The internet is rife with advice on how to meet people, how to attract a desirable mate or how to know when someone likes you. But if you found someone and are already in a relationship, how do you ensure you don’t lose them? We talked to relationship experts to try and figure out how to be a better boyfriend and keep your relationship healthy and thriving.
What makes a great boyfriend?
There are some top-level characteristics that elevate a good boyfriend to a great one, and first on the list is openness. Broadly, this means being a good communicator and open about your feelings but also receptive to your partner’s feelings.
This may seem simple at face value, but it becomes more complicated (and difficult) when your partner is unhappy with you, having problems with your relationship or is generally stressed out or depressed. It’s in difficult situations and at times of crisis when the great distinguish themselves from the good and nowhere is this more true than in relationships.
Great boyfriends also need to be compassionate, emotionally intelligent, supportive and helpful. But how do you go about actually manifesting these traits in your relationship?
How to be a better boyfriend
We spoke to Rachel Elder, a licensed mental health counselor and relationship coach, and relationship expert Amelia Prinn, an editor at herway, to break down some tips on how to be the boyfriend your partner deserves. Here’s what they had to say.
Listen to understand, not respond
It’s important to not fall into the common trap of waiting for your turn to speak instead of really listening to your partner.
“Slow down to hear how they feel, what they need and how you can support them,” Elder said. “Don’t assume they need you to fix their problem unless they ask.”
Find daily ways to show you care
Text them good morning, surprise them with coffee or proactively plan dates together. Showing them you care every day can be foundational to a lasting, healthy relationship.
Being reliable not only shows you value your significant other and their time but also proves they can count on you and you have their back.
“Don’t give them mixed signals,” Prinn said. “Don’t play mind games. Keep your promises. Text and call regularly. Initiate meaningful conversations. Don’t play with their feelings. Don’t just tell them how much you like them, but let your behavior support your words.”
Turn off social media
One of the fastest ways to show someone you’re not focusing on them is to be constantly staring at your phone. Splitting your attention between your partner and your socials is like telling them you’re only 50% present. Turn off notifications when you’re together. Better yet, turn your phone off while you’re spending time with your partner.
Be curious about them
Curiosity also has a dual benefit. It shows your partner you’re interested in learning everything you can about them. It also lets you get to know them better and understand their feelings and needs. Ask about their childhood and their interests, and talk about their future plans and goals. Express interest in meeting their family and friends.
Integrate them into your life
As a sort of inverse curiosity, find ways to bring your partner into your life and share your interests and passions with them. Sharing yourself with them indicates to your partner you’re looking for more than just a surface connection and want them to truly see you and share your life.
Give them space
As much as integrating your partner is important, it’s also crucial to give them space and breathing room when needed.
“When they express a desire to be alone for some time, don’t nag them about it,” Prinn said. “Remember that their needs are different from yours. Instead of criticizing them, accept their need for space and show understanding.”
Compliment them often
Everyone appreciates compliments, and when it comes from someone you love (and are attracted to), they’re even more meaningful. Don’t be stingy with your compliments, and don’t just focus on their appearance. Use compliments as a way to show them how well you know them and understand what they value most.
Remember important dates
Even if they seem silly to you, be sure to remember the events and dates important to your partner. That includes birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or anything else. Don’t be too proud to lean on an online calendar or a journal for dates you need to remember. Your future self will thank you for your diligence.
Define the relationship clearly
One important part of keeping a relationship healthy is making sure both parties know exactly where they stand. Define your relationship and discuss it openly, and you’ll avoid a huge number of potential pitfalls, false expectations and hurt feelings.
Go the extra mile and listen to relationship podcasts or read books written by experts. Not only will you be learning and growing, you’ll be showing your partner how invested you are.
“Making your own effort to work on building a healthy relationship is highly attractive and impactful,” Elder said.
Don’t try to ‘win’ arguments
It can be hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but trying to win an argument is actually the worst way to resolve it. Instead of trying to prove you’re right, focus on resolving why you’re arguing in the first place. Look for common ground and find solutions or compromises that work for your partner as well as you and respect both of your feelings.
Show affection around others
Even if you’re very loving when you’re alone, if you seem distant or cool around others, that can signal to your partner you’re trying to downplay your relationship or your affections in private are an exaggeration. Show your partner you care when you’re around others. If you’re uncomfortable with public displays of affection, make sure your partner’s fully aware of that side of you.
Introduce them to your loved ones
Fostering relationships between your significant other and the people you care most about is a great way to deepen and reinforce your relationship.
Learn to speak their love language
“Every single one of us has our own love language(s), including words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts or physical touch," Prinn said. “Learning their love language(s) will help you understand their passions and the way they function in a relationship.”
Knowledge is power, and knowing more about what your partner expects and how they express themselves emotionally means you’ll be better equipped to meet their needs and support them.
Never tear them down
It can be easy in the heat of a really intense argument to want to attack someone’s flaws or insult them. But giving into that impulse can create permanent emotional scars. Forcing yourself to take a step back to consider your words can help avoid some of the most damaging and perilous behavior in relationships.
Have your own life
As important as it is to share your life with your partner, a big component of that is having a fully realized life of your own. Being your own person and having a life independent of your partner means not only avoiding all the pitfalls of codependence but also always having something to talk about and share.
Respect their boundaries
While encouraging your partner to try new things can be healthy, be respectful of their limits. Don’t get pushy if they’re not interested or if they feel uncomfortable. This goes for everything from that new hobby you want to try to intimacy. No means no, and pushing just leads to pushing them away.
One of the most fun facets of a relationship is having someone to celebrate all the big moments with. Whether it’s a new job, a personal milestone or just surviving the week, find reasons to celebrate the important things with the person you love. And that goes double for the things they’re most excited about or proud of.
The flipside of that is just as important. Being there to pick up your partner after a failure, real or perceived, or in the most difficult times of their lives is one of the most important ways to support them and strengthen the bond between you.
Be open to trying new things
Keeping things fresh is vital for sustaining a vibrant relationship.
“One of the biggest sins you can commit in your relationship is becoming monotonous,” Prinn said. “Be willing to try new things and step out of your comfort zone. Try new positions in bed, try out fun activities for couples and be open to new sensations and opportunities to enrich your relationship.”
Express your love non-verbally
Talking openly is hugely important, but so are the things you say without your voice. Hold their hand. Hug them. Even maintaining eye contact can tell someone you love them without you having to speak a word.
Show them empathy
Sometimes the most important role you play in a relationship is just to be a vent for your partner’s frustrations. Be an ally to them, not just superficially, but try to put yourself in their shoes when they’re describing the way something upset them or made them sad. Not just appreciating but actually experiencing how they feel on an emotional level can be a window into their personality. It’s a great way to show them how deeply you care.
Share your goals
Some of the best, healthiest relationships are the product of people working together toward common goals. If you feel like you and your partner are both striving toward the same destination, you naturally develop a stronger sense of camaraderie and more closely share each other’s triumphs and setbacks. Talking about your goals is also a way to get a better sense of the future of your relationship and what you both want from your lives.
No one’s perfect, and your partner will inevitably make mistakes. But one of the easiest ways to sabotage a relationship is to nurse a grudge. Grudges lead to resentment, and resentment leads to the kind of toxicity that can destroy a relationship. Talk through your issues with each other and, when they’re resolved, forgive each other. Not just lip-service, but truly, deeply forgive your partner (and yourself)—you’ll find it much easier to talk your way through the next fight if you demonstrate you’re capable of letting go of the past.
Show them respect
Part of demonstrating you love someone is showing them you respect their choices and the things they value. Never trivialize the things your partner thinks are important, even if they seem frivolous to you. And always be willing to listen to your partner talk about the things they’re most passionate about.
Embrace their imperfections
“Loving someone means accepting and embracing them for who they really are,” Prinn said. “It’s true that we all have flaws and imperfections, but if you love someone, you love their ‘ugly’ parts, too. When they feel insecure about their looks, tell them that they look amazing. When they’re worried that they’re being boring or annoying, hug them tight and let them know that you like them the way they are.”
Embracing their flaws may help make them feel cherished and loved for the person they truly are and not just the surface identity we all present to the world.
Text back promptly
It may seem like a small thing, but no one likes to be left hanging indefinitely, waiting to hear back from someone they love. When your partner reaches out, do your best to reply promptly, even if it’s with something as simple as a heart emoji or responding to the dumb meme they sent.
Just as you need to be willing to forgive your partner for their mistakes, you need to be able to take responsibility for your own. Often the only thing preventing someone you love from forgiving you and moving on is the admission you were wrong. It can be hard to accept your own failings, but it’s necessary, not just for the health of your relationship, but for you to continue to grow yourself.
Accept their help
If you’re an independent person, it may be difficult to accept your partner’s help, even when it’s offered in the best spirit. But being open to your partner’s help shows you trust them and respect their abilities. It also shows you’re not too proud or bullheaded to admit you can’t do everything on your own.
Boyfriend behaviors to avoid
While the list of positive behaviors to model is long, it’s important to remember there are pitfalls to navigate as well. Be conscious of, and try to avoid, the following:
Changing who you are
As important as it is to respect your partner and try to integrate them into your life, this doesn’t mean trying to change core parts of yourself to please them. Drastically altering your personality for someone else just leads to resentment and the kind of smoldering toxicity that can blow up and undermine a relationship in catastrophic ways.
Sometimes, when you get really comfortable with someone, you may take certain things for granted without even considering it, and rudeness is a strong indicator of that. Strive to always be courteous to them and, if you do catch yourself being rude, take a moment to think about why and how that happened.
Making negative comparisons
Comparing your partner to others in a negative light (and especially comparing them to exes) is communicating you don’t think they’re as good or as valuable as the object of comparison. Comparisons are a minefield even when they’re positive, but negative comparisons should be avoided at all costs.
This includes lies of omission. Any healthy relationship is founded on honest communication, and corrupting that is a slippery slope with unforeseen and dire consequences.
There’s rarely any upside to the blame game. This is especially true when it comes to trying to shift blame for your own shortcomings to someone else, and it’s the last thing you want to introduce into a healthy relationship. Even if your partner is at fault, your time is much better spent trying to find solutions than trying to assign blame.
Relationships can be difficult at times, but they can also be one of life’s greatest joys. These are some of the best ways to ensure you avoid the former and can enjoy the latter.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop being a boring boyfriend?
The best way to spice up your relationship is to try new things. Talk to your partner about what they might want to experiment with, explore new hobbies, consider new ways to explore in the bedroom and, most of all, be spontaneous.
How do you stop overthinking in a relationship?
Overthinking is an unfortunately common landmine in relationships, but the easiest way to try and avoid it is by building a strong foundation. Communicate, be honest and follow the tips in this article, and it may help you on your way to a more secure, less stress-inducing relationship.
How do I stop being so insecure in my relationship?
Similarly to overthinking, the best way to avoid insecurity in a relationship is to build trust and a solid foundation. Be a responsible partner and communicate, especially about your insecurities, and you’ll likely find many of them evaporate.