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5 Ways to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

Use actions instead of words to boost connection

Loving happy couple together at walk in a park
aldomurillo/Getty Images

Do you feel like you have been existing in a B-minus marriage for way too many years? Or does your relationship in later life feel like it just idles along? You know you need an upgrade, but “let’s talk” can arouse anxiety and put spouses on the defensive.

Diving into heavy discussion isn’t always required when it comes to improving your relationship.

Instead, think about approaching your partner with a “spirit of generosity” — something that is particularly effective when both spouses sign on. The goal is to give to your partner without resentment and without tracking what you are getting in return. Be wary of acting out people-pleasing tendencies: True generosity emerges when a person is feeling self-confident and calm, and giving without obligation.

But how does this work in real life? One way to be generous with a spouse is to use the framework laid out by author and relationship pastor Gary Chapman. In his iconic relationship book The Five Love Languages, Chapman notes that each person has a specific way they prefer being loved: words of affirmation, touch, quality time, gifts or acts of service.

Couples can tap into these five love languages to fully communicate “you matter to me.”

To do this, imagine you are making a deposit into your partner’s emotional piggy bank every day. Consider these love language deposits. Here are five ways to do it:

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1. Words of affirmation

People love to hear things like: I love you, you mean the world to me, great job on the golf course, nice effort in that exercise class. Verbal compliments are great, but also try love notes of the old-fashioned or text variety. Put a sweet note in spouse’s lunch bag that says, “I love you. Have a great day!” Or leave a Post-it note on a pillow or bathroom counter that says, “You rock my world.” Send a midday text that says, “Just thinking of you.” 

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If your spouse is working on getting into shape, note their progress. If your spouse puts effort into their appearance, acknowledge this, too. Challenge yourself to notice and offer your praise out loud.

2. Touch

Some people prefer to feel love through affectionate contact. Try upping the number of hugs and kisses you bestow. A hand placed on the thigh while driving a car, a 20-second shoulder rub, or hand-holding while walking the dog all communicate love. Want to go the extra distance? See if you can sweetly caress a different part of your spouse’s body three different times a day.

For spouses trying to work on flirting, touch can be game-changing. Offer contact on an erogenous zone, like the neck or earlobes, but don’t linger long. Flirting is different than a sexual invitation because it is a sexy hello, then a quick good-bye. It says to your partner, “You matter and I find you appealing.”

As for sex, it does and doesn’t count. Generally, the “touch” love language insinuates affection, not eroticism. However, if you know making a sexual invitation might be a nice gift, then by all means go for it. 

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3. Quality time

People love to feel prioritized by spending meaningful time together. Sharing space with a screen often doesn’t count, unless you are intentionally watching a series or movie together. The key word is intentional. You need to know what your spouse likes to do, then jump in and join. Offer to go on neighborhood dog walks or sit by the fireplace with a cup of tea and no phone. Pull out some board games. Set up a date night. Or just keep your spouse company at the kitchen island and drink a glass of wine while your partner cooks.  

4. Gifts

A tangible demonstration of love can make someone feel appreciated, and a gift with thought behind it makes the recipient feel like their interests and desires matter. Gifts need to be meaningful, but not necessarily expensive. Common gifts might include chocolate, flowers or a bottle of wine. Less common gift ideas can include fresh-squeezed orange juice on a lazy Saturday, catered lunch for a busy day at work, movie tickets for a surprise date, a succulent for the kitchen window, or a day with a professional home organizer. Gifts can also be something you make and deliver, like breakfast in bed or a happy hour cocktail.

5. Acts of service

People feel loved when a spouse purposely performs an act of kindness for them. That might mean making the bed, filling the car with gas or doing the weekly grocery shop. Less common ideas could include making a new dessert, ordering surprise takeout or organizing the kitchen junk drawer. People who appreciate acts of service tend to like a clean and ordered home, but challenge yourself to offer something that goes beyond day-to-day chores. You can even initiate sex (as long as this feels like a gift, and not an obligation).

The secret to success is having fun with your generosity. It should feel rewarding to make everyday deposits into the emotional piggy bank. Tracking what you give, not what you get, can help couples take a marriage from survive to thrive. 

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