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With everything going on in the lives of the average couple, it’s easy to forget the small gestures that keep a relationship ticking. What most couples don’t realize, though, is that it doesn’t take much to help your partner feel more valued every day. “Stringing together these little things is an ongoing way to make a change in your relationship,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Health’s contributing psychology editor. The expert tricks here can fit easily into any routine – in minutes you’ll be on your way to building a stronger connection and lasting bond over time.
Turn off your smartphone
If you’re glued to Facebook during dinner, then it’s time to unplug. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior looked at data from 1,160 married people and found a negative correlation between heavy social-media use and relationship happiness. “When angry, some people may turn to texting to avoid saying something,” Saltz says. “It’s a way of creating distance.” While it doesn’t hurt to send a flirty or loving message, it does pay off to be more direct with your partner when something is really eating at you.
Go to bed at the same time
Feel like you never have a free moment together? Hitting the sack at the same time will help. “Bedtime might be the only opportunity you’re alone together all day,” says Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., author of The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time. Even if you’re a night owl, you can always stay in bed until your partner drifts off. You should also make sure you’re both getting a healthy amount of shut-eye. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, looked at the sleep habits of more than 100 couples. Those who reported poor sleep were much more likely to argue with their significant other the next day.
Brew a cup of coffee for your partner
Grand gestures aren’t the only way to express your love. Something as simple as brewing your partner a cup of coffee in the morning helps improve your relationship, says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a marriage researcher and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. Orbuch has studied 373 couples for more than 28 years through the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, and her research shows that frequent small acts of kindness are a predictor of happiness in a relationship. “People may feel taken for granted,” Orbuch says. By doing these small tasks on a regular basis, you’ll help your partner feel noticed.
Bring up a funny moment from your past
Sometimes the best memories are the funny ones. In a Motivation and Emotion study, couples that remembered laughing together – like the time a grocery-store clerk did something funny in the checkout line – reported greater relationship satisfaction than those who remembered experiences that were positive but not necessarily when they’d laughed. “Laughter reminiscence packs an additional punch because people relive the moment by laughing again,” says study author Doris Bazzini, Ph.D., a psychologist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Work up a sweat
It’s no secret that getting buff helps you out in the bedroom by boosting your endurance, strength and flexibility – but a sweat session also has more immediate effects. “Endorphins from exercise give you an adrenaline rush that boosts arousal,” Orbuch says. Activities that get your heart rate up, like hiking, running or biking, are guaranteed to have a positive effect on desire. “Any kind of arousal rush can be transferred to your partner and add passion to your relationship,” Orbuch says.
Dance before dinnertime
Couples who frequently try new things together have higher-quality relationships, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And we’re not necessarily talking extreme activities like skydiving or traveling to an exotic corner of the world (though those work too) – the activities simply should be new to the two of you, and can last for as little as seven minutes, researchers say. Dinnertime is one moment it’s easy to try something new. Turn on some catchy music while you’re cooking and start dancing together, Orbuch suggests. Or you could try a new a cooking technique – homemade sushi, anyone?
Have sex in a different place
Getting busy often enough to satisfy you both is key. If you’re feeling so-so about your bedroom romps, it might be time for a change. One idea: try having sex in a room or area you’ve never done it in. “New elements of play stimulate the dopamine system,” Saltz says. “When you do something that causes you to release more dopamine, it’s a positive reinforcer.” Want to suggest a tryst in the kitchen? Don’t worry about making it a drawn-out conversation, she says. It can be as simple as a one-liner that hints at your intention like, “The kids are gone. How about the kitchen table?” As long as your partner is game for the idea too, nothing’s stopping you.
Give your partner a hug
Nonsexual touching like hugging or handholding is just as important as sex itself in keeping your relationship healthy. “Touching is probably the most definitive way to let other people know you’re in a relationship,’” Goldsmith says. In the long run, the more you touch your mate, the more you’ll feel comfortable with each other. “Touching is a way we calm ourselves down,” Goldsmith says. “Every time you do it, you’re sending a positive message to your significant other.”
Ask a new question
As a couple, you probably spend most of your time chatting about work, your kids or your friends. When’s the last time you stopped to ask something new about each other? Everyone changes as relationships progress, Orbuch says, so it’s likely your partner has different interests and passions from the early years of your relationship. So ask your partner about anything you wouldn’t normally – movies, music, even what you’d do with lottery winnings.
Say thank you
Think about the last time your partner did something to help you out or made you feel special, and then say “thank you” for it. “You get so comfortable with your partner, it’s easy to expect them to meet your needs,” Saltz says. Too often couples forget to express a simple thanks, whether one of you helps out with the chores or surprises the other with a gift. And have you ever said thank you to your partner for simply being in your life? It’s important to express gratitude for this – not just for what they’re doing for you, Goldsmith says.