With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s only natural that many of us are thinking about love, romance, relationships, our significant other…or very violent slasher movies. Even if you hate “the Hallmark holiday,” it’s a good time to take stock of where you’re at in your current relationship. Prepare yourself for a cliche: serious, long-term relationships take work. Revolutionary, right? It’s true nonetheless. Finding your person is only part of the challenge, then you have to maintain your connection with him or her. You’re both working, you’re raising children, you have busy social lives outside of your life together–a disconnection can happen to the best of couples. Here are some specific, manageable ways to improve your relationship:
1. Pursue interests and activities together.
He has Friday night poker with the guys; you devote Wednesday evenings to a bowling league with old friends. She likes to spend Sunday mornings sleeping in; you try to attend church regularly. He prefers watching TV on any given day and you’d rather get outside and be active. It’s important, yes, to have interests and friends outside of your relationship, but you need to commit to spending time together doing fun things if you want to stay close to your partner. Otherwise, you associate being with your other half with delightful things like grocery shopping, attending parent-teacher conferences, and doing your taxes. Not exactly the stuff that romance is made of. So pursue interests together–if you both love Thai food, take a cooking class together; if you both like sports, sign up for intramural softball during the summer; even something like remodeling your home or landscaping your yard can be a bonding activity if you both enjoy it.
2. Show affection on a regular basis.
This is so important and yet takes so little effort. Give your sweetie a kiss good-bye in the morning, not just a half-wave and grunt as you pass each other in the kitchen, sleep-deprived and needing caffeine. When you get home from work, before starting dinner or running the dogs outside, take a minute to touch your partner–a hug, a kiss, a rub on the arm, whatever feels most comfortable. Make these little acts of affection a habit, and be in the moment as you do them. Make eye contact and remember why you were crazy enough about this person to partner up with them in the first place.
What not to do: this gal isn’t strengthening anything except her boyfriend’s desire to run for the door.
3. Ask questions, then listen to the answers.
“Fine, how was yours?”
Wow, that’s some deep, scintillating conversation there. But familiar to most of us, right? What if instead of asking how someone’s day was, which can be answered with one word like “good” or “okay,” you asked an open ended question like, “Tell me what you did today,” or “What happened today at work?” Show genuine interest in how the other person has been spending his or her time.
4. Kindness, kindness, kindness.
It’s hard to be with someone for the long haul. It’s hard to take on their worries, their responsibilities. It’s hard to deal with their faults and bad habits. It becomes easier to see what irritates you about them, rather than what thrills you about them. But they have a challenge, too–dealing with all your garbage. So let some of the annoying stuff go. Leaving the cap off the toothpaste; clanging their fork against their teeth when they eat; forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning. Just let some of that go and remember that your other half means well, just as you do. Holding onto grudges about your partner’s shortcomings will only serve as a detriment to the other parts of your relationship.