It’s official. Summer has started. For you this might mean a more relaxed few months. Or it might mean a busy season at work with more responsibilities. It might mean lots to do at home, trying to entertain bored, adventure-seeking kids.
But whether you have more or less time, consider carving out some time to nurture your relationship.
“One of the best ways to foster a connection is shared activities,” said Christina Steinorth-Powell, MFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples counseling in Santa Barbara, Calif. Shared activities give couples something fun to focus on, instead of the monotony of routine conversations, tasks and to-dos.
Shared activities also give couples a chance to collaborate when planning the activity and participating in it, she said. This involves “practicing your communication skills at a time when it’s fun to do so and doesn’t feel so much like ‘work.’”
If you’re trying a new activity, the experience often sparks playfulness and laughter, said Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in couples, premarital and newlywed counseling. It encourages partners to turn to each other to cope with fears and anxieties and communicate about their needs and feelings, she said. It also encourages growth as a couple, she added.
Below, Steinorth-Powell and Hansen revealed shared activities couples can try this summer.
1. Recreate your first date.
“It will help remind you why you fell in love in the first place,” said Steinorth-Powell, also author of the book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. For instance, one couple went to a seaside arcade, and had a blast. They wondered why they ever stopped doing such fun activities together. In fact, most partners say this to Steinorth-Powell after trying this exercise.
Another couple took a spontaneous road trip for two weeks without any agenda. This reminded them of how carefree they were when they first started dating, she said. And, most importantly, it “reminded them that they do enjoy each other’s company.”
2. Take a hike.
“When we walk with our partner, we are able to have conversations without the interference of non-verbal cues,” such as grimaces, curious looks and furrowed brows, said Hansen, who has a private practice in Newport Beach, Calif. This is a good thing.
“Instead you are focused on the environment around you, which removes some pressure in the conversation and allows you to speak more freely.”
3. Take a road trip.
When you’re riding in the car, side by side, you also have the opportunity for deep, meaningful conversations, Hansen said. And, again, because this is a shared experience, you’re having to make decisions together (where to eat, sleep, stop and stay); work as a team; compromise to meet each other’s needs; and work on your communication, she said. Naturally, all of these elements are key for healthy, connected relationships.
Plus, “a road trip often leads to unexpected events and experiences that will make you laugh, cry, and find yourself in awe, which will help keep you bonded and connected as a couple. “
4. Sleep naked.
“When we fall in love, we typically experience high levels of oxytocin, which gives us that heady feeling during the first stages of our relationship,” said Steinorth-Powell. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone, which we can increase with skin-to-skin contact, she said.
Research has found that elevated levels of oxytocin reduce blood pressure and even the risk of heart disease, she said. This “kind of makes sleeping naked with your partner the gift that keeps on giving.”
5. Join a co-ed sports team.
This not only lets you share an activity together, Steinorth-Powell said, but it also gives you the opportunity to make mutual friends, cheer each other on and expand your support network.
6. Cook dinner from scratch one night a week.
“Cooking from scratch is a great way to work as a team and practice communicating and sharing ideas with one another,” Steinorth-Powell said. Plus, you can take this activity further by checking out interesting gourmet shops and local farmers’ markets, she said.
7. Try something new.
First talk about what you’ve always wanted to do, learn and try, Hansen said. She suggested asking open-ended questions. Then create a separate list of activities for each partner.
Pick one activity from each list to try this summer as a couple, Hansen said. For instance, this might include everything from sailing to paddle boarding to rock climbing to motorcycle riding.
“Not only will you benefit from the meaningful conversation and shared experiences, but you will also demonstrate support and interest in your spouse and what matters to them.”
Relationships require tending. We can’t expect our connection to flourish if we don’t attend to it. One way to cultivate our connection is by participating in shared activities. As Steinorth-Powell said, “Bonding experiences are vital in keeping relationships happy and healthy.”
Couple hiking photo available from Shutterstock