Here's how you can make your relationship stronger.
This time of year, it’s natural to focus inward, thinking about healthy new habits, self-improvement, and professional advancement. Consider channeling part of that fired-up New Years spirit into your bond with your partner, too, resolving not just to spend more time together, or to be more communicative—but to do it all better, with these easy tips and tricks for improving a relationship at any age or stage.
Ask More Questions.
And pay attention to the answers. Resolving to be more inquisitive helps both of you: You become more engaged (“Why was that meeting so stressful?” “How could you make that project a little more fun?”), and the give-and-take pushes you to be thoughtful about your own day, routine, and work. “It’s so easy to get to the end of the day and say to each other, ‘I don’t know, my day was fine. I’m tired,’” explains therapist and relationship expert Esther Boykin. “But being curious about your partner prompts you to be a little bit more reflective, which also opens the door to being more connected.”
Turn Your Complaints Into Questions, Too.
Before you blurt out exactly what’s on your mind—“You work so much I never see you!”—think about your intent. What do you actually want? What are you trying to vocalize? In this case, say you want to spend more down time with your partner. Then put yourself in his shoes. Rather than hearing a complaint, wouldn’t you rather hear: “I miss you! I’ve been feeling lonely. How could we spend more time together? How do you feel about working these long hours?” He can’t immediately solve the problem of working overtime, but asking him more about the situation, and sharing how you feel, starts a conversation—while barking a snappy comment will likely shut it down.
Talk a Little Less, and Touch More.
Sound counterintuitive? The thing is, for couples that have a hard time communicating their emotions, a big hug can go a long way. “Touch each other more in ways that are just about connecting, not about initiating sex,” Boykin suggests. Resolve to hold hands every time you watch TV or walk down the street, or hug each other every morning or evening—or both. “Where sex is concerned, even in the happiest of couples, there’s usually a difference in what constitutes enough,’” she says. “But there aren’t too many people in this world who don’t want to be hugged.”
Alternate Who’s in charge of Planning Nights Out.
So when it comes time to decide what to do, just the two of you, on Saturday night, get away from groupthink. Take turns planning dates, and keep your plans a surprise until the night of. “When you’re both responsible for planning, it’s easy to be complacent,” Boykin says. “But if you have to come up with something on your own, the act becomes a little competitive, and a lot more fun.”
On Date Night, Meet at the Restaurant.
Or the bar, or the movie theater. The location’s not important, since it’s the sentiment—harkening back to when the two of you were first getting to know each other—that counts. “It feels much more romantic to meet out,” says Joanna Goddard, creator of Cup of Jo. “Meeting at home first inevitably involves negotiating with children, pulling on Spanx in a hurry and giving instructions to the sitter. Not so sexy!” Instead, you’ll arrive feeling fresh faced and a little expectant, maybe even with a few butterflies, she adds. Rather not take two cars? Offer to coordinate things at home and have your man drop by to pick you up.
Take a Break, Mid-Fight, to Say “I Love You.”
Goddard learned this trick from her husband, who hits the pause button during arguments to say those three little words. “I cannot tell you what a difference it makes,” she says. It might be the last thing on your mind, but when things get heated, try to get those words out. “Instead of ratcheting up emotion, you diffuse it,” Goddard’s husband, Alex, says. “It reminds you both of the big picture. And in the cool-down period afterward, you know everything’s going to be ok.”
Compliment, Praise, and Thank—More Than You Nag.
Try to keep feedback, of all sorts, balanced. Or, better yet, keep things more heavily weighted in the positive. It’s easy, especially as the years go by, to forget to thank your partner for the little things he’s always done, whether that’s keeping up with the yard work or putting up with your parents when they come to visit. If you catch yourself doling out criticism, remind yourself to verbalize compliments and thanks that day, as well.
Kick Off an Adventure, Together.
We’re not talking about an actual adventure—though a far-flung vacation or an afternoon hike never hurt anybody. Just try something new together. Instead of heading to the same-old restaurant, pick a new spot or a new cuisine entirely. Sign up for an activity neither of you has tried (kayaking, rock climbing, a painting class), and give it a go. “We’re hard-wired to feel attracted to things that feel novel and new,” Boykin says. “Try something new once a month, and you’ll feel like there’s something fresh about being with that person.”
Make Time for Sex.
Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, we’re all tired. But sex (not to mention intimacy) is good for your health, your mood, and your relationship. Feel like you can never find the time? “You plan a date. You plan a vacation. You plan a surprise party. They’re all more romantic for the preparation,” says Goddard. “So why not plan time for sex, one of the most important and cherished parts of a marriage?” What you lack in spontaneity, you just might make up for in anticipation.
Let Certain Things Go.
In every committed relationship, there are things one party might like—no, love—to change. Maybe it makes you crazy that your husband leaves his water glass on the table or leaves the lights on or insists on hanging a poster of his favorite sports team in the basement. Let it go. To gain a little perspective, imagine what your life would be like if the water glass or poster weren’t there (in other words, neither is he). When you think of it like that, those annoying little things aren’t that hard to let go.