7 Steps to a Happier Relationship for a Lifetime
Many couples want to know the secret to keeping their relationship satisfying and strong for a lifetime. In this day of high divorce rates and infidelities, many people wonder if anyone is really able to stay happy and in love for many years.
Research from psychologists at The Gottman Institute has shown that couples CAN maintain a loving, intimate relationship if they put effort into it. And this effort can actually be a lot of fun. The key is to do Small Things Often that build on your friendship and maintain your connection.
- Check in each morning. Make sure to ask your partner about what he/she has going on that day. Find out if he is stressed about a work deadline or if she has a lot of appointments to manage today. When you know what’s going on in your partner’s world, you stay connected and can stay in touch with how he/she is feeling later in the day. You’re also better able to offer support and flexibility to accommodate your partner when he/she needs it. So when you know she has a stressful day ahead, you might make time to pick up dinner on the way home as a treat.
- Make time for physical touch. The Gottmans recommend having a 6 second kiss each morning to feel connected and attuned with one another. This type of intentional touch even releases hormones, like oxytocin, that create feelings of happiness and attachment. But any kind of physical touch is worthwhile during the day. A gentle shoulder rub while your partner is doing dishes or snuggling up on the couch while watching tv can be simple ways to keep the physical connection alive. These moments of nonsexual touch can set the stage for greater intimacy throughout the day.
- Express appreciation. Many people report feeling taken for granted in their relationship, especially after having kids together. They feel themselves working hard to keep the household running but don’t feel this effort is noticed or appreciated. Both people wind up feeling resentful or lonely in the relationship. But little acts of appreciation throughout the day can make an enormous difference in shifting this feeling. And we find that these acts build upon each other. As one person feels appreciated, he/she becomes more willing to express that appreciation in return. So try sending little messages that let your partner know you’re thinking of him/her. You appreciate that he filled your gas tank or noticed how well she managed the kids when they were arguing over breakfast.
- Express admiration. Sometimes managing the day-to-day stresses of sharing a life and family together can leave you feeling irritable and impatient. You find yourself focusing on all the ways your partner annoys you or falls short of expectations. This type of focus drains a relationship of joy. Instead, try focusing your attention on the aspects of your partner you really admire, even in just a moment during the day. And make sure to express that admiration to your partner! You might mention how great he looked that morning or how she seems to juggle the family schedule so well. Remember what brought you together in the first place and remind your partner how special he/she is to you.
- Create reunion rituals. When couples reunite in the evening, it may occur in the midst of family chaos or a soccer game or a partner busy at the stove top. There are many distractions that can be barriers to really connecting after being apart during the day. Creating a window to focus on one another in the midst of these distractions helps you transition into your evening together as a team. Again, you might have a 6 second kiss, or you might take a spin around the kitchen or just hold each other for a warm hug. Find a reuniting ritual that works for you, and make it a habit.
- Reconnect with stress reducing conversations. Create just 20 minutes of focused time for the two of you to share something stressful about your day. Take turns listening and supporting one another. The focus is to feel like you’re on the same team. Never take the side of someone your partner sees as an adversary. Express your support and understanding without giving advice, unless your partner asks for it. This is how you build a sense of we-ness in your relationship to make it strong.
- Prioritize date night. You don’t need to go out or spend money to have a special evening together as a couple. But you do need to work together in setting aside protected time to reconnect for a few hours each week. Maybe you plan a late dinner after the kids are in bed or just snuggle on the couch by candlelight. Focus this time on enjoying one another and set aside the business partnership aspect of managing a household. So rather than discussing weekend carpool plans or stressful house projects, you might ask each other open ended questions that deepen your understanding of each other, like Where do you see yourself in five years? or How has parenthood changed you? You might play a card game together or talk about your dreams. The point is to reserve energy each week to build your friendship.
Couples who intentionally focus energy on their relationship with these 7 steps describe themselves as more satisfied and intimately connected. They are better able to weather the storms that naturally come along in a relationship. When we feel really understood and supported by our partner, we feel a sense of security and strength in our relationship that builds the foundation for lasting joy. Choose one step to start today!
Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. at Linden BP with principles from The Gottman Institute. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment for individual or couples therapy with Dr. Smith, contact LindenBP at 440-250-9880.