According to researchers Gottman and Gottman, kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in marriage. Researchers Jeffrey Dew and W. Bradford Wilcox also found that "generosity"—including small acts of kindness and displays of respect and affection—was positively associated with marital satisfaction.
One way to make kindness "come alive" in your relationship is by surprising your partner for "no reason at all."
Surprises add spark to your relationship and communicate how much you care. You may be thinking, “I treat my partner well on a daily basis, so why do I need to surprise him or her?” By taking that extra step, you articulate that the primary relationship in your life is important. It’s worth going over the top for. It deserves even more nourishment than everyday life—even a kind and loving life—allows. Whether your surprise takes you to an artsy coffee shop or a new hiking trail, the “newness” will enliven what’s between you.
Barriers to Surprising
One of the barriers to relationship surprises is that people almost always want their partner to change or to do something differently. People are consumed with thinking about what they are not getting from the other person, so it’s hard for them to think about something extra they could be giving. Another challenge is time. People who are stressed or working like crazy feel that they do not have time for one more thing, whether it be exercising, weeding the garden, or surprising their partner. Another hurdle with surprises is a lack of creativity. This article may spur some ideas. A final obstacle to surprises is that people often underestimate their immense power and potential.
Surprises can lead to greater intimacy, tender interactions, lighthearted fun, and relationship contentment. They can act as a catalyst for a whole host of other relationship patterns to shift for the better through a domino-like effect.
The Physical Effects of Surprises
If your partner is truly surprised, you will notice their curved high eyebrows, pupil dilation, dropped jaw, large grin, or raised forehead. Not only do they get a physical “hit” of a positive chemical from feeling cherished through the surprise, but you get a good feeling, too, from giving it.
Ideas to Surprise Your Partner
- Meet your partner at their train stop, bus stop, or in the driveway after work with a fun airport-pickup type sign.
- Record a sweet message for your partner (such as on Voice Memo on the iPhone).
If you’re away for work or with friends, send your partner a postcard (even if it will get there long after you’re home) or buy them a less-than-a-dollar funny souvenir trinket.
Get your partner’s car washed or wash it yourself.
- Do a chore for your partner that is typically “their chore” (like cleaning the hamster cage, matching the socks, or taking out the garbage).
- Make your partner breakfast in bed. Add a love letter.
Send your partner a message through a non-usual means, such as through mail sent to a hotel they will be staying at, in the mail to your house disguised as a bill, on Facebook Messenger, or written on the bathroom mirror with washable crayons.
- Draw a bubble bath for your partner with an already-made cup of coffee and a fresh folded towel for when they wake up.
- Put a special note in your partner’s wallet, car, gym bag, purse, work bag, diaper bag, or breakfast cereal.
- Get up with a child (or a few) and sneak into the basement or out of the house to the park so your partner can sleep in.
- Set up a haircut, pedicure, massage, tee-time or other self-care type appointment for your partner.
- Take your kids on an outing (such as the park or the zoo) to give your partner some time to themselves.
- Bring home flowers, your partner’s favorite ice cream, or your partner’s favorite takeout food for no reason.
Think about what your partner really enjoys, whether it’s grilling out, playing soccer, going to the hardware store, or watching spy movies. Choose a personalized surprise that “fits” or “feeds” your partner’s great passions.
- Pack a picnic of your regular dinner with a blanket and a candle and food your partner would love; eat outside together.
Book a babysitter and surprise your partner with a bike ride, batting cages, a basketball game, or a trip.
- Make an art project for your partner with your kids. Mail it to their workplace.
- Think of something meaningful from “the old days” that you used to do together and make a surprise out of it. If you loved going out for Mexican breakfast, take your partner out for huevos rancheros. If you used to love seeing baseball games together, buy some tickets.
- Show up at your partner’s work to have lunch or dinner together.
Do something that your partner loves doing but you typically hate (like going berry picking, watching an animated film, or canning tomatoes).
One woman shops and puts the groceries away for her family. Her husband wrapped two tickets to her favorite band and put them in a box. He covered the box with brown paper and snuck it in one of the grocery bags before she unloaded it. He included a note, “For unloading the 1000th bag of groceries, you’ve won two tickets to see your favorite band next week!”
The Art of Receiving a Surprise
Receive a surprise in an artful and gracious manner. If your partner tells you to go take a nap while he watches the kids, don’t argue—just say thank you and go gratefully. If you get a surprise, acknowledge it, share what it meant for you, or say thank you verbally or with a hand-made card. Draw a stick-figure picture of yourself enjoying the surprise. Give a surprise back. Step up and try to be just as creative, giving, and thoughtful as the other person was (if not more).
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” —J.K. Rowling