Modeling a loving relationship is possibly one of the best things we can do help set our children up for future relationship success. If we show them how to give and receive love with gratitude, patience, forgiveness, and trust, then they will have a powerful example to base their own actions and expectations on.
Here are 10 simple ways to show love to your spouse – with practical tips for how you can do this in front of your kids to set an example. And what is best about these ideas is that everyone in the family will benefit from them. If we work to model a loving relationship, we will likely be more happy, our spouse will be more happy, and our children will learn patterns and habits for healthy relationships as well. More love will be spread in all directions!
Now I realize that all marriages are different – some have fewer problems and some have really *big* problems – so I am not presuming that these ideas will work in all relationships by any means. This is just my own personal list for showing love based on my own mostly positive (but-could-always-benefit-from-a-bit-more-love-and-affection) relationship.
Please note that I am going to speak in first person about my husband – so it will seem like this is a to-do list especially for wives – but I think the ideas can go either way, to be used by women and men alike.
This article is part of my series “Sharing the Love: 100 Ways for You and Your Kids to Make a Difference In The World.” I believe the more we shower love on and expose love to our kids, the more love they will spread in the world. Follow along here.
(1) Believe in him.
When we decided to get married, I did not look at my future husband thinking, “I just can’t believe he doesn’t put the toilet seat down, and never makes an effort to cook dinner.” He wasn’t perfect back then, but I did not focus on it – I saw the best in him and I believed he was doing his best at life.
So why should I have any negative thoughts now? There is always a better outcome to interactions when I choose to take on a loving outlook, instead of assuming the worst… even if a task has not been done that I thought we had agreed to or there is some other misunderstanding staring me in the face. Believing in him is key to showing love in a consistent and unconditional way. Usually there is a totally logical explanation for why something is “off,” when I do not blow things out of proportion by entering a conversation with an accusation in mind.
Practical tip: Look for the best in your spouse and never speak ill of him. Do not allow yourself to focus on negative thoughts. When you talk to him and ask questions, make sure you are speaking from a place of love (even admiration, if you think back to those early days of your relationship when you were willing to work any problem out). Try to start conversations with an open mind versus accusations. I bet you want your children to communicate like this to you, and other people, as well. I sure do.
(2) Be affectionate.
Humans are physical beings. Give kisses and cuddles, and massages when possible. If one of you feels less physically connected and you are finding trouble making time for each other, you might like to consider the tips in this article. Enough said.
Practical tip: Give each other a quick good morning kiss to start off the day connecting. Show your kids that you love each other, in words and in deeds.
(3) Speak kindly.
If you are good at #1, this one may come easily to you. But I still need some work in this specific area, so I am making “speak kindly” a whole new point as it totally gets the worst of me sometimes.
Really, why do we speak so tactlessly to the ones we love the most? Do we assume they should already understand us and know our preferences? Sometimes I am surprised by how little my husband knows of what is in my head. As I heard once, if a man wants to know what it’s like to think like a woman he should open up a 10,000 windows in his browser and imagine them being there all day. But more seriously, my husband just can’t always know what I am thinking/feeling and I really should not expect him to. (To be honest, I can hardly keep track of it all the time myself.) So I have to remember to speak kindly and be happy to explain things numerous times if it helps him understand… even if I feel like (and/or know) I have said it a dozen times before.
Practical tip: Have a key phrase to trigger each others’ “kindness response” when you are starting to lack kindness in your voice or words. My husband usually says something like, “I’m on your side, okay?” (in a nice voice, of course) Sometimes he or I may need to say, “I just need you to explain this to me one more time please, I am listening and I am still just trying to understand.” Showing our kids that we can be having a hard time with someone but can still choose be respectful and kind is an important skill to model.
(4) Ask how you can help.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone asked how they could help you each day, or (in the busy world we live in today) at least once a week? I feel great when I remember to ask my husband what I can do to help him, and of course I love it when he asks me as well. We are trying to get into this habit so we can both support each other, especially over the weekends. He may need an hour or two of extra sleep to catch up after a rough week, want to go on a morning run with a friend, or like to watch a movie together after the kids go to bed. And when I help him, he is always more than willing to help me – such as watching the kids while I get a haircut or catch up on some emails. If each of us shares our desires for help, we can usually figure out how to work together to get them met.
Practical tip: Make it a habit every Friday night to ask, “What can we do this weekend to help each other?” Let the kids overhear you negotiating and compromising (to an appropriate degree), working together to fit in both peoples’ preferences and plans.
Another idea is to make a list of specific things you each can do throughout the week to help each other out. The husband’s and wife’s list may look very different (the topic can be “What can my spouse do to make me feel loved and supported?”) but it can be really interesting what the other person comes up with that you never even considered before. We have done this and it has been super helpful. (For example, I make my husband’s lunch each morning and he feeds the kids breakfast.)
(5) Share your emotional needs.
If I bottle things up and forget to assess what is really bothering me deep down… I am bound to eventually explode. When I try to get in touch with my feelings as soon as I notice unrest and identify the source of any negativity (such as, for example, a lack of help with the dishes) I can share this and we can have a conversation to help rectify the situation. Maybe the thing I was focusing on turns out not to be so important, I just wanted to be heard or it is really something else that is stressing me. Either way, I need to share what I am feeling and how I think he can support me. Part of being in a loving relationship is being open and honest with each other; it is often the only way the other person can figure out how to really help us.
Practical tip: Communicate what he can do to help you feel loved in a way that is meaningful to you. For example, “Would you please put the dinner dishes away while I give the kids a bath? I would really appreciate the help tonight since I have had a very exhausting day. Thanks sweetie.” Followed by a kiss and a hug, and possibly a conversation about dishes (or what is at the root of the matter) later that night. The kids will see you modeling vulnerability which is a necessary step to accepting and loving oneself – and wholeheartedly accepting love from others.
(6) Support his dreams.
When I support my husband in his work and interests his cup is “full,” and therefore he has more energy to support me in my own goals. It is a win-win situation. We have written out our yearly and five-year-goals (we keep a running tab on email so they can be easily modified if there are any changes) and reassess them as each big decision is made (“Do we have enough money to buy a second car when we have your educational program coming up?” “Should we move when our lease is up so we are closer to work next year?”). Having our personal and family goals clearly set out allows us to work together to do what we want in life and support each other. It also gives less room for misunderstandings when it comes to discussing upcoming plans; when we are on the same page we can be a lot more unified in our consultations.
Practical tip: Make a vision board for your family, and share it with your kids (if they are old enough, they can also participate). Seeing mom and dad’s goals individually and together will help your children understand how in a loving relationship you support each others’ dreams – some of which involve each other and some of which may be personal.
(7) Review the day.
Whether it is a daily tradition to talk about work over dinner, or a weekend discussion about how things went over the week, it can be very empowering for each of you to “step into each others’ shoes” and talk about what is going on in life behind the scenes. Whether you are discussing something stressful or worthy of celebration, be sure you are really listening to each other and valuing the journey being shared, instead of judging based on your own experience or expectations.
Try to review your day without blame; focus on what you have learned and what you can do to change things if necessary. Congratulate each other on milestones and be proud of each others’ hard work, whether it is recognized as “important” by society or not (ie learning to cook a new dish or organizing the pantry may not shake the world but it can be very life-altering to the family; own it and/or respect it!).
Practical tip: Ask each other in front of the kids, “How did your day go?” or “How was work this week?” If you have things to discuss in private, set a time to do so. The kids should know that you regularly talk and consult about issues together, and that you care about what the other person is experiencing (both good and bad). You are friends and work as a team.
Just a note: Talking negatively about co-workers or acquaintances will just bring both of your spirits down, not to mention set an awful pattern of judging for your kids to follow. Be sure to discuss any necessary personal issues that concern other people in private.
(8) Say “Thank you.”
Yes it is my husband’s job to “make the money” and my job to “care for the home” but these tasks do not have to go without thanks. A simple, “Thank you for cleaning the house today even when you had so many other things to do” or “Thank you for putting up with those challenges at work to support the family” can go a long way in making each other feel loved.
Practical tip: Give each other honest and heartfelt thanks often, in front of the kids and apart from them. Let the kids see how much you appreciate each other, both in your heart and in your words. You can also help the kids say thanks to the other parent and understand in what very important ways they are contributing to the family. Respecting and being grateful are valuable tools for your children to use in their own relationships.
(9) Spend time alone – together and apart.
You always hear about the importance of couples’ having time alone together and I could not agree more. It is really important to have time to consult in private, have fun together, and nurture the relationship. But likewise I feel it is also really great to have your own set of friends and to spend a bit of time “alone” apart.
My husband cannot fulfill 100% of my needs for meaningful relationships – he is my main partner in life but I also value the conversation and experiences I have with my other friends. Actually I usually find spending time away from my husband makes me appreciate time with him even more. When we support one another in our relationship with each other, and also in our own personal friendships, our hearts feel more full and, for lack of a better word, no one has to be “needy.”
Practical tip: Set a date night (whether out of the house or in) at least once a month. Also take turns having a night out with friends, even if it’s only once every month or two. The kids should see that you are very special to each other but that you also have relationships outside the family. Each of you are whole people on your own, not completely dependent on each other or each others’ only friend. This will help both of you feel fulfilled with loving relationships; and teach your children that they should have a network of friends and not rely on only one person.
(10) Do not give up.
In contrast to the fairy tales with “prince charming” or the Blockbuster hits showcasing a “perfect match,” I want to show my kids that making a relationship work takes work – it is not “meant to be” or “happily ever after.” When frustration or disappointment sets in, I do not want to give up. (Of course I’m not talking about physical violence here… that should be addressed in a very serious manner.) Disagreements are bound to occur between any two people, how much more when those people are working alongside one another to create a life together. When we work through them and love each other anyway, we grow even closer. And we show our kids that love is not about choosing the “perfect” mate but working together to make the relationship succeed.
Practical tip: If you are tempted to walk out or emotionally detach, ask your partner for a “time out.” Set the timer for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour (let them know which you are choosing) to “cool off” in a room apart from the other person, then come together again to continue with life. You may or may not consult about whatever issue you are facing in front of the children (all families go about this differently) but at least let your children see that you are willing to work through issues and stick around, regardless of the desire to run away when times get tough.
Love begets love. The more we love our spouse, the more love we will receive in return. And the sooner our children learn to live with love and through love, the stronger their hearts will be to engage positively in their own relationships.
I don’t know about you, but I have learned so much from being married and so much more from having kids. Being a wife and mother has made me appreciate and love my husband even more, and understand love in a way that I never knew possible before.
When we focus on actively showing love instead of worrying about the disagreements or the challenges, our home life is so much more joyful. No person will ever be perfect, but the *love* we show can be.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your own suggestions/experiences in the comments below.
Next in the series I will be sharing 10 ideas for building a more loving extended family, for those who live nearby and those who live internationally (like we do).
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