laura

        Maybe we are related in another life! My mom had a quote hanging on the bathroom mirror that said something to the effect of: “A marriage is not held together bychains but by hundreds of tiny threads woven together over time.”

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