So much of our lives are tied to our romantic partner. Our time, plans, energy, emotion, preoccupations, goals… if you’re in a relationship, there are few aspects of your life that you approach independently. Rather, you navigate your days influencing and being influenced by your romantic partner.
Given the clear importance of our romantic partners in shaping our experiences, having the best possible relationships we can, then, becomes a critical pursuit. What daily exercises can you do to improve your relationship?
First, recognize that happy, thriving relationships are not achieved. Rather, happy relationships are cultivated by continual investment from both partners. People in happy relationships nurture their relationship every day; they create healthy interdependence, they work at meeting each others’ needs, and they are committed to each other. If it seems that some couples do this easily, they likely have developed a set of habits that are now a regular part of their interactions. Any couple can adopt these habits to reset and revitalize their relationship.
What can you do to improve your relationship? Research offers a picture of the habits adopted by healthy couples and reveals ways to make small changes that could have considerable payout in relationship well-being.
- Recognize your stress and manage it. If work, friends, or your family are causing you stress, chances are your partner – and your relationship- are affected too. Recent research highlights the spillover effect of stress, no matter its origin, into the functioning of a romantic partnership (Randall & Bodenmann, 2017). By practicing self-awareness of your own stress level and engaging in the work to manage those stresses (e.g., employing healthy coping techniques; meditating; exercising, sleeping, and eating well), you stand to help your own well-being as well as your relationship.
- Save the texting for later. As tempting as a quick glance might be, interrupting time with your partner to check your phone may be a habit worth quitting. The danger of Pphubbing (partner-phone-snubbing) is that its frequency predicts relationship dissatisfaction, particularly if the couple has already come into conflict over phone use (Roberts & David, 2016). The take-away? When you’re hanging out with your partner, give your attention to your partner and refrain from – or at least minimize – your attention to your phone.
- Feed your self-control. If you were given a voodoo doll and told it was your partner, how many pins would you stick in? Couples in a 21-day study were given this opportunity and researchers learned that lower blood glucose levels (i.e., sugar) predicted more pins, i.e., greater aggressive impulse (Bushmann, DeWall, Pond, & Hanus, 2014). So, before you bring up that annoying thing that your partner did, consider checking your hunger and having a snack to fuel your ability to self-regulate. Enhancing your own self-control may help support the healthy interactions that make for a strong relationship.
- Give some post-sex attention. Couples who spend more time sharing post-sex affection (e.g., cuddling, kissing) tend to have higher sexual satisfaction and romantic satisfaction (Muise, Giang, & Impett, 2014). These bonding behaviors during the vulnerable moments after a sexual encounter may help support intimacy and trust; their link to relationship satisfaction suggests they could be a valuable way to support a health, happy relationship.
- Practice effective forgiving. Sometimes partners hurt each other. Maybe it’s minor irritations, miscommunications, or annoyances that pass quickly, but sometimes partners seriously offend, insult, or wound each others’ feelings. Forgiveness tends to predict relationship satisfaction, but the way in which forgiveness is communicated may make a difference (Sheldon, Gilchrist-Petty, & Lessley, 2014). Using non-verbal strategies (e.g., a hug) or minimizing techniques (e.g., “it’s no big deal”) tends to predict relationship satisfaction fmore than discussion strategies (e.g., talking about what happened and associated feelings), conditional approaches (e.g., “I’ll forgive, if you…”), or explicit statements of forgiveness.
- Let yourself be playful. Couples appear to benefit from playfulness, the ability to create amusement, fun, and humor in different situations. Research shows that playfulness predicts relationship satisfaction (Proyer, 2014), suggesting that supporting your own – and your partner’s – playful side might be a fun way to invest in the long-term happiness of your relationship.
There are myriad approaches to cultivating a healthy, happy romantic relationship, but the above habits do reflect certain themes. First, take care of yourself. By investing in your own mental and physical well-being, you’ll be better able to think clearly and bring your best self to your relationship. Second, give your partner attention. Not only will attention allow you to make the most of your leisure time together, but it will also help you know what your partner’s needs are and how to best to support him or her.