I challenged myself to show appreciation to my wife Kim every day for a month because she’s been getting a little extra ornery with me for the last… I dunno… six years or so.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything’s going pretty well between us. It just feels like it’s been getting a teensy bit by bit more tumultuous every day. Kind of like global warming.
And like global warming, I’m partially responsible. If I were the perfect husband and showered Kim with love, affection, and romantic gestures all the time, she’d probably have more “h” in front of that ornery for me, if you know what I mean.
So I figured it was time for an intervention.
I’m a big fan of monthly challenges and was leading a group one in February, so it was time to not just tell my wife but show her how much I appreciate her. That’s why I called my challenge the “Show-‘er.”
Here’s what I did to show Kim how much I appreciate her, how it went down, and some tips I learned along the way.
28 Gestures of Appreciation
Feb 1: The Launch Date
I kicked off the month by inviting Kim out to lunch.
Normally, we do our own thing during the day while the nanny’s looking after our son, so this was already somewhat unusual behavior by me. Then I acted extra unusually by making a point of only talking about things she wanted to discuss, like our upcoming trip to central South Africa, her career, and gossip.
Feb 2: L’Oven
Most evenings, I play with our not-yet-two-year-old-son Zac while Kim prepares dinner. But this evening, I was going out for dinner with a friend. So to show my appreciation for Kim covering for me and doing the vast majority of cooking, I cut up and roasted a whole bunch of veggies and pumpkin for Zac to eat not just that evening but the rest of the week, too.
Kim seemed pleasantly surprised to come home and find them in the fridge, though I lost some brownie points for undercooking everything. Oh well. In retrospect, that worked out for me as an effective, if unintentional, application of what Richard Feynman calls “strategic incompetence.”
Feb 3: Flippin’ For Her
Zac’s been waking up at around 2 a.m. with nightmares. Or maybe it’s mosquitos. I guess there’s no difference.
Anyway, Kim and I started taking turns going to soothe him. But I suppose I’m not the most adept soother because Zac recently started adding “mommy” to the end of his cries. And he’d cry even louder upon seeing me come into his room rather than Kim. So Kim was forced into a disproportionate amount of boogie-man-fighting burden.
The least I could do was help her sleep ever so slightly more soundly. So today I flipped and fluffed her futon mattress and remade her bed for her.
Feb 4: A Morning Eye-Opener
Kim makes coffee for us every morning. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because: A) She’s particular about how her coffee’s made, B) She gets out of bed later than me, and C) I’d have my coffee a bit later if it were up to me.
This morning, I made an exception. Not only did I have Kim’s coffee ready for her as soon as she got out of bed, but I surprised her by buying “fancy” beans from Coco Safar and making two batches of French press.
Why two batches? So we could start the day with a mini version of one of our favorite pastimes: a blind taste test.
Unfortunately, both of us preferred Coco Safar’s pricy beans slightly more than the Deluxe beans we usually buy.
Feb 5: Hanging It Out to Dry
Kim loves laundry. Specifically, she loves sorting clothes, putting them in the machine, and pressing “Wash.” And, unlike my merino-loving self, she loves putting on freshly-laundered clothes.
But the part in between, hanging laundry to dry and folding it? Not so much.
So today I snatched the basket of freshly-washed-and-wet laundry from her hands and hung it for her. I told her it was because A) I wanted to show my appreciation for the disproportionate amount of laundry she deals with, and B) I had a podcast I wanted to finish listening to anyway.
Feb 6: Light in the Dark
We live in South Africa, where the national power supply company has been corrupt and inept for so long that it can no longer meet the country’s power needs. So we have to take turns having electricity.
When our turn to be powerless comes in the evening, we’ve relied on candles, our phone flashlights, and a cheap battery-powered lamp that came with our rental apartment. Kim has been complaining about the latter, so today I surprised her with a new, much better rechargeable light.
I presented it to her with the corny line, “This is for you because you brighten my days even when they’re dark.”
She appreciated the light more.
Feb 7: Not Losing It
Today started off rough for me.
I was feeling the pressure to be extra productive because we’re going on a six-day holiday to The Drakensberg mountains in central South Africa on the 9th. But my computer didn’t get the memo. It went bonkers on me, so I got nothing done until 2 p.m.
She’d lost her engagement ring!
She put it into her pocket to work out, then, on her walk home, it fell out when she was pulling out her phone.
If it wasn’t for my “Show-‘er” challenge, I might have lost it. Instead, I first tried to be as supportive as possible in finding it. No luck. Then, back home I did what I could to lighten the mood, playing happy Latin music and dancing with Zac. Kim seemed to appreciate the effort.
Feb 8: Phoning Her In
So today I changed my wallpaper to a photo of her and Zac.
That afternoon, I tried to subtly get her to notice the change. Turns out my subtly sucks. She teased of me for being so obvious. But I could tell she appreciated the gesture.
Feb 9: Model Wife
Today was the first day of our holiday in central South Africa. While Zac napped, instead of doing my own thing like usual—working on the blog, reading articles, or whatever—I pulled out our Canon and did a mini photoshoot of Kim in the cottage we’re staying at.
She appreciated the extra attention more than I expected.
Feb 10: Surprise Smooch
We spent today exploring an area between Durban and Johannesburg called the Midlands Meander. It’s like a fancy farmer’s market spread over thirty square kilometers of rolling farmland.
We hopped between artisanal cafes, shops, cheese and wine makers, and restaurants. At one chocolate maker, I secretly bought a “smoochy mousse” and presented Kim with it when we got back to our cottage. I told her it was to thank her for planning most of the day.
She seemed pleasantly surprised. No smooches for me in return. But she enjoyed the chocolate.
Feb 11: Top Shelves
Today, we checked into Champagne Castle Hotel, where we’d stay for the next few nights. `
While Kim was out assessing the quality of the scones and clotted cream at high tea, I unpacked my stuff into a crappy low cabinet by the mini fridge and put Kim’s clothes in the room’s best cabinets and shelves. I told her it was to show my appreciation for always being the one who packs Zac’s clothes.
Feb 12: Enough
I found and led us along a long hike from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., tried to focus the conversation on stuff Kim wanted to talk about, and took care to be extra nice when she was going slow because her knee was sore. And after the hike, I took Zac to play at the pool so she could rest.
But I didn’t feel I did anything specific to show my appreciation.
So while Zac napped, I pulled up a show Kim wanted to watch with me (MTV’s The Challenge) even though I would have preferred to do something else. And I offered to give her a massage while we watched. She declined, saying I’d already done plenty enough to show my appreciation.
Feb 13: Behind the 8-Ball
For our last night at Champagne Castle, I organized a game of pool and drinks with Kim before dinner.
Kim loves playing pool, but we never manage to get around to it whenever we have the chance. Other things come up, then she inevitably says, “Ah, I wish we’d played pool at least once.”
So she appreciated that I made it happen this time.
Feb 14: Valentine’s Rhyme
Our miserably looong travel day back to Cape Town was made worse by Zac barely napping and me not having a phone to help look up stuff (it got soaked by a torrential thunderstorm while on a solo run in the mountains yesterday afternoon).
At least we had extra space on the plane!
I got two seats in the row behind Kim, who also had two seats. We took turns distracting Zac from his extreme fatigue. While Kim was coloring with him, I secretly wrote her a Valentine’s Day poem. Then, when we finally got home and put a by-then fuse-less, exploding Zac to bed, I snuck it to her. This earned me a big hug and kiss, ending the day on a high note.
Feb 15: Activated Shandy
To celebrate a relaxing first night back in Cape Town, I suggested popcorn and an episode of Kim’s favorite show, The White Lotus.
As an extra surprise, I bought a fancy activated charcoal lemonade to make her an exotic version of her go-to non-alcoholic drink, the rock shandy.
Feb 16: In the Palm of Her Hand
Today, instead of going our separate ways once the nanny arrived, I walked with Kim to one of the cafés she likes, holding her hand most of the way. It’s the longest we’ve held hands that I can remember. I’m not sure she’s a fan of hand-holding, but she sure didn’t seem to mind the gesture
Feb 17: Blinding
Kim bought some cheap blackout blinds for Zac’s room about a month ago, but they’ve been lying around because the velcro she intended to put them up with didn’t stick to the fabric.
Today, I took the blinds to my go-to seamster down the street, he sewed the velcro on tight, and I hung them up. Seeing Zac’s now extra-dark room seemed to brighten her up.
Feb 18: The Most Important Like
I never post on Instagram, but today I made an exception. To express my thanks to Kim for taking the initiative to organize our fantastic Drakensberg holiday, I edited the photos from our camera, uploaded an album onto Google Photos, and posted a few of them on social media.
She liked it.
Feb 19: Let Her Do the Rest
Zac must have somehow absorbed the energy he deprived us of by screaming all night because he was extra hyper today.
After we tag-teamed him at the beach in the morning between volleyball games, I offered to take Zac the entire rest of the day. I put him down to nap, threw a “kitchen counter party” with him for lunch after he woke up, then took him out for a bunch of errands.
Kim appreciated the much-needed and well-deserved rest.
Feb 20: Orange Lotus
Kim was big-time looking forward to watching the Season 2 finale of White Lotus this evening. For an extra celebration, I bought some Italian vermouth and made us “Orange Lotus” cocktails.
Feb 21: Help Her Retreat
During our recent holiday, Kim and I brainstormed a lot about a business idea involving her organizing retreats for women.
To help her keep the momentum going in pursuing it, I did a bunch of research for her on related businesses, found some podcasts where the founders shared their stories, then sent her the links.
Feb 22: Special Permit
I went downtown today to pick up the results of our South Africa visa extension applications. South Africa’s immigration authorities must have been distracted playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark with the guys in charge of power generation, because only Zac’s extension was ready.
To make up for the disappointment and to surprise Kim whenever she opens her passport next, I inserted a special permanent residency permit to “Chris’ heart.”
Super corny? Like Zac’s poo after plowing through two cobs the day before. But I know it’ll make her smile whenever she sees it.
Feb 23: A Pizza My Heart
We went to the Pizza Shed, which Kim had been looking forward to trying for a few weeks. When we got to our table outside, Zac raced through the restaurant and into the kitchen. I wrangled him and took the opportunity to make a special request to the staff that they make a heart shape out of pepperonis on Kim’s pizza.
They instead attempted to form the dough into a heart shape. If anything, the resulting heart looked anatomically correct. I had to point out the intent to Kim. She took a photo anyway and appreciated the effort.
Feb 24: Heart of Stones
At Sunset Beach in front of out apartment, a guy arranges stones into heart shapes. This afternoon, I took Zac down there and used rocks to write “MOM” in the middle of one of the smaller hearts. Then I used shells to spell “KIM” in the middle of the O.
Feb 25: An Encouraging Audit
Kim runs a blog, FeedMyFriends.com, that helps people host more memorable gatherings with less fuss. Unlike Zac, the site is her baby and hers alone, so I keep my hands off. But like Zac, I want to help make it successful. So I spent the afternoon doing an in-depth audit of her site’s Google search performance and creating a spreadsheet with ideas and encouragement to keep growing traffic.
I surprised her with it, but was equally surprised at what I saw. Her blog’s got lots of potential!
Feb 26: Ripe for the Picking
I went wine tasting at Constantia Glen with friends visiting from Germany in the afternoon. Kim chose not to join.
To show her I was still thinking of her, I picked a protea off one of the bushes at the estate, plus a bunch of Petit Verdot grapes.
Feb 27: Quick Sliver Removal
I’ve recently become a big fan of finding and removing nagging little annoyances from my life—things like loose threads on my clothes or broken lightbulbs. I call them “slivers.”
One sliver I noticed Kim had been tolerating for too long was the bulky fob she uses to get her bike out of our garage. So I bought her an easy key ring releaser and connected it. That way, she won’t need to take the fob when she’s not using her bike.
Then I waited for her to notice.
The next afternoon, I saw she had taken her house keys and left the fob behind. But instead of using the quick releaser, she had taken the pains to detach the whole thing!
I had to explain to her what it was and how it worked when she got home.
Feb 28: Ending Where It All Began
Quick backstory for context:
Kim and I first connected at a dinner in Vancouver on December 27, 2013. She was studying in Dubai and home for the holidays. I was floating around as a “pretiree.” We hit it off that evening, so when she told me about a trip to Jordan she and a friend were planning, I bought my flights to join the next day.
Kim returned to Dubai and we spent the next two months messaging, then Skyping, then falling for each other…
…until finally reuniting in Amman, Jordan on February 28, 2014.
So today is an important date in our history. But we’ve never celebrated it. I even had to double-check today was the day.
One of the many memorable parts of our Jordan trip was a street food spot our Jordanian friend Jasmine took us to. We’ve long forgotten the place’s name (I wasn’t lifelogging back then), but Kim never forgot the falafels. She brings them up every time we have lesser falafels elsewhere.
To mark the occasion and finish my “Show-‘er” challenge with gusto, I planned a romantic falafel dinner to surprise her with when she returned from volleyball practice and Zac was in bed. But she decided against going to today’s training, so I had to improvise.
I ran around our Sea Point neighborhood buying falafels from six different places. (Sea Point’s the hub of Cape Town’s Jewish community, so it has a strong Israeli influence, and Israel’s beside Jordan, so there’s no shortage of falafel options here.) I also bought and chilled a bottle of wooded Chardonnay from a South African wine estate named Jordan. Then I set up a blind taste test.
Kim had also forgotten about the significance of February 28, so she was doubly surprised.
“The Show-Er Challenge was a month of daily surprises that made me appreciate Chris even more than I already do. Chris spent time thinking about what would make me happy – treating me to treats we don’t usually buy, looking after Zac more than usual, helping me with work, and asking how he could be more helpful around the house. The challenge made me realize it’s easy to fall into a routine and forget to show your partner you care. It was a success (even though I admit I should have given him more positive feedback during the month). And in the future, I’ll make more of an effort to do small things to show him how much I appreciate him, hoping he also does the same.”
Tips You (and Your Partner) Might Appreciate
Show and Tell
One of the most helpful tips I learned from my research on what makes a good gift is to tell your recipient the thought you put into it. Because gift givers value the thought put into a gift. But gift receivers don’t see the thought. They just see the gift.
So when you’re trying to show your appreciation to someone, tell them why you thought to do so. That way, even when your efforts don’t hit the mark as well as you’d hoped, you’ll still get some credit.
The Opposite of “Sticks and Stones”?
Brainstorm in Advance
I’m glad I did my challenge in February because the hardest part of my “Show-‘er” challenge was coming up with ways to show my appreciation to Kim. It helped to have a list of ideas I’d brainstormed in advance to refer to and stimulate my creativity.
The Best Prize Is Surprise
Whenever I asked Kim what I could do for her to show my appreciation, my subsequent efforts to meet her request didn’t score me as many brownie points as little or corny surprises like my poem or the smoochy mousse chocolate.
Spread the Love
Toward the end of my challenge, I spent as much time thinking of ways to show Kim my appreciation as I did executing them. And I could tell she was starting to take my gestures for granted. So, in retrospect, it would have been easier for me and more rewarding for her if I had spread my twenty-eight acts of appreciation over fourteen weeks.
Or maybe only one gesture of appreciation a week over… the remainder of our lives?
It’s not that hard. And Kim deserves it.