What’s the best way to show your wife you love her? We asked married women just that. As they told us about their spouses’ most meaningful gestures, we noticed a theme (cliché alert!): It’s the little things that count. Steal their husbands’ ideas to make your own wife swoon.
Note: Though we talked to married women in straight relationships, we’re pretty sure that many of these would apply to same-sex marriages, too.
1- Notice When She’s Stressed
A man’s willingness to do housework is a major predictor of marital bliss, according to Pew research.
This was true among the women we polled, too: One said she was literally moved to tears one night when her husband cleaned the kitchen. “I was so overwhelmed, so I went upstairs to lie down,” she says. “When I came back downstairs, my husband had washed every single dish in the sink and cleaned the entire kitchen.”
How’d this husband score so many points for a simple chore? He paid attention. Picking up on cues that she needs help makes her feel seen, says Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. And he also stepped up: “Giving her that support undoes the heavy sense of aloneness that can often accompany stressful times,” says Fleming.
Steal his move: Women don’t always ask when they need help—so take notice of her signals, says Jane Greer, Ph.D., author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. Is she curt when she speaks to you? Sighing heavily while unloading the dishwasher? Quiet and withdrawn? Go time.
Your support doesn’t have to be limited to housework, though. Our panel of women had lots of suggestions: Run a bubble bath for her, pick up her favorite dessert, or simply ask her about her day and let her unload.
2- Create a Sweet Routine
One of the women we surveyed said that every time she takes a shower, her husband stops whatever he’s doing to scrub her back. “Although he’s done this since we wed almost eight years ago, it still makes me feel special each time,” she says.
Rituals, no matter how small, can create a solid foundation for your relationship. “Partners may fight and have rough patches, but these routines provide a way to reconnect,” says Tom Murray, Ph.D., a marriage therapist based in Greensboro, N.C. “It’s kind of like resetting the stopwatch every day.”
Steal his move: Maybe your wife doesn’t want her back scrubbed—but she does need her morning coffee. Brew her a.m. cup or bring her a nightly glass of her favorite wine. Even a long hug before you both leave for work can be the routine you need to reconnect.
3- Make Her Life Easier
Problem solving can be unexpectedly romantic. Several of the women we spoke with fondly recalled a time when their husbands performed a simple task that made their lives easier.
“After he noticed my frustration in waiting for my laptop to work, my husband surprised me by ordering and installing more memory on it,” says one wife. “I hadn’t complained about it; he just saw me struggling and fixed it.”
The gift of laptop memory wasn’t memorable because it was extravagant—it’s because it was thoughtful. Plus, it has the added bonus of also reducing her stress—which is good for her sex drive, according to research from the Kinsey Institute.
Steal his move: There’s probably something that annoys your wife that no one else would notice but you. Maybe her cellphone is always on the verge of dying, or she never gets out of work in time to swing by the dry cleaner, or there are 3,427 unread emails in her inbox. See if there’s a way you can help. Every woman’s frustrations will be different—one husband bought his wife a headlamp to use when she has to walk the dog at night. If you can solve her unique pet peeve, you’ll be a hero.
4- Craft a Surprise She’ll Love
A little surprise brightens an otherwise mundane day and reminds her of your affection. But you can do better than flowers “just because.” Tailor your gesture to really make her feel special, says Greer.
One of the women we polled told us that her husband has been hiding scratch-off lottery tickets around the house for her for decades. “His hiding places have been great,” she says. “He’ll wrap them in the toilet paper in the guest bathroom, or I’ll find them in my lingerie drawer. Discovering them is like finding money every time.”
Steal his move: If lottery tickets aren’t her thing, consider leaving love notes in her suitcase or on the bathroom mirror. Or check out her Pinterest page and buy her an item that she has pinned for herself. Or go even bigger: Next time she mentions an activity she wants to try “someday,” like taking a sushi-making class or going to a taping of her favorite live show, hold on to that thought, says Fleming. “When she least expects it, surprise her with the plans to make it happen,” she says.