As a couple, when you’re dealing with the many demands of day-to-day life, it can feel like the fun has been zapped from your relationship. But contrary to popular opinion, you don’t necessarily have to do anything spectacular or pricey to bring the enjoyment back.
Below, Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Denver who specializes in couples and author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage, offers a simple 2-step plan to perk up your relationship.
1. Do a joy audit.
Ask yourself ”How much time are we devoting to doing things that we enjoy as a couple?”
Consider a further question. “How enjoyable are we making time together when the activity we need to do isn’t essentially fun?” For instance, you can easily turn “have-to” activities such as cleaning, cooking or running errands into enjoyable shared time, Heitler says.
Also, how much do you enjoy talking to each other? “In general, people enjoy talking together when there’s two things: positivity and new information or ideas,” Heitler says. For instance, she says that positive words like “Yes, I agree,” “That’s an interesting idea,” “I appreciate that,” and “I’m so glad” “create a positive and joyful tone.”
Heitler adds, “What suck the juice out of a relationship are words like ‘but,’ ‘don’t’ and ‘not. These negative words work like subtraction signs.
“They subtract out the positivity in a conversation. And they subtract out the enjoyment that can come from learning new ideas and information from each other.”
2. Design a joy plan.
As a couple, consider, “How might we add more fun to our daily, weekly, monthly or yearly routines?” Carving out time with your loved one doesn’t have to be complicated or an expensive experience.
For instance, Heitler and her family had a foreign exchange student living with them years ago. After dinner, he would sit down in the family room as if he expected the family to gather. So the family added this together time into their routine. They’d hang out, play board and card games, laugh and tell stories before eventually turning on the TV or focusing on personal projects.
Also, ask yourselves, “What could we do a little differently that could make routine activities more fun?” Heitler says. For instance, when you’re cleaning in the kitchen, turn on music or take this time to share what happened during your day.
What makes working together enjoyable with your partner “is the attitude you bring to the activity, plus your attitude toward each other.” So depending on your attitude, “Doing some of these normal daily routine activities as a team can bring forth surprising amounts of joy and affection,” Heitler says.
When it comes to talking with each other, “instead of disagreeing disagreeably by pointing out what’s wrong in what your partner says, listen to find something that you can agree with,” Heitler says.
For example, let’s say that your partner suggests bungee jumping for a new kind of fun and you’re thinking, “No way!” Rather than shooting him or her down, you might say, “Yes, that would be new, different and exciting.” Then you can add, “and at the same time, I had a friend who got injured so I’m scared about that happening.”
The key to “disagreeing agreeably is to agree and then add,” says Heitler. “That way instead of negating your partner’s idea, you’re agreeing with at least some aspect of it before adding your ‘and at the same time’ concerns.”
When partners do this, she explains, “Both perspectives stay on the table. Conversations are more fun when both of you feel like what you say is getting heard.”
How do you enhance the joy in your relationship? If you’ve tried doing a joy audit, what did you find?
You can learn more about couples specialist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, at her website. Heitler has also co-created a program called Power of Two, which teaches couples the skills to build healthy and happy relationships.