I realised (just after posting that last entry) that I had only answered one of the two questions posed in my title.
The one I failed to address, was the second: how do I judge the success of my efforts to treat my partner as well as I can?
The first and most obvious answer to this is: ask her. However this is an incomplete solution; not everything that she likes about something will be easily put into words or necessarily immediately obvious to her. The key shortcoming of this approach is greater still: her expectations are sometimes sufficiently low that all the options I am considering would meet with her approval.
Now, in saying this I do not mean to imply that Rho has been abused or seriously taken advantage of in previous relationships. She has not. This does not prevent her previous boyfriends from having been fairly crap in certain ways, however, and her expectations for me have been shaped by her past experiences.
For instance, she is obsessed with writing, and loves creating and shaping stories. This is something none of her boyfriends have shared, and she had grown used to the idea that her partner would not share the world of writing with her. By being somewhat interested, and actively becoming more interested, I have brought her joy she had not expected.
On a more trivial level, I am quite neat and tidy, and look after myself quite well. Laundry is something I do, and now we live together, she assists me with sometimes. While she is no doormat, and would never put up with living with someone who didn't do their part, she honestly expected to have to bully me into doing close to my fair share. If I were judging my contribution merely by how she felt about it, I would do much less around the house.
Essentially, she had become used to being the mature, sensible, organised one. She expected to have to stay on top of everything that needed doing, then make clear to her partner what he was required to do, and make sure he did it. She would have been quite happy with me doing what was on that list well, and without complaint; which is so much less than taking responsibility for something and sorting it out without her needing to be aware of it. There are other examples, but I think these illustrate the key point: her expectations do not fully reflect the part that I can play in our relationship, and so they are not a complete guide to what I can do to make our life together comfortable and happy.