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Simple Ways to Better Support Your Spouse

November 03, 2021

Don’t wait to be asked — you might never be asked. Don’t wait for a moment of spontaneous inspiration — it might never come. Take it upon yourself sometimes to deliver to your partner invisible support. It’s a way to make a handsome deposit into your marital bank account (see Are You Overdrawn?)  

Research reported in the Journal of Psychological Science (December, 2010) describes two types of support in a relationship:

  1. Visible (when both partners notice the supportive actions)
  2. Invisible (when support originates outside the recipient's awareness)

Invisible support flies under the radar, without a partner having to ask for it, without a partner necessarily knowing you've provided it. Too often overlooked, it can be especially effective when a spouse has a hard time acknowledging the need (or desire) for help, and prefers to handle things on his own no matter how rough the going gets.

Especially when your partner finds herself in a really stressed-out period, invisible support is about asking yourself what you might do to make her life a bit easier — and then doing it, with no fanfare.

Here are examples of invisible support that can make a difference during a time of stress (or any time):

  • Take care of household tasks that don't ordinarily fall to you: doing the laundry, changing the kitty litter, setting out the recycling.
  • Shine your spouse's shoes the night before his big presentation, or take her car to the car wash before she drives out of town for that business meeting.
  • Prepare your spouse's favorite food or suggest her favorite restaurant, without advertising how thoughtful you are.
  • Fix a pot of tea or coffee for your spouse's late-night work session before she has a chance to do it herself.

It's about smoothing the way for someone we love without needing to be asked, and without needing appreciation.

Note: An earlier version of this Tip appeared in April, 2011.