What makes a great boyfriend? It’s a good question, with many possible answers.
At core, a good boyfriend is someone who tends to his partner’s well-being with the same reliability and dedication he gives to himself. He is thoughtfully attuned to his partner’s needs and feelings, and he is sensitive to the ways his actions affect them.
With that broad definition in mind, here are a few big and small ways to be a better boyfriend to your person every day. (The truth, of course, is that all of these apply to partners of all genders; they’re all great habits to adopt for anyone who’s in a relationship and wants to make their significant other feel loved.)
1. Make sure they know how you feel.
Your partner shouldn’t have to wonder about how you feel about them and whether you’re still interested. Day in and day out, make it abundantly clear how into them you are and how much you care. Say it directly to them and remind them, often. For most people, words of affirmation never get old.
2. Define the relationship clearly.
Ambiguity makes for a lot of misunderstandings. A relationship that isn’t clearly defined is a breeding ground for insecurities, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings. If you see yourself as this person’s boyfriend, tell them that upfront and let them know how you’re viewing your relationship. Stop trying to play it cool—be willing to be vulnerable and make your intentions known.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
Texting speed might not seem like a big deal to some, but many people glean a lot about how important they are to someone based on how quickly that person texts them back. You don’t need to be glued to your phone or feel guilty about missing a text for a few hours, but don’t leave your partner waiting around to hear from you for an extended period of time. Treat them like a priority, and text them back promptly, consistently, so they know you care.
4. Be engaged when you’re together.
A good boyfriend is engaged and present when you’re together. Put your phone away, and give your partner your undivided attention. Make them feel like you are fully in the moment with them and happy to be there. Pay attention to your body language, make eye contact, and notice if you find yourself checking out or disengaging. Pull yourself back in, or communicate with your partner if there’s a reason why you’re struggling to be present with them right now.
Strive to know them as well as their mom or best friend does. Seriously, what is going on in your partner’s world these days? How’s work? What’s occupying their mind lately? How are they dealing with life’s stresses? What problems can you help them solve? Be their confidant. These types of daily conversations are what build true connection, intimacy, and trust over time.
6. Actually listen when they talk.
This one probably seems obvious, but it needs to be said: Listen to them when they’re talking to you. If your girlfriend comes home and starts venting about the drama going on with the mean girl at the gym, don’t tune her out. What matters to your partner should matter to you. As well, during any discussion with your partner and especially during conflicts, try to really comprehend what your partner is trying to communicate to you. Some people have a habit of trying to prepare their response in their head while the other person talks rather than actually listening. Turn off your brain when your partner is talking, and just focus on trying to actually understand their point or their feelings.
7. Stop trying to win arguments.
Spoiler alert: If your goal is to “win” an argument, you’ve already lost sight of the bigger picture. Your goal in every single conflict should be for both people to walk away feeling understood, cared about, and armed with a plan to minimize any hurt feelings going forward. Stop trying to defend yourself from getting blamed, stop trying to prove why you’re right, and start trying to create true understanding between yourselves.
8. Learn to empathize even when you disagree.
Couples don’t need to agree about everything. If your girlfriend comes to you with a complaint that makes absolutely no sense to you, you should not proceed to try to prove to her why her complaint makes no sense. You are different people; you don’t need to see things the same way. Instead, make it your goal to get in her shoes and understand why she sees things the way that she does. Even if you would not feel the same way if the roles were reversed, familiarize yourself with her train of thought and why it’s producing the feelings it’s producing. Once you can understand the root cause of someone’s emotions, you can then figure out how to make changes to your behavior to avoid hurting them going forward—as their boyfriend, that is the ultimate goal.
9. Be affectionate in your day-to-day life.
Kiss them on the forehead. Swoop in and hug them from behind while they’re cooking. Send them a text that lets them know you’re thinking about them even when you’re not together. Be romantic so they feel loved and desired.
10. Be affectionate even when you’re around others.
Most people behave a little differently depending on who they’re with, and in particular, people can sometimes behave differently when they’re in public or with a group of friends than they do when they’re one-on-one with their partner. But if your boyfriend is highly affectionate with you at home but more distant when you’re with others, that discrepancy can feel a little like rejection—or like he’s trying to downplay the relationship to other people. So, be affectionate with your partner no matter who’s around so they know your love isn’t limited to behind closed doors.
11. Introduce them to the important people in your life.
The people who matter most to you should know who you’re dating, and vice versa. Your partner will appreciate being shown off to your friends and family, in addition to being able to get to know the people who make you who you are.
Don’t make them make all the plans all the time! Take some initiative and be the one to reach out first, plan some dates, and make the first move every now and then.
13. Do your part around the house.
Especially if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, make sure you’re contributing actively to the household if you live together or any time you’re spending time in either of your homes. Be actively involved in cooking the meals, cleaning up, and getting the chores done that need to get done. As well, make sure you’re both taking on some of the mental load of knowing what needs to get done and making sure all tasks get completed. There’s nothing more attractive than a man who pulls his own weight at home, and no one wants a boyfriend that they have to treat like a child.
14. Check your social media habits.
Some people take issue with their boyfriends hitting the “like” button on other hotties’ sexy photos on social media. The gist of the argument is that, while it’s fine to appreciate another attractive person privately in your own head, actually reaching out to send a heart or comment is initiating contact with that person—and also letting other onlookers see your interest in someone other than your partner. Some people will care more about this than others, but it’s worth taking it easy on the double-tapping (and DM-ing, obviously) at least until you have a conversation with your partner about their feelings about this. (Here are some other so-called micro-cheating behaviors to watch out for.)
15. Never, ever yell at your partner.
Do not raise your voice at your partner. There are other ways to communicate your anger, frustration, or needs, but yelling and shouting can be very frightening for the receiver and automatically puts you both into fight-or-flight mode. Not only does this make it harder for either of you to really hear each other, but it can easily teeter over the edge into verbal abuse.
16. Never, ever tear them down.
Mean-spirited jokes at their expense, caustic sarcasm, verbal attacks on their character, or cutting comments during an argument can all leave a lasting impact on a person’s sense of self. No matter how irritated you may be with them, a good boyfriend will never intentionally try to harm their partner—including emotionally. Strive to be loving and kind to your partner, even when you’re upset.
17. Prioritize their well-being—even when it’s hard.
In general, make your partner’s well-being a priority. Consider what’s best for them, what will make them happy, and what will minimize discomfort or harm for them in everything you do. Try to do this even when you’re having difficulties in the relationship—people can sometimes drop to their meanest state when they’re feeling hurt or scared, but the mark of a good partner is the ability to care about your person even when it’s hard, even when they’re at their lowest.
18. Take interest in the things they’re interested in.
Maybe your girlfriend is really into her skin care routine these days, or maybe you’re dating a guy who always wants to give you the play-by-play of last night’s basketball game. Even if you’re not personally interested in the same things they are, take interest in the things that light them up. You don’t need to be personally invested in the topic, but being able to participate in these conversations allows you to get to know your partner that much better and gives them the gift of having someone to share this stuff with. Nothing’s worse than feeling like your boyfriend thinks your favorite hobbies are vapid and uncool.
19. Support their independence.
Give them space to live their life! Support them in taking time to themselves to spend with their own friends, pursue their own personal hobbies and interests, and just have some alone time regularly. Couples shouldn’t be overly dependent on each other (hello, codependency), and your partner should have a full, thriving, sustainable life outside of you.
Likewise, it’s healthy for you to not be overly dependent on your partner for your well-being, fun, and sense of self. Nurture the other connections in your life and your personal hobbies and interests. When you’re able to spend time apart regularly, you’ll have more to bring back to each other to share when you’re together. That’s what adds richness and intrigue to a long-term relationship.
21. Prioritize their pleasure.
Make sure sex isn’t all about you. Fun fact: Just 18% of women can reach orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. So if you’re dating a woman with a vagina, maybe don’t make every single one of your sexual encounters revolve around P-in-V intercourse. Ample clitoral stimulation is usually key to making sex good for her. Whoever you’re dating, figure out what turns them on personally and do more of that.
22. Respect their boundaries.
Also, if they’re not in the mood for sex, don’t push it. A good boyfriend honors and celebrates their partner’s no so their partner knows there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
23. Support their confidence.
Gas up your partner. Make sure they know you think the world of them—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and in general. Make them feel like the sexiest person alive, and never make derogatory comments about the way they look. In general, uplift them and support them in building their confidence.
24. Learn their attachment style.
There are four attachment styles, which describe four distinct ways people may approach forming romantic bonds with others based on the relationships they had with their earliest caregivers. Some people have an avoidant attachment style, meaning they tend to avoid forming deep attachments with others; others have an anxious attachment style, meaning they tend to need a lot of reassurance in relationships; and still others have a combination of these. Learning your partner’s attachment style (and your own) will help you both understand the patterns and insecurities you might be more likely to have in relationships so you can take steps to avoid future pitfalls.
25. Open up about the things that are really on your mind.
Let your partner in. Talk to them about the things that are stressing you out, the things that excite you, the things you’re aspiring to, and what scares you. Let them know when you’re feeling vulnerable in the relationship or concerned about something. The more you open up to your partner, the more you build the intimacy between you—and the more you’ll find your partner is able to understand the real you.
26. Get to know their inner world.
Likewise, get to know their innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears, insecurities, and longings. Here’s a list of thought-provoking questions to ask your girlfriend, plus some conversation starters for couples, to help get the conversation flowing.
27. Do something sweet for them every now and then.
Show up to their workplace with a takeout lunch from their favorite restaurant, or surprise them with a home-cooked meal when they get home one night. Find ways to periodically show you care about them with big and small gestures so they never question how you feel and always feel tended to by their boyfriend.
28. Learn their love language.
There are five love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. Each of us has one primary love language that is the main way we like to receive affection. For example, some people feel most loved when their partner physically holds them close (the physical touch love language), while others find the actual words “I love you” to be most meaningful to them (words of affirmation). Figure out what your partner’s love language is, and prioritize using that specific type of gesture regularly in your relationship.
29. Help them problem-solve.
When your partner is dealing with a big challenge or dilemma in their life, be available to them as a sounding board or to help them talk through it. They may just need a listening ear, or they might want your help coming up with ideas and deciding what to do in the situation. Figure out how to best show up for your partner when they need you, and do it. People notice when someone is consistently there by their side through those toughest moments.
30. Be honest about what you need in the relationship.
We can all struggle from time to time to name our needs, especially when it comes to relationships. Sometimes there’s a people-pleasing, conflict-avoidant instinct that makes us keep our true feelings to ourselves. In other cases, you may be so used to doing things on your own that it’s difficult to reach out for and accept support from others. But part of being a good boyfriend and a good partner in general is being able to lean on, confide in, and be vulnerable with the person you love. When we hold our cards too close to our chest, we lose out on building true intimacy and trust in our relationship. Open up about what you want more and less of in the relationship, and allow your partner to show up for you just like you show up for them.
31. Don’t make assumptions.
Sometimes we can be with a person for so long or just feel like we know them so well that we assume we can just read their minds. Or, on the flip side, we may be so convinced of our own way of thinking about an issue that we assume that it’s the same way everybody thinks about that issue. Of course, neither of these things is true. People are different. Your partner is not a carbon copy of you. Don’t assume you know exactly what they’re thinking or how they view things. Ask questions, stay open-minded, and be continuously curious about your partner’s perspective.
It can be really confusing to feel like you never know how your boyfriend is going to treat you from one day to the next. While we’re all human beings who will have our ups and downs, your partner should generally know what to expect from you from day to day. Work on internal consistency: Make sure your actions align with your words, follow through on your promises, and don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t leave your partner confused and wondering what’s going on with you; if something changes in terms of how you feel or what you have the capacity to do for them right now, communicate that clearly and kindly.
33. Learn how to apologize well.
Delete the words “I’m sorry if I upset you” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” from your vocabulary. Learn how to actually make amends with someone you’ve hurt. Focus on validating their feelings and taking responsibility for how your actions contributed to them.
34. Be willing to grow and work on your own shit.
A great way to be a better boyfriend every single day is to focus simply on becoming a better person every single day. You’re going to mess up, you’re going to sometimes do things that are thoughtless and hurtful, and you and your partner are going to uncover things about yourself that aren’t conducive to a healthy relationship. And you’re going to need to work on this stuff. This will be true for every single human being in every single relationship, without exception. Be humble and adaptable. Be willing to make changes and do the personal work you need to do to show up as the best person you can be in this relationship.