Couples can live together yet realize they hardly know what’s going on each other’s lives. Partners can see each other often through the day, yet at the end of the day, realize they haven’t made time for an adult conversation. It’s okay-life happens!
The start of a new year brings a time where people often reflect and set goals for personal growth. This year, include your partner in your goals to also improve your relationship. Share with your partner the ways in which you wish to connect with them more this year and use this list as a guide for ideas. Start small by picking 2 or 3 ways you wish to improve with your partner. Then, as these connections become habit, add more to your repertoire. Creating connection adds to a sense of intimacy and happiness in your relationship-right in time for Valentine’s Day next month!
Which ways can you choose to connect with your spouse each day?
1) Respond to your partner
This may sound like a no-brainer, but couples who respond when their partner talks, touches them, or asks a question (these are known in the therapy world as bids for attention) are less likely to get divorced. In one study, couples who were still married 6 years after observation responded or “turned toward” their partner 86 percent of the time. Couples whose relationship ended in divorce only turned toward each other 33 percent of the time (Brittle, 2015). What does this mean? When your partner asks for your help, suggests you do an activity together, or comments on something as seemingly small as the weather or recent news, they are reaching out for connection or attention. Make it a goal to recognize these bids for attention and reply to your partner. Don’t forget to reach out with your own bids for connection.
2) Hug when you reunite
Subconsciously, partners’ nervous systems may become aroused when they reunite. This primes humans to attack, which may take the form of starting an argument, criticizing, or feeling attacked themselves. This happens after extended separations when a partner has been out of town, as well as as shorter separations when one or both partners have been at work. One way to regulate each other during these reunions is to give a full body hug with stomachs touching until you feel each other physically relax. I usually tell my clients to embrace for at least 20 seconds when the last partner gets home. Not only does the touch feel good, but it regulates your nervous system making couples less prone to start arguments and fights.
3) Create a ritual for your nighttime routine
Night time can be a perfect time to connect after a busy day. If possible, set a bed time where you each get ready for bed and go to sleep together. If it isn’t possible to go to sleep together, try to still do some activities together such as brushing your teeth. Develop a habit to look forward to each night before falling asleep, whether it’s telling each other “Good Night,” or “I love you,” or always touching each others’ hands or giving a nightly kiss. This creates an atmosphere of love and affection before you catch some zzzs.
4) Connect before you get out of bed
If you and your partner wake up at the same time, create a space to connect as you wake up. Maybe you set a first alarm to start to cuddle before beginning your day, or talk to each other about what you each have scheduled for the day. If you have different schedules where one partner leaves before the other wakes, the awake partner can still make this connection happen by offering a short but meaningful kiss or greeting before leaving, or writing a note for the sleeping partner.
5) Reach out during the work day
Along with nighttime and morning rituals, this will look different for every partner depending on your lifestyle, but the message is still the same: “I’m thinking about you.” Whether it is a text or email asking how the other’s day is going, a funny picture of yourself or an article you come across that you think your partner may find interesting, a small gesture will bring your different lives together in that moment.
6) Start Nice
The success of a 15-minute conversation can be accurately predicted by what happens in the first 3 minutes (with 96 percent accuracy!). A soft start up can drastically change the outcome of an interaction. “Why didn’t you walk the dog, you never do what I ask” may elicit a completely different conversation than “I am able to get so much more accomplished when you take Lola for a walk. Could you make sure to walk her during lunch?” While this may not be a way to connect, having positive interactions elicits the desire to connect, whereas arguments may create a space where connection is more difficult.
7) Show appreciation
Find a reason to be grateful for your partner every day, and express that appreciation. Whether it’s a chore like making the bed or preparing dinner, a parenting task, or a trait such as patience or nurturance, express gratitude for a specific action. While feeling the gratitude is helpful for you personally, expressing it makes it a point of connection.
8) Find time for yourself
The best relationships are ones where both partners feel satisfied with outside hobbies and relationships. Make time for yourself. When you return to your partner, you will feel more replenished and better able to have positive interactions with the person you love.
9) Keep each other informed
Let your partner know about your day. Set aside 10 minutes or more to share the parts of your life that they don’t get to see. Days seem monotonous> Ask each other these questions. If you are working on a big project at work, or have been trying out new potty training tactics at home, keep each other in the loop about what you are spending your energy on.
10) Celebrate Successes
You gave a presentation at work after weeks of preparation. Your toddler went pee in the potty twice. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE. Congratulate and celebrate with your spouse on big achievements, and even little ones. Find time to toast, high-five, watch a movie, or do another activity in honor of your spouse’s hard work and accomplishment! If nothing else, this is an excuse to set aside time for each other over a happy occasion.
By Amy Bishop
The Center for Family and Couple Therapy is in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.