Whether you have been together for a few months or for decades, it is important to take steps to maintain some spark in your relationship. Some consistency can be nice in a relationship, but variation from the everyday routine is important to make things more fun. If you are in a monogamous relationship, that variety needs to come from within your partnership.
While it would be wonderful for you two to get away to some exotic island where you could spend days sipping coconut-flavored drinks on the beach, you also want to have some ways to electrify your relationship during your normal days.
Here are the top 13 ways to put some spark back into your relationship that don’t take a lot of time or money but can be rather powerful when you apply them.
1. Let’s get physical. Physical touch is key to a significant relationship. Sure, this includes sex, but also so much more. Give your partner a hug, rub his back, hold her hand, offer a massage. Oxytocin is released with physical touch, which has been shown to give lots of benefits, from feeling closer to being more generous and even having a stronger immune system.
2. Smile! You’re on camera. Pretend as if a camera is following you around every time you interact with your spouse (except when you are having X-rated time). How would you want to act if you knew you were being watched by others? Kind, thoughtful, easygoing? Now act like that every time you are with your partner.
3. Say “I’m sorry.” We all mess up from time to time, say things we later regret, and do things we really shouldn’t. And yet, so often we justify these actions, to ourselves and our partners. This can lead to resentment and defensiveness—not the ingredients for a happy relationship. Next time you mess up, admit your mistake and move on. It will help your partner feel closer to you.
4. Looking good. Take steps to feel good about your body and the way you look. This is for you and your partner. For example, when women feel good about their body, research shows they are 19 percent more satisfied in their marriage. Don’t worry; you don’t need to look like a model. Just taking steps to feel good about yourself can be helpful to you. As one of my male clients said, “I don’t need her to be skinny; I just want to know that she puts in some effort to look good. It makes me feel important.” I have had female clients express similar sentiments.
5. Listen to your partner. This tip is multifaceted. First, it is important to listen—really listen—to your partner. Ask him about his day and then actually be interested. (If you find it tough to be interested, you might want to practice some empathy skills training.) One client who came in because he and his wife were considering a divorce lamented, “She never even asks me about my day. She just complains about hers.” Your partner wants to be heard and understood.
Another reason to listen to your partner is because your partner is telling you what he or she wants from you. What kinds of things does he say or do to tell you that he loves you? For example, when we were first married, I realized my husband often told me “I am so proud of you” when I was talking about my work. At first, I just said, “thanks,” but then I realized that was what he needed to hear from me. And when I started telling him that I was proud of him, I could tell that he felt really loved from me. This ties into Love Languages, which I highly recommend you and your partner identify and use on a daily basis.
6. Have outside support and interests. Your partner cannot meet your every need—best friend, stress-manager, mentor, conflict-resolutor, chick-flick watcher, sporting even spectator. It is important that you have additional sources of support in your life. This will take pressure off your mate to be your everything. Even better, pursue your own interests. Sure, it’s great to do things together. But you also want to respect your own areas of interest and follow those passions.
7. Do fun stuff. If going to Target is the most exotic thing you tend to do on weekends, it’s time for a change. And you don’t need a ton of cash or vacation days. Choose to do something fun together. This could be watching a funny movie, going for a hike, trying a new restaurant, learning something new by taking a class together, volunteering, working out together… Anything new and positive can help boost the happiness in your own relationship.
8. Focus on win-win. Stop keeping score of all that you do (and all that your partner doesn’t). Stop your need to be right. People in happy relationships don’t view themselves as two different sides. There is no “I win, you lose” mentality. Instead, they focus on win-win. That means being willing to compromise, admitting when you’re wrong, and focusing on being happy instead of being right.
9. Reunited and it feels so good. When you and your partner reunite—at the end of a day, when one of you comes back from a trip, or even when you wake up—do something to show your love. When your partner comes home, for example, stop what you are doing (within reason) and devote just a few seconds to being completely present with her. Give her a hug or kiss, look her in the eyes, and ask her how she is. Put down your phone, pause the TV, turn down the stove… do whatever you need to focus even just a short amount of time on your partner. You both will feel much more connected.
10. Be respectful. John Gottman is a pioneer on research about the longevity of marriages. In fact, in a longitudinal study, he was able to predict with 93 percent accuracy which couples would eventually get divorced. He has identified what he refers to as the four horsemen, which are predictors of relationship problems—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The quick antidote for these is to simply be respectful. Rather than criticize, openly communicate without criticism. Instead of contempt, express disappointment without eye rolls or passive-aggressive comments. Ditch the defensiveness; it is important to take feedback so you and your relationship can improve. And rather than stonewall, listen to your partner and have a constructive conversation when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Learn to communicate even your disappointments with respect.
11. Just ask. This one takes an open mind. Ask your partner, “What is one thing I can do this week to be a better partner to you?” The response may be surprising. The goal is not to be defensive—“I already do that anyway!” or “Yay, I wish you would do that, too!” Instead, simply absorb what you hear and take steps to implement your partner’s desire (as long at it is within your moral boundaries). This is a great way to meet needs that you may not have even realized your partner had.
12. Abide by the 5-to-1 rule. While you may think giving your partner a compliment will counter some negative “feedback” you provide, think again. The “magic ratio” is not 1:1, but rather 5:1. This means that in order to have an overall positive feel about your relationship, you need to have at least five positive encounters (actions, statements) for every negative one. The take home? Spend more time telling and showing your partner what you love and appreciate about them, laugh more, and spend more fun time together. When you do, the tough times are easier to get through.
13. Drop the perfectionism. Stop expecting your partner (or yourself) to be perfect. Drop the all-or-nothing attitude—“You didn’t ask me about my presentation today, so you don’t care about me” or “You didn’t want to have sex last night so you don’t find me attractive.” Stop personalizing and generalizing your partner’s actions. Instead, accept where they are. Be assertive by communicating your needs and wants in a respectful manner. Forgive your partner. And move on.
Above all, be hopeful. Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. If you are in a downward slope right now, have faith: Things can get better. Put some time, energy, and love into your relationship. Focus on being the best partner you can be. Get help if you need it. And see the positive in your partner and your relationship.