In a partnership? When’s the last time you surprised your significant other? Surprises are powerful ways to connect, add spark to your relationship, and communicate how much you care about the other person.
You may be thinking, “I treat my partner well on a daily basis, so why do I need to surprise him or her?” Surprises go above and beyond your usual experiences together. By going that extra step, you subtly articulate that the primary relationship in your life is sacred. It’s worth going over the top for. It deserves even more nourishment than everyday life – even a kind and loving everyday life – allows.
Surprises offer novelty, which every relationship needs. Whether your surprise takes you to a new beachfront, the skydeck of a tall building, or simply gives your partner butterflies in their belly, the “newness” of adventures, words, or gestures will enliven what’s between you.
Image: Waqas Mustafeez via Flickr
Barriers to Surprising
One of the biggest barriers to positive surprises in relationships is that people almost always want their partner to change somehow 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 what they could be giving. Another key challenge is time. People who are stressed, busy, constantly beating the clock, 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. Hopefully this article will spur some ideas. A final obstacle to surprises is that people often underestimate their immense power. Surprises can lead to greater intimacy, more tender interactions, and relationship contentment. What’s more, 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 surprised, but you get a good feeling too, from giving it.
Ideas to Surprise Your Partner
- Do a chore for your partner that is typically “their chore”, like taking out the garbage
- Make your partner breakfast in bed
- Draw a bubble bath for your partner with an already-made cup of coffee for when they wake up
- Put a special note in your partner’s wallet, in their car, or in their work bag
- Get up with a child (or a few) and sneak out of the house to the park or into the basement so your partner won’t wake up
- Plan a golf tee time or some time at the driving range for your partner
- Book a pedicure, facial, massage or other procedure for your partner
- Take your kids on an outing (such as the zoo or to play mini golf) to give your partner some time to themselves
- Book a babysitter and surprise your partner with a restaurant meal, batting cages, a bike ride, a baseball game, or a trip
- Write a love letter to your partner
- Give your partner a verbal compliment about their parenting, their beauty, or their kindness
- Record a super sweet message for your partner (such as onVoiceMemo on the iPhone)
- Think about what your partner really loves, whether it’s grilling out, playing soccer, or watching spy movies. Think of a surprise that “fits” or “feeds” your partner’s great loves.
- Bring home flowers, your partner’s favorite ice cream, or your partner’s favorite take out food
- Pack a picnic of your regular dinner with a blanket and a candle; eat outside together
- Get your partner’s car washed or detailed
- Make your partner’s favorite meal for breakfast or dinner
- Make an art project for your partner with your kids
- Send your partner a message through a non-usual means, such as on Facebook messenger, through mail sent to a hotel they will be staying at, in mail to your house disguised as a bill, or written in the bathroom with washable crayons
- When 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 trinket
- Think of something meaningful from “the old days” and make a surprise out of it; for example, if you used to love going out for Mexican breakfast, take your partner out for huevos rancheros for “old times”
- Announce that you will do something that your partner loves doing but you typically don’t or won’t do (like going berry picking or watching an animated film)
- Frame a photo of the two of you or your family for your partner’s desk
- Show up at your partner’s work to take them to lunch
The Art of Receiving a Surprise
Try to receive a surprise in an artful and gracious manner, meaning that if your partner tells you to go get a pedicure or go to the driving range for an hour, 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. Use your kids’ markers and 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).
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three, is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs. (www.erinleyba.com) She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. Read more about mindful parenting at www.parenthappy.org