Enhancing your relationship is about giving it regular attention, effort and care. It is about cultivating your connection. It is about cherishing and supporting your partner. And there are simple ways we can do all these things.
Of course, relationships are complex and multilayered. But that doesn’t mean that working on your relationship is necessarily complex, too. Sometimes it might be. Sometimes it’s not. Below couples therapists share seven simple suggestions to help you enhance your relationship.
Jot down what helps you feel loved
“Many times partners love one another, but have lost track of what makes the other ‘feel loved,’” said Dean Parker, Ph.D, a psychologist in Dix Hills, NY, who specializes in relationship counseling and sex therapy. Which is why he suggested each partner write down five things their significant other can do or say to make them feel loved. Be sure to include only positive suggestions, without any critical comments about your partner, Parker said.
For instance, you might write: helping out around the house; buying a small gift (without it being a special occasion); listening to how your day went.
Set time aside to be partners
“When folks have busy lives—careers, children, domestic chores, caring for family members—they can lose their sense of partnership,” Parker said. Create a time every week that you can spend with each other, without friends or family.
This might mean going to the movies, the theater, or a sporting event—or doing anything that interests both of you, he said. If money is an issue, get creative. For instance, Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT, a psychotherapist and founder of Love and Life Toolbox, suggested planning a picnic at the park or at home. (You’ll find other creative activities here and here.)
“The act of carving out time for the relationship, being creative and thoughtful about all the details makes [your partner] feel cared about,” Kift said. “It puts the focus back on [your] relationship.”
Plan for sexual intimacy
“If good communication is the lyrics to a healthy relationship, physical intimacy is the music,” Parker said. In addition to pleasure, sexual intimacy is key for maintaining our connection. Sexual intimacy is the best way to release the hormone oxytocin, which is called “the cuddle chemical” or “hug hormone” and “helps couples to maintain their closeness to one another.”
Sometimes, when lives get complicated, it’s important to plan for intimacy, including the time and place, Parker said. “After all, we have routines for most other things we do in our lives, some that we don’t enjoy.”
Check in with each other
Kift suggested checking in with each other every day or several times a week. For instance, every night, you talk and cuddle on the couch for 15 minutes after the kids are fast asleep. Or you spend a few minutes in the morning huddled around the coffeemaker.
At its core, a check-in is “about getting an emotional read on [each] other,” she said. It’s a chance to ask: “How are you? How are we?” And if you have more time, it’s an opportunity “to clear the air on any hard feelings, misunderstandings or perceived slights.”
For example, your husband normally kisses you goodbye when he leaves for work. But today he didn’t. And you’ve been wondering about it the entire day. So you bring this up during your check-in. Your husband apologizes and explains that he was preoccupied with a huge project at work—and forgot. This relieves a small wound you’ve been carrying and helps to clarify your negative assumptions, Kift said. A regular check-in is a powerful way to not only connect to each other, but to stop a conflict from ballooning.
Perform romantic gestures
Your romantic gestures don’t need to be lavish. They can be small and sweet. Tuck a love note under your partner’s pillow or inside their purse or work bag, Kift said. Send them a loving text during the day. Surprise your spouse at work with lunch. Send flowers or chocolates or their favorite food.
Make sure your partner knows you “like” them
“I tell all the couples I work with they should live their lives in a way that their partner can at any given moment answer this simple question: How do you know your partner/spouse/significant other likes you?” said Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, a counseling psychologist in Chandler, Ariz. who specializes in working with couples.
She uses the word “like” instead of “love” to avoid responses such as “because we’re married” or “because we’ve been together for X number of years.”
Your responses might include everything from “because she knows what sauce I like with my chicken nuggets” to “because he tells me I’m beautiful before I put my make up on” to “because he makes me coffee in the morning” to “because she kisses me before I brush my teeth,” she said.
“Work toward making it a thing that your partner knows you like them.”
Talk to your partner as if you’re being recorded
Imagine that your friends, family, boss, and coworkers are going to see and hear this tape, said Saenz-Sierzega. In other words, “be mindful of your tone, be intentional in your word choice, and always be respectful.” Which is something many of us neglect to do. In fact, many of us treat strangers with more courtesy—by opening the door and being polite—than we do our own partner, she said.
Like anything worthwhile, relationships take work. But it is meaningful, beautiful work. These seven tips can help you get started.