No matter how strong your relationship is, maintenance is important. Even great relationships can become complacent or stagnant if you don’t put in the work, so putting some effort into finding ways to improve your relationship can be so important for making it in the long haul. On the most basic level, you want to make sure you’re getting enough quality time together.
“Spending time together means sharing in experiences together,” Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “Experiencing things helps you grow as a person, and when you can share those experiences with someone — particularly someone who loves doing the same things as you do — you grow together. Ultimately it is our experiences and memories that help shape us as people — when you share experiences with your partner, you are in effect being shaped, evolving, and growing together.”
But if you’re looking for ways to make your relationship happier and healthier, it takes a lot more than just hours spent in the same room. If you want to make your relationship as strong as it can be, sometimes the little shifts can make a big difference. Here are 23 little ways to make your relationship stronger, according to experts.
1. Use “I” Phrases
A little language tweak can save your arguments — you may want to try to stop using “you” phrases, like “You did this…” or “You made me feel…”.
“Leading with the word ‘you’ nearly instantly creates a defensive posture in your partner who goes into a strategy to defend themselves the minute you stop talking,” psychologist Deborah E. Dyer, Ph.D. tells Bustle.
Instead, embrace “I” statements, like “I’ve been feeling…” or “I have noticed…”. “By owning your own thoughts and feelings about the situation, you immediately reduce the defensiveness in your partner because they aren’t feeling blamed or criticized,” Dyer says.
2. Schedule A Check- In
If you’ve been together a long time, scheduling time to check-in can be really helpful. “A weekly check-in of pure honesty (i.e. this is where I am at, this is what I feel, and this is what actually bothers me) is a great way to keep lines of communication open and cultivate an interdependent relationship,” Benjamin Ritter, founder of The Breakup Supplement, tells Bustle. You both can air how you’re feeling, so no resentments build up.
3. Ask Questions Instead Of Assuming
No matter how well you think you know someone, assumptions can be dangerous. “Assumptions and mind reading usually lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings,” Sameera Sullivan, psychologist and founder of Lasting Connections, tells Bustle. Make an effort to ask more questions and really listen to the answers.
4. Take The Time To Assess Yourself
Part of having a strong relationship is being strong individuals. “Take time to evaluate the other parts of yourself, whether professional, spiritual, social, or recreational, and notice what other areas of your life need some building up,” couples therapist Amy Bishop, M.S., tells Bustle. Putting some energy into you will make your relationship even better.
5. Share When You’re Feeling Down
When you’re feeling your most vulnerable, make the time to touch base with your partner. “Real intimacy comes from letting your guard down and allowing your partner to witness you in a less than stellar light,” Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, licensed psychologist, dating coach, and the founder of relationship consultancy Rapport Relationships, tells Bustle. So take those moments of struggle or doubt and turn them into a bonding experience.
6. Spend Time In Their Shoes
If you want to feel closer to your partner, spend more time thinking about how a situation must feel for them. “Listening is at the heart of close relationships with others — listen to understand where the other person is really coming from,” Michele Hart, Esq. of M. Hart Divorce & Family Law in Morristown, New Jersey, tells Bustle. “Instead of thinking of your own response, put aside for the moment your own judgments, opinions, thoughts, and expectations and ask yourself: ‘How does the other person view the situation?’” It will help the empathy flow.
7. Book Some Time Away
“Vacation is the ultimate ‘R and R’ — the break you need from a daily nine to five grind to keep you going and to give you something to look forward to,” Backe says. “Going on vacation is almost always enjoyable and relaxing, and going on vacation with your partner helps you associate those feelings of fun, enjoyment and relaxation with your partner.” Book a blow-out vacation — or even just a night away — for some real quality time.
8. Sign Up For Something That Scares You
Maybe yoga scares you. Maybe a new DIY project seems terrifying. Maybe you’ve been putting off changing bank accounts. Whatever it is, tackle something that scares you — together. “We learn the most about a person when they are placed in stressful situations; that’s when someone’s true colors show,” Tiffany Toombs, relationship expert and director at Blue Lotus Mind, tells Bustle. “Couple[s] can practice…resilience and team problem solving by engaging regularly in leisure activities that push them to grow as a person.” Plus, it helps to have someone else around for those tough activities.
9. Schedule In Date Nights
Never underestimate the power of a date night. “Going to see a movie represents an escape from the mundane — a chance to take a break and get lost in a film for a few hours,” Backe says. “By going to the movies with your partner, you’re essentially making them your partner in retreat as well as in the daily grind. That is a very positive thing.” Making them a regular occurrence will help keep your relationship strong.
10. Pay Attention To Your Body Language
If you feel like you’ve gotten complacent, make more of an effort to be physical with your partner. “Make eye contact, and touch your partner’s arm or leg to let them know you’re ‘with’ them,” couples therapist Tracy K. Ross, LCSW tells Bustle. It’s an easy way to stay connected.
11. Approach Problems With Positivity
Before you tackle a big issue or a conflict, take a deep breath and try to approach it with positivity. “I witness positive change all the time, and when properly motivated, the change can be lasting,” licensed mental health counselor Monte Drenner tells Bustle. An attitude shift can make a huge difference.
12. Kiss More
Kissing. Is. Important. “On dates two and three, you’re slobbering all over each other in the throes of passion,” Sarah A. Intelligator, Esq., Law Offices of Sarah A. Intelligator, tells Bustle. “But years two and three, it’s a small peck on the cheek or lips (if you’re lucky). People stop making out, stop showing each other desire and, in turn, stop feeling desirable. Can you imagine if you and your partner are sitting on the couch, wearing sweats, watching a movie, about two feet away from each other and, suddenly, you just turn to each other and start making out — like, I mean, really going at it? Cue the Barry White.” Keep the kissing alive.
13. Organize Your Finances
It’s not fun, but money is a huge source of stress between couples — so it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page financially. It can help to approach financial goals and obstacles together.
“When it comes to finances, ego can quickly take over, especially with competitive people, but good relationships can’t be built on trying to beat your partner,” Derek Peth, SVP of banking at student loan refinancing site Laurel Road, tells Bustle. “The best way to remove the challenge against each other is to make it a team challenge and support each other instead of comparing.”
14. Take Turns
If you want your relationship to feel equal, there’s a really simple trick you can use. “Take turns,” ” Dr. Erika Martinez, licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. “Whether it’s planning date night, cooking, cleaning or doing laundry, taking turns divides the responsibility, creates more equality in the relationships, and helps keep these tasks like feeling like a burden (which also fends off feelings of resentment down the line.” Plus, it means everyone gets some time off from the boring duties.
15. Discuss Fictional Relationships
It sounds a little weird, but it just might work. “Talk about the relationships in the TV shows or movies you watch,” Dr. Martinez says. “Invariably, you’ll end up talking about yourself and learn more about your partner.”
16. Take A Daily Walk
Getting some time outdoors together can be amazing. “Take a short daily walk together (20 minutes or less),” Dr. Martinez says. “Talk about what’s working well in your relationship, what’s not working, and what you’d like to change.”
17. Cultivate Routines
“I like bolstering rituals as a way of improving relationships,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. “Little routines that we share with each other.” The routines don’t have to complicated — even ordering pizza every Friday or making popcorn while you’re watching a movie can do the trick. “Rituals like this are things that you do together that are bonding even if you don’t realize it,” Hartstein says.
18. Surprise Each Other
A little surprise can go a long way. “Give them little surprises,” Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. “Small gifts, tokens of affection. Hand written notes in their lunch. No texts, no emails. Tangible gestures of love.”
19. Hold Their Hand
Don’t forget that small gestures can be incredibly grounding. “Hold their hand in public,” Klapow says. “A tender embrace of the hand is a way to physically bond but also a way to remind them that you are there for them.”
20. Get Your Blood Flowing
Sometimes, it’s nice to take things up a notch. “Try something that gets both your adrenaline going whether it’s sky diving or watching a horror flick with your significant other,” Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and the owner of Exclusive Matchmaking tells Bustle. “It mimics passions and is great fuel for the relationship.”
21. Unplug Together
There’s no doubt that we should unplug a little more. “Unplug from the electronics and concentrate more on your relationship,” Trombetti says. “We spend too much time liking meaningless stuff on social media. Find things to like about your partner to be closer. Invest in your partner the time you invest on social media.” If you need to put your phone in the next room, so be it.
Asking your partner about their fondest memories of the two of you is a great conversation-starter. “These types of questions are great because they can either bring forth those fond memories and emotions you once shared, or they can provoke thoughts of your future together, further solidifying your bond,” sex and relationship expert, Dr. Megan Stubbs tells Bustle.
23. Remind Yourself How You Feel
Remind yourself why you love your partner — it will help remind you to show them. Klapow says that remembering to respect each other is key. “We hear it all the time but it is probably the single reason that relationships fall apart,” Klapow says. “Stop and ask yourself the following: ‘Why do I respect my significant other?’ ‘How do I show that I honor them?’ When you know why you honor and respect your partner you will feel closer to them.”
There are always new ways to make your relationship stronger and bring you closer together — and many of them don’t have to involve a lot of time and money. Taking the time to touch base and improve your relationship in little ways can keep your relationship feeling happy, healthy, and ready for the future.
Originally posted on Bustle