There are four main questions to consider when choosing how to be thoughtful:
1. When is it appropriate?
2. Why are you doing it?
3. What would make them happy?
4. How are you going to carry it out?
As Marilyn Brodeur became absorbed in “The Soloist,” a movie about a homeless man who had a passion for playing the cello, tears slowly streamed down her face. Brodeur had played in symphonies most of her life, but three years ago her cello cracked down the back and she hadn’t played since.
“Grad school kept me really busy and I didn’t have time to get my cello fixed,” Brodeur said. “Playing the cello had always been a part of my life since I was in fourth grade. The movie caused a flood of memories to come back and made me a little emotional.”
Her husband noticed her damp cheek and knew why she was crying. A few days later, he went out and researched cello repairers and found a good company. He had her cello fixed for a surprise gift on her birthday. Brodeur was completely surprised and felt cared for; in turn, she cared for her husband more. She said it meant a lot to her because he paid attention and made her feel like her talents were important.
Everyone has different preferences on what they would appreciate most as an act of service, but almost everyone will appreciate any thoughtful action that shows they are understood and cared for. As shown in Brodeur’s situation, her husband knew to fix her cello because he paid attention to her and knew her talents.
When is it appropriate?
Depending on where you are in a relationship determines how extravagant your thoughtfulness should go.
For someone you are interested in and haven’t gone out with yet, just getting to know them and giving them your undivided attention is the first step, said Marty Erickson, a Marriage and Family therapist and BYU professor. You can also do nice little things for them like helping with homework.
After you have been on a few dates with someone and you notice there is mutual interest, (see page 28) being thoughtful to your crush may increase the chance of forming a relationship. Listening and being observant are the main keys to learning what the person would appreciate.
Erickson explained a few tips for someone of interest. “Talk to them about them, be cautious and don’t assume too much, be interested in them for who they are, and not who you want them to be.”
After talking to them and you realize they love tennis, take them on a date to play tennis. If you find out they love chocolate chip cookies, make some together. But offering things like foot massages when they don’t feel comfortable around you yet is probably not a good idea.
If there is mutual interest, find out if they appreciate creative dates, small gifts, hand written notes, hugs, etc. You will find these things out the more you talk and spend time together.
When in an exclusive relationship, many of the same concepts apply as when you weren’t dating yet. Really get to know the person and apply what you have noticed they enjoy.
A great time to do something for someone is when you recognize they are going through, or about to go through, something hard. Here are a few examples of people who experienced the thoughtful acts of their significant other during a difficult circumstance:
Why are you doing it?
There are many occasions to do something thoughtful for someone, but you really don’t need an actual reason to be nice. The main reason people do thoughtful things is because they care for the person they are doing it for and want them to be happy.
“The key to being thoughtful is to really be interested in the person,” Erickson said. “By being interested and digesting the information you learn, it is easy to be truly thoughtful.”
If you are doing it to make yourself look good or to make the other person do nice things for you, you may want to reconsider your priorities.
Now that you know you want to be thoughtful, how do you go about making your special someone feel cared for?
What would make them happy?
After getting to know the person you’re interested in, it’s time to get creative. What are their favorite things? In the beginning of this article, Brodeur’s husband knew she missed her cello so he had it fixed for her. What could you do that would make your significant someone smile?
Service encompasses almost all acts of thoughtfulness. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines services as a contribution to the welfare of others.
Service is a way many are emotionally touched; here are a few real examples:
[quote align=”center” color=”#0E742E”]“When Eric and I first started going on dates, I had to go study for a big test and couldn’t hang out with him. I told him I had no idea how I was going to get everything done plus laundry (I didn’t have quarters). After spending hours in the library I came home to a bag of quarters and a gallon of my favorite chocolate milk. After that I really liked him.” (Meg and Eric are now married, so it worked for him!)
—Meg Mena, BYU-Idaho alumna[/quote]
[quote align=”center” color=”#0E742E”]“I had gone to my boyfriend’s house (who was just a friend at the time) to hang out one winter night, but we decided to leave to get food and then go to my house down the street. We ended up taking his car to get the food, so mine was left at his house. I didn’t bother getting my car that evening. So the next morning when I walked over to go get my car at his house I saw he had cleared all the snow off my windshield and windows. It was very sweet.”
—Kayla Abilez, BYU alumna[/quote]
There are many self-help books that give different suggestions about how to know what your significant other will most appreciate. One book that is widely used is The 5 Love Languages. Languages is written by Gary Champan, a marriage and family therapist, who noticed a reoccurring theme in his clients. Many of them received love in certain “languages” and not in others; he discovered many spouses had different primary languages that didn’t mean the same thing to their spouse. His theory is everyone has a primary love language of touch, gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation or quality time.
Consider taking the free love language test at www.5lovelanguages.com with your significant other to find out about their preferences then adapt the way you show love to them accordingly.
How are you going to carry it out?
Just go for it! Try to make sure your act of thoughtfulness will be something they will enjoy. If you are doing something extravagant, check with one of his/her friends to see if that is something they would appreciate. Also if you need help you might want to ask some of them to be in on it.
It is important to know you don’t have to do something outrageous to be thoughtful. Being helpful (doing the dishes, looking up the movie schedule, etc.), giving a hug or taking time to actively listen to the person you care about are all great ways to show your love.