By Taylor Roach – MA, Intern
Unfortunately, broken relationships are often easier to form than strong relationships. We all know that relationships take work, but do we all know how to do that work or what that would even look like? Although every relationship is unique and thrives off of different values and behaviors, here are some ways you can try in order to strengthen your relationship.
1. Spend time together
Though this idea may seem overly simplistic, spending quality time together can be the most challenging feat for many couples. Take a moment now to think about how much quality time you actually get to spend with your partner. Is it just enough, too much, or not enough for you? Would your partner have the same response to this question? Perhaps this should be a topic to discuss or personal need to communicate to and with your partner first and foremost.
A study put on by the Gottman Research Institute assessed that couples who are highly satisfied in their relationship spend about six hours per week dedicated to one another (Benson, 2016). To find out how these hours are allocated, you can read this short article: “Six Hours a Week to a Better Relationship.”
Before listing some quick, easy, research-based ideas of things you can do together, it is highly recommended that you both agree to put away your phones and other electronics in order to be fully attentive to one another. When it comes to distractions in our world today, there are many of them, but they may just be harming our relationships with others.
- Play board games. According to relationship researchers Claxton and Perry-Jenkins (2008), it was found that the more time couples set aside for fun and leisure before having children, the more marital love and less conflict was reported one year after having their baby. Having fun and laughing together is important for a healthy relationship to thrive. If you have very little time, try finding a board game that only lasts 10-15 minutes.
- Walk around the block together. Getting outside changes your body’s expression of stress (Loria, 2018) which could be helpful if one or both of you are letting work stress (or any other kind of stress) get in the way of or take precedence over your relationship. Going outside might also help de-escalate feelings of anger that could also be harming your relationship.
- Read the same book together and talk about it, even if you may not be able to read (or listen to) it at the same time.
Some suggestions are: [See book previews at the end of this article]
- Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
- The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman
- Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: about conflict resolution by Dr. Daniel Shapiro
You may also want to check out the Relationship Alive podcast. Regardless of the subject matter, reading a book or listening to a podcast together can be invaluable in your relationship. You can choose issues you are interested in, topics you would like to introduce to your partner to or fiction books that bring you joy. Throughout the book or podcast series, discuss what you are learning or how you are each interpreting the content of the medium. Podcasts are generally a shorter time commitment and leave you with more research to do on your own. Books are good for a more intimate connection with the material but tend to be more of a time commitment. If you are reading or listening to the material separate from one another, be sure to stay on the same chapters or episodes as your partner. It keeps you on the same page (pun intended).
- Create something together. “Being high in creativity allows people in relationships to avoid falling into set routines that might lead to boredom and dissatisfaction” (Vitelli, 2019). If you have a partner that is resistant to creativity, read this article about three research studies that report why creativity is vital to healthy relationships: “Is Being Creative the Key to Romantic Passion.”
- Plan a date night. Most of the time, especially if couples have children, date nights are not a priority. However, having time set aside to focus solely on your relationship is key to successful partnering, which includes intimacy and even parenting. Whether date nights should be put in your schedule or set as routine “mandatory meetings” (the same time every week or every month), make it happen! The Couples Bucket List: 100 Fresh Date Night Idea Cards for Couples, by Flowjo. 101 Nights of Great Romance by Laura Corn.
- Stare into each other’s eyes while wearing earplugs. Perhaps you can do this in nature. Try this for five minutes in silence. You may laugh. Some couples cry. This is a good way to shut out the stressors and many distractions of the world in order to focus on the beauty of your relationship and bond alone.
- Utilize games involving “getting-to-know-you questions” that are already created such as Table Topics in order to learn more about your partner. You might be surprised how much you don’t know about each other!
- Cooking together is one of the very few activities (another being having sex) that uses all five senses. This activity is good for increasing intimacy, and there is no shame in needing to take a cooking class in order to master this skill. However, there is also no shame in failing at it together, either.
2. Ask for what you need
Communicate your expectations. Your partner wants to support you, so help him/her out by verbally communicating how they can do so. If you need someone to listen, ask your partner to be free of distractions while you are talking. If you need them to be in charge of a certain chore or errand for the week, let them know that you have a lot on your plate and would really appreciate if they could lighten the load. Over time, if needs are being unmet or even uncommunicated, resentment or frustration can build. It is better and easier to communicate a need upfront than having to repair countless times of let down, hurt, or frustration down the road.
3. Try not to hold in resentment, anger, and fear
- Watch this video on attachment: [fusion_youtube id=”OyCHT9AbD_Y” alignment=”” width=”” height=”” autoplay=”false” api_params=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” css_id=””][/fusion_youtube]
- Talk about these questions as often as you can (these questions are set to be discussed weekly) for a way to foster healthy attachment through vulnerability:
- How did I love you well this past week?
- Did I do anything to upset you this past week?
- Are there any unspoken or unsaid hurt feelings, resentments, or frustrations?
- What is one specific thing I can do for you next week?
- What dreams/thoughts/visions are at the forefront of your mind this coming week?
- Make up your own question!
- Write love notes or letters to one another. Talking about hopes and dreams can help you get inspired so that you can open up about what ignites a fire from within.
Want to change your relationship but don’t know where to start? Read my review of the Marriage Fitness program here.
4. Express anger in a productive way
Learn what works best for you as a couple in order to achieve this. It might take trial and error. Sharing and reflecting are critical traits for couples to grow together. If you are finding yourself in a troubled relationship and something is troubling you:
- Wait to cool down. Taking a step back from the situation can help you be able to process your emotions so that they are expressed in a way that is non-threatening and less reactive. When we allow ourselves to react in the heat of the moment, we can often say things that we may not necessarily mean. However, as with all things, try to find the balance and also don’t dwell on whatever is troubling you for too long because it may help to process through it together and as a team.
- Ask about a good time to discuss the topic. Make sure your partner is in the right mental space for a deep and personal discussion.
- Talk about it, be honest, but avoid saying things that are hurtful rather than helpful.
- Speak the words, “Do you forgive me?” rather than just, “I’m sorry”. Asking for forgiveness is admitting that you were hurtful and want to mend the damage.
5. Hug/kiss each other hello and goodbye
One person in the relationship may not always be as excited or ready for physical intimacy, however, it is important to consider your partner’s feelings when greeting or saying goodbye, especially if physical intimacy is a standard practice in the relationship. By greeting or saying goodbye to your partner without some form of physical intimacy, you are creating further distance in the relationship. In addition, there have been many studies showing that a hug can decrease blood pressure and reduce stress. By simply embracing your partner, you may experience “release” from tense emotions and improve your relationship.
6.Know and practice each other’s love language
Do you feel more loved by your partner when they spend quality time with you, are intimate with you, give you gifts, do something for you, or give you compliments? Do you know what your partner would prefer? The website www.5lovelanguages.com has useful quizzes on love languages, anger assessment, and apology language.
7. Talk about what’s working in the relationship
We often talk about what is not working which leaves us thinking that our relationship is ultimately in ruin even when this may not be true. Try starting more conversations with “I love that we can go to ____ together” or “experience _____ together” … “in spite of _____”.
8. Give each other a compliment at least once a day
You don’t even have to mean it. It still feels good to hear a compliment. Over time, compliments can shift your partner’s overall perspective of themselves and their outlook on life. If a partner has a negative self-image or is consistently being negative about situations, it is often the other partner’s fault for not supporting/complimenting them.
9. Give each other space
Every relationship requires growth together, but also individual growth. Each party has their own personal goals, desires, and relationships outside of the relationship which still needs to be nurtured independently.
Find yourself battling over the smallest issues which only lead to even bigger issues? Read my firsthand review of the Marriage Fitness program here.
10. See a couples therapist
Utilize counseling services even if you are not in a broken relationship. Both healing your relationship and strengthening your relationship take time and effort, and could require or benefit from professional services. Counseling for couples is quite common and is welcome to any and all couples! There are also couples therapy retreats available that are often beneficial, fun, and may just be the best thing when it comes to strengthening and/or healing relationships.
Benson, K. (2019, February 05). 6 Hours a Week to a Better Relationship. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/6-hours-a-week-to-a-better-relationship/
Claxton, A., & Perry-Jenkins, M. (2008, February 01). No Fun Anymore: Leisure and Marital Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20224746/
Loria, K. (2018, April 22). Being outside can improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure – here are 12 science-backed reasons to spend more time outdoors. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7
Vitelli (2019). Is Being Creative the Key to Romantic Passion? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201905/is-being-creative-the-key-romantic-passion