One of the most unexpected pieces of advice we received when we went through a marriage preparation course years ago was, “Put your partner first.” Yes, this means even before your kids.

But does it mean before yourself? No, it doesn’t, and you’ll see how this can be done in a healthy, non-codependent way.

Prioritizing your partner or putting your partner first in a relationship is a mantra that can be used to grow and foster a healthy perspective about your partnership and life.

In this article, we’ll share what relationship psychologists and the science says about it, strategies that you can use to learn how to do it yourself, and successfully have your partner do the same.

putting your partner first in a relationship

The Importance of Putting your partner first in a relationship

According to scientists, one of life’s biggest health decisions is who you choose to marry. In what’s widely called the “marriage gap,” there’s a deep body of evidence and scientific studies that prove this.

Over their unmarried counterparts, married couples have been found to live longer (an average of two years), earn more money (15% more), have higher happiness levels (nearly double the chance of being “very happy”), and enjoy better physical health (about halves your risk of cardiovascular disease).

This marriage health gap persists even when controlling for access to healthcare, age, gender, race, education, income, the presence of children, and the self-selection of healthy individuals who choose to marry other healthy individuals.

The marriage health gap is only one of the 5 purposes of marriage (according to the data, not religion).

Why put your partner first?

Well, the kicker is that this goes both ways. If you have an unhealthy marriage, your risk for hypertension and depression is higher than your single counterparts. So is your risk of dementia.

Learning how to have a healthy relationship where you put your partner first — and your partner puts you first also — gives you the tools to enjoy a longer and happier life together.

What does it mean to put your partner first?

Pausing for a split second before your act to consider how your actions could impact your partner and therefore your relationship.

The goal of this article is to give your the tools you need to prioritize your partner and behave in a way that makes your partner feel supported and protected.

Here’s how to put your partner first and what to do if your partner isn’t returning the favor.

how to put Your Partner First In a Relationship

There are several steps you can take to prioritize your relationship and make your partner feel like they have your full attention and support. They are:

1. Start speaking your partner’s Love Language
2. Ask What You Can Do For Your Partner Every Day
3. Always Acknowledge Your Partner
4. Practice Gratitude
5. Always Protect Your Partner
6. Give 100% but expect 0%

Next, let’s break each of these science-backed steps to learn how to prioritize your partner. 

1. Start speaking your partner’s Love Language

One easy way to make your partner feel heard is to make sure you show affection in the way that makes the most impact.

For example, I couldn’t care less if Ryan compliments me. However, if he makes the bed (something he normally wouldn’t do), I know that he’s telling me that he’s putting me first.

The 5 Love Languages covers your bases here, helping you discover if your partner wants physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time together, acts of service, or to receive gifts.

Take the 5-minute quiz, it’s free but incredibly impactful. Even if you can already guess your partner’s Love Language, take the quiz together so that they become more aware that you’re actively speaking their language.

2. Ask What You Can Do For Your Partner Every Day

At some point today, and every day, ask your partner, “Honey, what can I do for you today?” 

While the first time you may be bombarded with a honey-do list, this is actually a best-case scenario because it means that your partner needs your help. The hard part is next chipping away at it and getting it done, but this is an important step to putting your partner first.

What if your partner wants nothing? Follow their Love Language and do something small (like giving a back rub or inviting them to a coffee date that afternoon) and ask again tomorrow.

3. Always Acknowledge Your Partner

Dr. John Gottman calls this “turning towards” your partner — and it’s something he uses to predict with 90% accuracy if a couple will stay together or divorce in the future.

Essentially, “turning towards” your partner is acknowledging them when they make a bid for your attention.

Bids can be very small, like saying hey when they enter the room, looking dutifully out the window when they comment on the neighbors, or powering off your phone when they sit down at the table next to you.

In a famous study, Dr. Gottman watched newlyweds interact with each other for a session and followed up with them in six years.

He found that of the couples who stayed married, they “turned towards” each other 86% of the time. Of the ones who divorced, they only “turned towards” 33% of the time when their partner made a bid.

4. Practice Gratitude

We’ve researched gratitude extensively because it’s such a simple tool with profound impacts.

Research conducted by psychologists has found that people who practice gratitude experience a higher quality of life, a closer connection with their partner, and feel more open to discussing relationship issues.

One way to start a subtle mindset shift to putting your partner first is to write three things down that you were grateful for your partner that day. It can be small like they put their dirty socks successfully in the hamper. Or it can be big like they filled up your gas tank without you asking.

Appreciating your partner more is the first step to prioritizing them and putting them first.

5. Always Protect Your Partner

My sister is a public relations executive, and one of the most valuable lessons she ever taught me is to run yourself and your relationship like a PR campaign to outsiders. Always show your best side.

What this means is to not air your or your partner’s dirty laundry to anyone — not to your sister and mom, and not to your friends. Put your partner first by protecting them and your relationship.

This doesn’t mean acting fake or not relying on the support of your friends and family when there’s a problem. But it means not making snippety comments about your relationship because your friends will remember it long after the issue has been resolved.

6. Give 100% but expect 0%

A successful relationship isn’t 50/50… it should be 100/100. It’s not about equally giving half to the relationship but giving 100%.

Called the 100/0 Principle, the concept is that you should give 100% but expect 0% in return. This is because all you can do to is control your own actions, and you can’t force your partner to do anything.

By accepting that your only responsibility is over your own actions, happiness, and emotions, you can manage your expectations for your partner and free yourself from lots of relationship stress by knowing that you’re doing your best.

Of course, this is a challenging mindset shift, especially if your partner is not giving it their 100% (more on that below). But ultimately you control your happiness and you’ll find that as you give 100%, your partner will take on the responsibility to do the same.

What to Do If Your Partner Isn’t Putting You First

There’s nothing more frustrating and disheartening than feeling disrespected or a low priority on your partner’s list.

If your partner isn’t prioritizing you, being insensitive to your emotions, disrespecting your preferences, and not providing the support you need, they aren’t putting you first.

They may also be displaying the four indicators of poor conflict resolution, according to The Gottman Institute: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

If you don’t feel like you are a priority in your relationship, here are some ideas to try to rebalance the scale together.

1. Schedule a weekly relationship meeting

Make time to talk about your relationship. It doesn’t have to be a formal check-in, perhaps just over a glass of wine every Wednesday night.

If it’s too stressful to tackle the big problems, focus on reconnecting first by asking the best would you rather questions for couples. Go from there, and remember this is a long-term game.

Another relationship rejuvenating activity is to set goals together. Our favorite way to do this is by filling out our couples bucket list

2. Consider a Couples Therapy App

We know, sometimes “couples therapy” makes us cringe, but we promise it doesn’t have to be as horrible as you see in the movies.

In fact, Ryan and I love talking about our experiences with couples coaching, as we like to call it.

Over the years, we’ve used a variety of apps to refocus on our relationship and tackle those never-ending, reoccurring arguments. We prefer using an app with video calls instead of going in person because it feels more comfortable, private, and unintimidating personal development call.

Out of the apps we’ve used, the best we’ve found is Ritual. We wrote a full Ritual app review about our experience, and also share a 20% off discount code (RYANANDALEX20) that we scored for our readers.

It’s hands-down our favorite. Whichever app you choose, just make sure that it features video calls with a couple’s counselor, because nothing is as powerful as that.

3. Follow a DIY Marriage Retreat At Home

While, if you’re able to, we highly recommend attending a marriage retreat — ideally on a gorgeous tropical island. However, that’s unrealistic for most couples for a variety of reasons.

The good news is that you can do one at home as well. A few years ago, we compiled all of our research, favorite YouTube videos, and activities to create our own free DIY Marriage Retreat

The agenda covers the topics we’ve found most powerful in relationship science, and want marriage retreats to be accessible to all. 

If you’re finding that your partner is having trouble putting you first, this is a great way to create space and express your feelings, communicate deeply, and make a plan for the future.

4. Practice self-care together

Telling your partner that they don’t prioritize you enough can be like lobbing a hand grenade. Unless they agree right off the bat, you may first be faced with defensiveness, resistance, and insults that you don’t do the same.

Instead, take the edge off of this conversation by first getting into a routine of practicing self-care together.

Sift through our self-care checklist with dozens of ideas to create a calendar for you and your partner. Through this, you can relax with your partner, refill your love tanks, and add to your foundation as a couple.

5. Don’t Forget the Five Love Languages

Finally, as we mentioned, the Five Love Languages is our go-to when we’re not communicating perfectly with our partners. 

When nudging your partner to put you first, it’s best to spell it out clearly by showing your quiz results and saying, “Do you think we could spend more quality time together? My Love Language told me so. Let’s try it!”

See where that takes you, and make your partner know that it’s important to you. It’s not asking too much, because as you’ve learned, a happy relationship has far-reaching impacts on your overall health and happiness.

The Difference Between Putting Your Partner First and Codependency

Years ago, one of my good friends shocked me by asking if I was codependent on Ryan.

I get where she was coming from — we had been traveling South America together for years and mostly hung out with each other. Plus we started this blog, Ryan and Alex Duo Life, together.

It’s a valid question, and part of that is because of the wide range of definitions of codependency. On the lighter end, it means a “relationship addiction” while on the more destructive end, it’s a one-sided relationship with high levels of self-sacrifice paired with low self-esteem.

While this article examines how to put your partner first and the ways it benefits relationships, it’s still most important to make sure it is safe and enriching for yourself to do so. Yes, prioritize your partner over your parents, siblings, and kids. But no, not before yourself unless it is destructive to your partner.

Practicing self-care, making reasonable space for yourself, and pursuing individual hobbies and interests is healthy. This can enrich your relationship.

There is some balance needed — perhaps you can’t spend 20 hours a week golfing when you have a wife and newborn — but this is something that you and your partner should be comfortable discussing and finding a healthy balance.

Closing thoughts on Prioritizing your spouse

Putting your partner first in a relationship is a new concept for many, especially for couples who have kids.

But one piece of advice that Ryan’s parents told us on our wedding day has always stuck with me, “The best gift you can give your kids is your love for each other.”

A happy marriage isn’t just a badge of accomplishment, but it directly impacts positively our longevity, mental health, lowers the risk of dying of cancer, and even fattens our wallets.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to what will work in your relationship, now you’ve learned how to identify if your partner is or isn’t prioritizing you and how to balance this with caring for yourself. We’ve shared tools, activities, and even new perspectives to consider while working on this.

Every relationship is a work in progress. Continue reading, researching, experimenting, and putting time into your relationship. All you can do is control your own actions, and we applaud you for trying so hard and reading this far.

And if you ever need a bit of outside coaching, it’s incredibly popular and common to get help from a coach or couple’s therapist.

Good luck, and if you’ve come across other favorite strategies, feel free to comment and share below!

For more resources for couples, such as our ‘prove apps for married couples’ or our 1-Day self-guided non-religious marriage retreat, head over to our Healthy Couples page.

Or, download our Proven Tools for Healthy Couples below.

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Download our guide for the best books, movies, apps, date night ideas, quizzes, questions, and games for healthy couples.

As Seen In Feature Bar Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

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