6. The little things can help you stay connected.
“Having little predictable rituals that can be counted on as a point of connection” is essential for couples, Blum said. This includes anything from walking the dog on Sunday mornings to having brunch after church to breaking out a bottle of wine every Thursday, she said.
Little gestures, like texting your partner that you’re thinking about them, also go a long way. Blum likens it to keeping plants in your home: You must take care of them regularly, so they don’t wither away. “Small loving affirmation” is “the oil in the engine of a happy relationship.”
7. Checking in with each other helps you stay connected, too.
It’s important to regularly ask: “What have we done to nurture our relationship today?” Blum said. Batshaw referred to this as tak[ing] each other’s pulse and temperature about where you are in the relationship.”
Take stock of your strengths in a relationship.
When thinking about your relationship as a whole, Batshaw suggested taking stock of your strengths. Separately, ask yourselves, “What do I do well?” “What do I feel I’m bringing to the relationship that’s really positive? What do we do as a couple that’s really positive?” Take an honest assessment of your weaknesses, too. “In what areas do I feel like I need to improve? As a couple, what areas do we need to focus more attention on?”
8. Be able to talk about tough topics.
This advice comes from Kristen Morrison, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist at The Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence.
Communication is key to making relationships work. Couples need to be able to talk about “areas of disagreement without it turning into a big fight or avoiding [the topic],” she said. And there’s “no need to be afraid because you’re going to be attacked by your partner,” Batshaw said.
9. Resolve conflict “early and often—don’t let stuff accumulate ‘under the rug,’” Blum said.
“If you can’t resolve conflicts productively, you’re really in trouble,” she said. Not surprisingly, unsettled conflict just simmers, festers and creates a deep divide between couples.
Conflict is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be the enemy. “If you can resolve conflict in a way that both partners feel heard” and like their feelings and needs matter to the other person, then conflict is “an opportunity to get to know each other better and to grow together.”
Even though it doesn’t look like it on the surface, most conflict is “about trying to express needs,” which “we do through swinging the sledgehammer,” Blum said.
One of the best ways to approach conflict is with empathy and compassion—like you would your best friend if they’re having issues with their partner, Blum said. You’d listen to them as they’re relaying what happened, and try to understand the situation from their perspective. With your partner, listen to what’s “making them unhappy.” You might have to dig deep. “It may sound like criticism. But if you can hear [their needs] underneath…it goes a long way to resolving conflict.”
In the same way, partners need to be able to express their needs “without assassinating the other person.” Also, “We need to know how to actively listen, reflect and clarify. It’s being able to be responsive and present to the other person.”
Morrison suggested these communication strategies:
- Use I statements: “When you do ______, I feel _______, because _______.” Morrison shared this example: “When you come home late, I feel sad and disregarded, because I really want to spend time with you.” In other words, “The key is to define a specific behavior, identify how it makes you feel and explain why you feel that way. It can be a helpful tool for expressing concerns, because you’re not presenting the concern as an accusation” or absolute fact.
- Avoid using extremes like “always, never, every time.”
- Don’t name-call.
- “Timing is really key.” Instead of “diving head first into a tough topic when someone walks through the door,” find a good time to talk.
- “Take one specific issue that’s going on and talk about it.” Oftentimes, couples “try to take on their entire world of problems at once,” which is overwhelming. Instead, take one small piece of the problem. You’re also more likely to have success.
If you’re still stuck, try short-term couples therapy, Blum said.