Here’s something nobody tells you when you first get married: You never stop learning. No, you don’t just wake up after your wedding day as the perfect husband. But that doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. (After all, you’re a human being, and human beings are inherently flawed.) It just means that there’s room for improvement. Even after 10, 20, or 30 years in a relationship, you should still be striving to find ways to be a better partner.
And if you’re in your 40s, there’s no better time than the present to take a closer look at your marriage. We spoke with April Masini, a New-York-based relationship expert, to create the essential checklist of ways you can improve your game to become, if not the perfect husband, at least a better husband than you were yesterday.
Listening is probably the biggest skill you need in a successful marriage. Relationships often fail because both people are talking over each other, more concerned with being heard than in earnestly hearing the other. Your spouse “wants empathy,” says Masini. “She wants sympathy. She wants understanding.” And these are things you can only give her by closing your mouth and opening your ears.
This advice is relayed so often that it can sometimes feel like a cliché. But there’s scientific evidence that going to sleep angry is bad for you. In a 2007 study, researchers out of the University of Colorado found that men had a more difficult time suppressing a negative memory after sleep than before. In other words, if they didn’t deal with that negativity in the moment, it would just fester and worsen after a night of slumber. So, if you and your spouse have a disagreement, it’s not going to get easier in the morning, least of all for you.
We spend way too much of our lives staring at screens big and small, from our phones to our tablets to our TVs, and it has a negative impact on our relationships. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the more we’re transfixed by our screens, the less satisfied we are with our relationships. So, the next time you feel compelled to check your email or return a text or watch a video that could wait until later, put down that device and look at your spouse instead.
“One of the sexiest and most romantic gestures is to stick up for her in front of others,” says Masini. “That’s a true sign of commitment and loyalty.” Even more so when you don’t necessarily agree with her.
Yes, it’s happened to all of us: You’re with other people and your partner says something that’s just glaringly wrong, and you know it. Do you correct them, even if it means embarrassing them in front of friends? Listen, your spouse doesn’t always have to be right, and neither do you. But sometimes you have to choose being a loyal husband over being the arbitrator of facts.
Husbands have a bad track record when it comes to housework. In fact, as a 2008 study out of the University of Michigan revealed, husbands create an average of seven extra hours of housework for their wives every week. So, don’t be part of the problem—be part of the solution. Do the dishes without being asked. Take out the garbage before it becomes a landfill. Hang up your coat and put your dirty socks in the hamper. You’re a spouse, not a college roommate.
It’s sweet to give flowers on Valentine’s Day or a birthday or your anniversary. But it’s not going to catch anyone by surprise. Coming home with flowers for no particular reason, just because, will remind your spouse that they’re valued by you. “You may know she is [valued], but don’t take it for granted that she knows it too,” says Masini.
“Giving compliments is one of the cheapest, easiest, most effective ways to be a better husband,” says Masini. As long as you’re being sincere, and your only goal is to put a smile on her face, it can only strengthen your relationship.
A 2011 study out of the University of Missouri revealed that men often avoid sharing their feelings because they think it’s “weird” or a “waste of time.” But the “strong, silent” male stereotype is not beneficial when it comes to a long-term relationship. If you don’t share your feelings, and let your spouse know when you’re angry or sad or jealous or scared, they’re “just going to have to guess,” says Masini. “And that’s not always in your best interest.”
“Sharing is important,” Masini says, “but being neurotic, clingy, and needy is not attractive.” Don’t confuse being open and honest with your emotions as an invitation to tell a spouse every fleeting thought or anxiety that passes through your brain. If your feelings require that much outside maintenance, it might be time to explore therapy. Just like you don’t ask your spouse to diagnose every physical symptom—smart couples leave the medical check-ups to their doctors—the more complicated your feelings, the more important it is that you find somebody qualified to lead you through any emotional maze.
It’s not just that your spouse sees you less often because you’re always at work. A 2010 Cornell University study found that women were 51 percent more likely to quit their jobs if their husbands worked 60 or more hours per week. And if those wives are also mothers, the odds of them quitting jumped to 112 (!) percent. Leave the office a little earlier, and let your spouse know that their career aspirations are just as important as your own.
Men are notorious for not taking care of their own health. Almost 60 percent of them won’t go to the doctor—even when they’re at risk for a serious illness—according to a 2016 Cleveland Clinic survey. But getting regular check-ups isn’t just about doing what’s right for you. “Taking care of you is one of the best ways to take care of her,” says Masini. After all, if you get sick or die prematurely, you’re leaving your spouse with the collateral damage.
It might seem like no big deal, but every broken promise, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, leaves a residual effect. “If you renege on your promises, your word becomes meaningless and you’re going to have trust issues in the relationship,” says Masini. If you make a promise, even if it’s something that you don’t feel is life or death—like remembering to pick up groceries on your way home from work, or taking the kids to the park on Saturday—make sure you follow through with it.
We all know the importance of supporting a partner when things go wrong, but what about when everything is going well? Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2006 showed that being your spouses’s biggest cheerleader when things go right can actually be more important to a relationship than just supporting them during the hard times. It demonstrates that your relationship truly is all for one and one for all, and you’re not guided by petty jealousy or competitiveness.
Has your partner always dreamed of writing a novel? Or wanted to try skydiving but never found the courage? Sometimes all a spouse needs to take that leap of faith and try something they’ve always dreamed of is a word or two of encouragement from their husband.
When you vowed to be with someone, for better or worse, that includes extended family. Even if they rub you the wrong way, or make you feel defensive or combative for no good reason, you need to take a deep breath and remember the value of patience. You’re in this relationship for the long haul, right? Learning to coexist peacefully with in-laws proves that you have no intention of going anywhere.
As a 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal Open discovered, women are far more likely to get bored with their sex life than men are. Andrew Gotzis, a Manhattan psychiatrist, explained to The Atlantic in 2019 that the problem isn’t with male sexual performance, or even frequency. “It’s that the sex they’re having isn’t what she wants,” he said. Be the first one to mention that maybe it’s time to be a little more adventurous between the sheets and you just might make your spouse fall in love with you all over again.
As researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered in a 2010 study, couples that frequently refer to themselves as a “we” are better at resolving marital disputes than spouses who are fiercely independent. That means if you use words like “we” more often than “I,” “me,” and “you,” you’re going to feel closer and more connected with your partner.
“Tell her you love her,” Masini says, “and tell her in front of people, too.” Not a fan of public displays of affection? Well, we’re not talking about a full-on make-out session in mixed company. It’s just three words—three words that you’re not afraid to say for the whole world to hear. “Affirming your feelings and making little public proclamations is a great way to let her know you don’t take her for granted,” Masini says.
“Date night is one of the first casualties of marriage,” warns Masini. “And when it goes, so too does romance.” But even date night loses its luster when it feels too regimented and forced, like it’s just another check mark on your already overly-booked schedule. Find ways to turn date night into an adventure, where you’re not just painting by numbers but exploring something new together that could last much longer than just one night. You both could use a reminder that romance needs to be unpredictable at times.
A good marriage means you accept each other unconditionally. But you’re really testing the limits of that commitment if you forget the importance of grooming. We’re not saying you have to be freshly showered and shaved for every minute of your marriage. We’re just saying you have to have consistently better hygiene than your average teenager.
We’ve all been guilty of this at least once. You ask if they’ve seen your car keys or your favorite shirt without even bothering to look for it yourself. Don’t be that guy. Make the effort and stop expecting your spouse to be the neighborhood watch of your house, keeping vigilant records of the exact whereabouts of your every belonging.
Arguments in a relationship aren’t always pleasant, but they are part of a healthy marriage. In 2008, University of Michigan researchers revealed the results of their study that analyzed more than 200 marriages over the course of 20 years. They found that those who avoided confrontation or disagreements in general tended to die earlier than those who didn’t shy away from tension and instead learned how to argue in emotionally mature ways. That means that if you’re upset with your partner about something, don’t swallow those emotions. Talk with your spouse and put it all out in the open.
You don’t have to become their Ed McMahon, laughing mindlessly at everything they say like it’s part of your job. But when your spouse says something legitimately funny, show your appreciation. Men sometimes have insecurities about funny women, as if her having a healthy sense of humor is somehow emasculating. But her nailing a punchline doesn’t mean that you’re not also funny. (Bonus: An appreciative audience can be a real aphrodisiac.)
The occasional sweet and unsolicited text—when you’re writing just to let your spouse know that you miss them—can be a wonderful gesture they’ll beam about for hours. But don’t overdo it, Masini says. This doesn’t need to develop into a thrice daily habit. “If you get the cadence right, this kind of behavior can be great for your marriage,” says Masini.
When you workout as a couple, “not only are you having fun and spending time together, but you’re also building your health together,” Masini says. Hitting the gym with a spouse can motivate you to push yourself harder, too—sometimes twice as hard as you would if you exercised alone, according to a 2012 Michigan State study.
Husbands are hardwired to be problem solvers, but they often misunderstand what their partners actually need. “Most times your wife just wants to vent, and they want you to listen,” says Masini. “When you jump in and go into fix-it mode, they don’t get their needs met. They feel frustrated, angry, and misunderstood.” Sometimes the best support you can give is just being a sounding board.
Have you ever heard a couple retell the story of how they met like it’s part of their personal mythology? The details might be slightly exaggerated, and the ending like something out of a romantic comedy. But their excitement over that story—their shared nostalgia for how they finally found each other—isn’t just to impress friends and family. It’s a reminder of what makes their love unique and special. If you and your partner haven’t told your love story in years, it’s time to blow the dust off the cover of that timeless tale.
We mean every morning. Before you’ve had your coffee, glance at the morning’s headlines, or picked out your outfit for the day, give your partner a kiss that says, “I’m grateful for you. Before the whirlwind of the day steals our attention, I just wanted to remind you of that.” It all comes down to prioritizing what’s truly important.
“Your partner may have different ‘alone’ needs than you do,” says Masini. And it’s not just about being understanding when your spouse wants a day to his or herself, either. Take the initiative and let your partner know you’re fine with not being attached at the hip.
“Building in alone time to the weeks ahead is a great way to make sure her needs get met,” say Masini. “Recognize, respect, and offer this up. You’ll be doing great things for her—and your relationship.”
Children are a blessing, but the time commitment involved in raising them can have negative consequences for even the strongest of marriages. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90 percent of couples feel that they experience less marital joy after becoming parents. So, how do you fix this? By having a babysitter that you don’t only call on rare occasions. A romantic night out with your spouse shouldn’t be reserved for anniversaries or special occasions. Call right now and see if the babysitter is available this week, because it’s time for you and your one-and-only to celebrate “Thursday.”
“If you’re committed enough to marry someone, invest time in learning about what makes her tick,” says Masini. If she loves golf, take the initiative to learn about golf. If he loves opera and you’ve never heard a single note, buy two tickets to an opera production in the nearest big city. “You don’t have to engage with equal fervor,” says Masini. “But at least respect her interests, and set the bar for trying new things that aren’t your bag.”
Being a great dad involves more than just asking your children about their day. Don’t leave it up to your spouse to juggle the responsibilities of your kids’ busy schedules. Whether it’s taking them to soccer practice or driving them to the pediatrician, make the effort to be a dad who isn’t just around for the fun parts of parenting.
Given enough time, even the best of marriages can fall into a rut. There are responsibilities and financial obligations and it just doesn’t seem like there’s time anymore to do something truly fun and surprising. Well, let this be the year when that changes. You don’t need to do anything crazy like quit your job or empty your savings for a last-minute trip to Paris. But playing hooky for a day, when you both take off work for a midday movie date, could be just the adrenaline rush your marriage needs.
It’s a skill that comes after many years in a relationship, when you begin to anticipate your spouse’s needs before they have to speak them out loud. It’s pouring her a glass of her favorite wine because you can sense it’s been a stressful day. It’s when he’s feeling under the weather and you bring him a box of tissues before he asks. It’s going grocery shopping to pick up a few items before she even realized the refrigerator is getting empty.
Keeping secrets from each other is a bad, bad idea. But having secrets that only the two of you know can be “way more valuable than any other type of relationship glue,” says Masini. “When you share and keep each others’ most private thoughts, you’re creating a special bond that supports your relationship.” It doesn’t have to be something all that earth-shattering, but having a secret that you’ve never told another living soul can make your spouse feel special.
There’s nothing a spouse likes to hear less than, “Wait, we’re hosting a dinner party this weekend? I had no idea!” Well, you would have an idea about this and all the other commitments you and your spouse have made if you just checked your shared Google calendar occasionally. Don’t turn your spouse into your personal assistant.
Fact: Snoring is a widespread issue. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it. Whether it’s using nasal strips to combat the problem or even taking a sleep study to determine if you have sleep apnea, you can find ways not just to improve your quality of sleep but also give your spouse the the gift of sharing a bed with somebody who doesn’t constantly sound like an angry tiger. And even if none of the methods work, it’ll be appreciated that you put in the effort.
Safe sex doesn’t end just because you’re married. If you’ve had kids and you’ve both decided your family is complete, you may not want to go back to condoms. If that’s the case, talk to your urologist about getting a vasectomy. It’s incredibly common—urologists in the U.S. alone perform about half a million vasectomies every year, according to the journal Urology—and it’s a far less risky and invasive procedure than it would be for your wife to have a tubal ligation.
No, we’re not talking about that (although that’s definitely important, too). We mean the nightly ritual of getting into bed and falling asleep. If you and your partner have different sleep schedules—where one of you heads to the bedroom long after the other is already fast asleep—you’re missing out on important moments of contact and intimacy. A shocking 75 percent of couples admit to going to bed at different hours and missing out on those moments, according to a 2015 Warren Evans study covered by The Daily Mail.
How could this possibly benefit your relationship? It shows that you’re still interested in self-improvement, and you have a curiosity for life that hasn’t slowed down. Just because you’re 40 doesn’t mean you have to stop giving your partner reasons to be attracted to you. So maybe it’s time to learn a foreign language, or decide that you want to compete in your first marathon, or turn the garage into a woodworking shop where you can dabble in carpentry. And if you need ideas of where to start, here are 40 Best Hobbies to Take Up in Your 40s.
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