“I feel worn out and wish my husband would give me more support. He says he wants to and that I should just give him a list. Any ideas?”

Out of our marriage and experience with many couples with children, here’s a Top Ten list (in no particular order) addressed to parents; hopefully some of these suggestions will fit your relationship:

Take initiative with the kids – When a child has a need or a problem, dive in. For example, you be the one to tend to your child in a restaurant. If your partner offers a suggestion, take on board what’s useful in his or her comment, and keep diving in.

Take on a regular chore – Pick an everyday childrearing or housework task and start doing it routinely with little fanfare.

Arrange date nights – Set up the babysitting, take the lead in telling your kids that you’re going out, and be the last one out the door.

Start by joining – Try to have your opening move be one of interest, support, empathy, and what you agree with – rather than withdrawal, detached analysis, or disagreement. Imagine how you’d feel if you were your partner, if you had his or her tasks, day, life. Try to explore any negative feelings in them rather than stepping back from them or trying to fix them quickly so they go away.

Ask three questions in a row – Every day, try to ask three questions in a row about your partner’s inner experience, such as:
How did you feel when _______ ?
Deep down, what did you really want in that situation?
Can you say more about that?

Give your partner a night off each week – From start to finish, handle one night a week. It’s fine to have take-out and to do things your way (as long as the effects don’t spill over onto your partner). If they want to stay home and take a long bath, you’re still in charge of the kids and the housework.

Reach out to your partner first – A relationship is like a series of volleys in tennis, and it’s typically one person in the partnership who puts the ball in play. If it’s not you, then be the one to call to see how the other’s day is going. Give them a card or small present out of the blue. Be the one to say, “Hey, let’s talk.”

Stick up for your partner with your family and friends – Put your partner in a good light. Imagine that the conversation is being recorded and your partner will listen to it; what would their reaction be?

Communicate a vulnerable feeling or wish – Share some part of your inner experience that is soft, vulnerable, and open. If it makes you squirm a bit to imagine saying it – that’s what you ought to say!

Be affectionate without it being about sex – Besides the obvious (hugs, etc.), try little massages or back scratches, rubbing your partner’s feet, or fluffing their hair. Ask them what they like. With words, tell them things that you like about them, why you’re fond of them. Tell them you love them. A lot.

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This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.