For Valentine’s Day: 7 Mistakes That I Keep Making in Romance and 5 Things I Do Right.

In writing The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I thought a lot about what I can do to make my romantic life better.

In general, I’m a fan of using milestone days to prompt me to think about changes I might undertake to make myself happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative.

Certain days, such as January 1 or my birthday,  remind me to reflect on my life and my hopes for the future.  Recently, Inauguration Day prompted me to think about the highest ideals of the United States, and how I can live up to them, in my own life.

And Valentine’s Day is a great reminder to think about my romance!  My husband Jamie is the love of my life, but sometimes I don’t treat him with courtesy or interest. I have to remind myself — don’t be nicer to a stranger on the street than I am to my own husband. (In fact, research shows that married people often show more consideration to others than they do to each other.)

For instance, I make these relationship mistakes over and over, even though I know I shouldn’t. In the scheme of things, they’re fairly minor (which I’m quick to point out), but they are annoying. And in marriage, it’s good not to be annoying, whenever you can avoid it; marriage is a long, long road.

7 Mistakes That I Keep Making in Romance

  1. Even though I know it’s rude, I will often read my emails while I talk to my husband on the phone.
  2. I leave my clothes in a heap in a corner of our bedroom, even though I know it gets on his nerves.
  3. I give him a smart-alecky answer when he absent-mindedly asks me the same question more than once, even when it’s just some little thing I could easily answer.
  4. I leave empty diet soda cans scattered around the apartment.
  5. Months ago, for his birthday, he asked if we could get the carpets cleaned as his present, and I told him I’d organize that as my gift, and I haven’t done it.
  6. I haven’t made a doctor’s appointment for myself, even though he really wants me to get a check-up.
  7. I “snap” at him and speak sharply when I get anxious about something — when I fear that we’re running late, when I’m worried about whether we’re following the right parenting strategy, when I’m concerned about some work issue.

But it’s true that with time and effort, I’ve learned to do a better job in some ways.

As I write about in Better Than Before, my book about habit change, what we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while. I’ve managed to cultivate these good habits:

5 Things I Do Right

  1. I give him a warm, attentive “hello” and “good-bye” every time he comes home or leaves the apartment.
  2. I spend a few minutes clearing clutter in the early morning, right before I walk our dog Barnaby, so the apartment looks at least superficially tidy when he emerges in the morning.
  3. I text him funny or interesting updates during the day — pictures of something I see on the street, or Barnaby asleep in my office, or “Five years ago today” “One year ago” photos of our family (I do this so he doesn’t assume that every text or call from me involves an annoying logistical question).
  4. I’ve learned that as a Questioner (as opposed to an Upholder, Obliger, or Rebel), he doesn’t like being questioned, so I refrain from asking many questions that I’d like to have answered: “Where are we going for dinner?” “What time do we need to leave?”
  5. I make the bed on the days when he doesn’t make the bed. I love having the bed made, and so does he.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: a key to happiness is strong relationships, and if we’re in a romantic relationship, it has a big influence on our happiness.

How about you — what romance mistakes do you repeat, and what good habits have you cultivated?

  • Jessica

    #3 under “Things I Do Right” is interesting. I am also a person who mainly texts logistical questions to my husband and it’s a good idea to try to text other interesting things/life updates sometimes!

  • Anne

    I was really surprised by our remark: he is a questioner so he doesn’t like to be questioned. I am a questioner too, and I hate those kinds of questions, but I thought that would have to do more with the fact that I am not so good at making decisions. Why is it a questioner-thing?

    • gretchenrubin

      Stay tuned! I discuss this at length in my book THE FOUR TENDENCIES (coming out in September).

      It’s a perhaps surprising but very striking pattern among Questioners.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

      • Anne


      • I’m a questioner too and feel the same – I thought this was just me!

      • Bleminski

        I just wanted to say that i too recognise some of the less …productive… tendencies mentioned of questioners. Okay…saying I hate being questioned, or that I get annoyed by ‘irrelevant tangents and questions’ is such an understatement in my case!

    • I wonder if it’s because we questioners use so much intellectual and emotional energy to answer our own questions and make decisions, we don’t want to go through that process for somewhat insignificant questions from others. Just a guess.

  • Julie Bestry

    I appreciate your post, but I couldn’t help thinking you could have easily arranged for the carpet cleaners and scheduled your doctor’s appointment in the time it took to write the first few paragraphs of this post.

    Getting yourself to NOT do the other ingrained habits is harder; perhaps #7 would be the hardest of all. But #6 is causing him stress, and now it’s going to cause your readers stress. Go to the doctor! (Then tell us you’ve scheduled, at least, so we don’t snap at people around us!) 😉

  • Oh my gosh. I am so with you on 1, 2, 6 and 7. Great list, and it’s a great idea to think about the mistakes you keep making, as well as the things you are doing right. So, my husband doesn’t seem to care much about gifts. When I ask him for gift ideas for Christmas or birthdays, he never has any. (I, on the other hand, can give him tons of ideas, and he always buys me awesome gifts!) Even when I put a lot of thought and effort into buying him a gift I think he will love, he often doesn’t use it. I have kind of given up on buying him gifts. I feel terrible about this. I recently discovered he’s a 5 on the Enneagram, and we both think this has something to do with his lack of interest in getting gifts. He says he doesn’t care if I don’t buy him gifts, but I really want to give him a gift he will love! I’m not sure if this falls in the first category or the second, but it’s something I wish I could do better.

    • LoriM

      Sounds like my husband. He never uses my gifts. It hurts a little but I suspect he just doesn’t care about gifts, either, although he’s really good about buying gifts for me (mostly, nowadays, because I give a lot of hints). If he wants something, he researches the heck out of it and then he buys it himself. I have had some luck with very personalized gifts like clothing with the name and logo of our lake house on it, and photo books and photo gifts of the grandchildren. And food. 🙂

  • Mimi Gregor

    My husband sometimes tells me that I don’t listen, and he’s right; I’m not always completely giving him my full attention when he’s speaking. I do have a reason, however. I don’t know if it’s because I am a Questioner, but whenever someone is relating a story to me, or explaining something, or even answering a question that I posed, I prefer for them to be succinct and not go off on tangents or give irrelevant information. Unfortunately, he sometimes frets the details that don’t really matter to the story: “I ran into Tom on Friday. No, it was Thursday, because that was the night I stopped at the drugstore on my way home from work….” At that point, I no longer care what the point of the story is, or even if it has one. Mind you, he doesn’t always do this. Just often enough for me to get a reputation as being inattentive.

    • Kate

      Wow I’m exactly the same, and I’m a Questioner! I wonder if it is related to the tendency, but adding those details can really bug me haha

    • Lisa

      OMG, if this is a questioner thing it explains so much. I absolutely cannot stand when people digress about unimportant-to-the-story details.

      Related: I also hate it when someone makes a point, I make clear that I understand and agree with what they’re saying, but they continue to overexplain as if I am disagreeing with them for another ten minutes.

      I thought I was just a jerk. 🙂 Good to know I’m not the only one!

    • Bethany Johnson

      My husband (Questioner) is exactly the same way; if someone is telling him something, it better be succinct and to the point. WOW!

      • Mimi Gregor

        I’m sensing a trend here…. Hey, Gretchen! Jamie is a Questioner. Is he impatient with too many details and wants you to get right to the point?

  • Jerri Udelson

    After the election, I decided one of my ways to make the world a better place is to be kind. I practice “on” my partner, and try to go out of my way to be kind and nice and not snappy. Just having this intention has been helpful.

    • kristen

      I like it! A simple enough thought, but not always easy to remember to act upon, so thanks for sharing it. We all can use a little more kindness, right? And I really believe that (1) kindness begets kindness, and (2) a little goes a long way — at least both of those ring true in our household.

  • Jen

    One thing we do just about at the end of every day right before sleep is to thank each other for things we did for each other that day. We never planned it or said we would. We just always have since we started dating and have kept it up for years. So if I cook dinner, he thanks me, if he cleaned the mouse traps in the basement, I thank him, and we always end up trying to one u
    each other on the thanks for the day.

  • santaclams

    As someone who was married for ten years, divorced, in a 2.5 year relationship, and now single, I took a lot more seriously doing the “little” things that my partner appreciated in my post divorce relationship (and appreciated the stuff out loud that he did for me) than I did in my marriage. I think that not paying attention to that stuff is like allowing the bad bacteria to build up in your mouth (by not getting your teeth cleaned twice a year), which can infect the rest of your body and be bad for your overall health. Little stuff adds up!

  • Laurie

    I just wanted to thank you for the is helpful post, and thanks for sharing. I also appreciated Do something for your future self!

  • Karen

    I really love this! It made me think about what I could be doing better for my relationship with my husband and what I do really well. It is amazing that it really is the little things that mean so much! I love technology, but I find it often consumes my thoughts and time when I should be paying greater attention to my family. I have added several new “family rules” to be sure we are giving each other our best attention, Thank you for the reminder! Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

  • Lucy Pritchett

    I know why you haven’t scheduled the dr’s appointment and the carpet cleaning! It’s because it involves a phone CALL!!! 🙂 How about delegating those phone calls that you oh so hate to make? Maybe hire an assistant for an hour or 2 a week to do make those calls or do those tasks for you?

    • Gillian

      Good observation. Or maybe these tasks could be accomplished via e-mail?

  • Although we’re only in our 3rd year of marriage, my husband and I have been together for over 12 years. Needless to say, there’s always going to be room to grow!

    I think my mistake would be forgetting that just because he doesn’t show emotion as readily as I do, doesn’t mean I can’t hurt his feelings. I am learning to stop and think how I would feel if he said the same thing.

    I am much better about the timing of questions I ask him. For example, if we are watching one of our favorite shows and it reminds me that we need to start looking for a dog sitter for our trip in 2 months, I don’t need to remind him of that right then! I now recognize when things can wait and that just because I thought of it in that instant, doesn’t mean it needs to happen right then.

  • Reggie

    I think this is a great article. We don’t see very many articles that makes a person really think about their actions when they are in a relationship. Often we get comfortable and forget to small details of being considerate when it comes to our mate. Great article