Wouldn’t it be great if relationships came with an “easy button” like so many other things in our tech-heavy world? So many things run on autopilot these days: planes, phones, and even cars that can drive themselves!
In this world where many things work well with automation, it can be a good reminder that relationships retain a more old-fashioned quality. So often when relationships begin, things may seem perfect and effortless. This can feel amazing and we can get our hopes up and think that we have found soulmate perfection.
When the heady excitement wanes, it’s also easy to become disillusioned. You may think you have fallen out of love or (gasp) blame your partner for what you perceive as cracks in the relationship, leaving you wondering where things went wrong. Human relationships, not unlike our plants and pets, need nourishment and attention in order to create the conditions needed to thrive.
It can be easy to fall into a routine of the tried and true and lose sight of the fact that you must tend to your relationship. By adding some new behaviors and paying more attention to each other, your relationship can align more with what you and your partner both truly desire.
Here are a few practical tips that can reignite the flames, generate some new sparks, and keep your relationship alive and connected.
1. Learn each other’s love language. What makes you feel loved? It’s likely that your partner’s love needs are different than yours. It may be that neither of you are aware of this difference, leading to what feels like perpetual miscommunication. To figure out your love language, you and your partner can take this brief online quiz separately and then share your answers. The results may surprise you!
2. Reach out and … touch. We all need to be held. Infants have a basic need for loving contact to survive and this continues at every stage of life. Touching your partner often throughout the day — not just in the bedroom or when initiating sex — can increase intimacy in the bond between you. Family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. And we need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Reach out for more growth and connection!
3. Take turns turning on the romance. Take turns planning date night at least once a month. Make your partner feel special by planning something for the two of you. This can be something elaborate like fine dining in a restaurant you both enjoy or having a picnic in the backyard with a blanket, mood music, and candles. Be creative and enjoy your time together.
4. Make frequent “love deposits.” We all have a love bank that keeps track of how we’re treated by others. Making deposits by treating your partner with love and respect keeps the account full. Making withdrawals with criticism and contempt can leave your account empty or even overdrawn. By keeping each other’s love bank full by making many more deposits than withdrawals, you can increase love and safety in your relationship. What is your love bank balance?
5. End Groundhog Day arguments. Do you have a particular topic that keeps leading to arguments? If so, try to finally get it resolved. Set aside a time to talk, agree on a maximum time limit (maybe 20 minutes if the topic isn’t too complex), and require that you both stay on the topic so progress can be made instead of escalating the conflict. One tip for increasing partnership for potentially triggering conversations is to sit side by side instead of across from each other. This small move can make the conversation feel less adversarial and promote partnership and intimacy.
6. Time out isn’t just for toddlers. Conflict is part of every healthy relationship. Become familiar with the pattern of conflict between you and your partner and agree to take a time out if things become heated or destructive. When you both calm down, come back to the topic, repair if needed, and if you still can’t see eye to eye, agree to disagree.
7. Keep it positive. There’s no need to bare it all in relationships by sharing every negative thought and reaction with your partner. No relationship or person is perfect. According to John Gottman, healthy relationships have a 5 to 1 ratio, with 5 being positive communication and 1 being the negative. According to Gottman’s extensive relationship research, it takes five good interactions to clean up the negative effects of one bad.
8. Learn the art of listening deeply. Drop your primitive lizard brain defenses so you can actually hear your partner. When you listen to your partner, are you actually listening or just planning your reply or way to prove them wrong? Our most important human need is to be heard and understood, and it’s hard to achieve that without a mutual awareness of this need.
9. Have fun together. Never underestimate the power of sharing fun and adventure together. With adult relationships and adult responsibility, it’s easy to lose the magic of childhood, where play was our work. This doesn’t have to end when we become grown-ups.
Reconnect to yourself and your partner through your inner child. Reflect on some things that light you up and that you love to do just for the fun of it. One way to add more fun to your life is to reflect on your childhood dreams. Share them with your partner and be open to experiencing things that they enjoy. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, be willing to share in the things that they enjoy in order to deepen your understanding and connection to one another. Those who play together stay together.
By Sharalee Hall, MA, AMFT. Sharalee is an associate at the office of Marina Edelman, LMFT. You can read more about her here.