30 Days to a Better Relationship, Part 2
I’ve really enjoyed researching and writing both “30 days to a better relationship” articles about ways to improve your relationship. If you missed part 1 of this two-part series, I encourage you to read it here. If you read the first part, have you tried the suggestions? I’d love to know!
I’ve had lots of positive feedback from people who read part 1. Some people said it was very validating because they realized they were doing many things right in their relationship. Others said it was helpful for them to have concrete things they could do and to have the reminder to refocus energy on their relationship.
Sometimes, it feels like everything else in our lives captures our attention and our energy, and we don’t do many of the extras for our relationship. Writing these blog posts was a reminder for me to look closely at my own relationship and see what I could do to make it even better. I am fortunate to be married to the most patient and easy-going man who puts up with me constantly becoming preoccupied with work and family stuff. I am very grateful for his patience and easy-going nature.
Here is the rest of the list of 30 things you can do to improve your relationship. It isn't an exhaustive list, but enough to get you energized to make positive changes towards to better relationship. Ideally, you would both do many of things on this list for one another, but know that even if it is just you alone trying to create a better relationship, doing these things may end up inspiring your partner to change and to work on doing their part to improve your relationship.
1. Put your phone away.
I must admit to being very guilty about not doing this very well. It’s so easy to slip into the habit of checking our phones, sending a text, being on social media, or playing a game while we are with our partners. I’ve had so many clients express deep sadness that their partners are constantly distracted by or engaged in technology at times when they are together. They say they feel like they aren’t important to their partners and further, they feel their partners use their phones or other technology to avoid conversations or having an emotional connection.
Have you ever been out at a restaurant and watched a couple sitting at a table and instead of having a conversation, they both are on their phones? What a missed opportunity for them to really connect and have a special time together. I remember the first time I saw a couple on their phones at dinner. I was with two coworkers on a trip to Israel long before phones became so popular in the US.
I remember thinking how strange it was that this couple was together for dinner, but they weren’t really together because they were clearly much more interested in their phones than they were with one another. I naively thought it was perhaps an accepted cultural thing because Israel was much farther along adopting cell phone technology, but nope, I was wrong. It’s really a universal thing. Everywhere you go, you will notice couples that are together but not at all present with one another. And if you aren’t present with your partner, you aren’t connected and you are sending messages about what’s most important to you. And that message is that your partner isn't what's most important.
I know a family that had everyone put their phones in the middle of the table when they ate dinner, whether they were at home or out at a restaurant. What a great idea! We tried this in our family and it worked well, but then we fell out of the habit. Just writing this is giving me a bit of a wake-up to make some changes to my own phone usage. (I am addicted to Wordle and the NY Times mini-crossword puzzle). I hope this inspires you to try to put your phone away and pay attention to the person you love.
2. Recreate a favorite date.
How fun would this be? Just reminiscing about your favorite dates would be fun to do with your partner. You probably have multiple dates from which to choose. One of my favorite dates with my husband was going to art museums. We both love art and really enjoy taking our time wandering through the museum and then eating at the museum restaurant. We are fortunate to have a world class art museum where we live, the Nelson Art Gallery. They have an amazing restaurant in a courtyard inside the museum that makes you feel like you are in a beautiful, quaint courtyard in Italy. We love going there on dates. I bet you can think of a date with your partner that was really special and recreate it. You can surprise them for an added bonus!
3. Share something with your partner that they don't know about you.
Emotional intimacy is the closeness feeling we have with our partners. Sharing something they don’t know about you is a wonderful way to connect which will leave you feeling closer to one another. I love hearing stories about my partner’s life that I’ve never heard. Even though we’ve been together for 25 years, there are still aspects of him that are a mystery to me, and it delights me to learn a little more about him when he shares something about himself.
4. Share 6-second kisses.
Remember when you first started dating and you could kiss your partner endlessly? It was relaxing and exciting and such a turn-on to kiss one another and explore every inch of their lips. Fast forward many years and typically, those kisses have become utilitarian pecks on the cheek or a quick kiss in passing. Many times, your mind is elsewhere, preoccupied with the busyness of the day, and not on a loving connection with your partner. John and Julie Gottman, celebrated researchers and therapists in the field of couple’s counseling, found that a 6-second kiss was a helpful way to slow life down and feel physically close and emotionally connected to your partner.
You can also share a 6-second kiss goodbye in the morning when you part, when you come home at the end of the day and when you go to bed. I often suggest 6-second kisses to couples. Even if they slightly shorten it, the kiss will be more than a peck and long enough to stoke the flames of connection and increase your feelings of love.
5. Talk about what you are grateful for in your lives.
In the past decade, the concept of gratitude has become popular in the mainstream, and for good reasons. Gratitude has been shown to actually change your brain and to help mental health by increasing feelings of happiness and decreasing depression. Sharing what you are grateful for is a way to have a way to learn more about your partner and feel closer to them.
6. Make a list of things that are wonderful about your partner.
Pull out a piece of paper and write whatever comes to mind. Don’t overthink. This is a great exercise to do to build gratitude for your partner. It’s also a great exercise to do during those inevitable low points in your relationship. It’s very rare to have a relationship that is an A+ every day, month, and year. During the times I have felt myself disengaging in my relationship, I’ve intentionally made a list of the things I respect and love about my partner. And when I’ve done this, I began noticing my partner doing the things on my list, and I felt closer. I’ve learned that whenever I am annoyed at my partner, I can do this exercise and quickly snap out of whatever annoyance I’m feeling.
7. Say 5 things you are grateful for or appreciate about each other.
This builds upon the list you made about the things that are wonderful about your partner. Now is your chance to share some of those with your partner. Research about expressing gratitude in relationships has shown that people who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners report being more appreciative of their partners. Findings also suggest that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude, which could contribute to improved mental health and more feelings of appreciation for your partner over time.
8. Thank your partner for something they did for you.
Thanking your partner is a way of expressing gratitude to them, which studies have found increases the partner’s feelings of relationship satisfaction. A UC Berkeley study recommended two core ingredients for any thank you’s: praising your partner’s actions and the benefit to you. Further, it reported the following take-aways:
- If you feel grateful, don’t forget to show it.
- If you are going to elaborate, don’t forget to put the “you” in thank you.
- Be sincere and appropriate to the situation and relationship
9. Tell one another about 3 childhood memories.
What an easy and fun way to learn even more about your partner. I’ll bet there are interesting stories about their childhood that you’ve never heard. This also is a great activity to do with your adult children or with other couple friends.
10. Offer help without having to be asked.
In many relationships, responsibilities are divided, with many of the household chores falling to the female. Our culture promotes individualism and celebrates people who can do things themselves, without needing help. It also fosters beliefs that women should be caretakers and thus “take care” of many aspects of running a house and family.
For many people, asking for help can be difficult because they feel they aren’t enough if they have to ask for help. Not feeling like you are enough is one of the most common unconscious core beliefs people struggle with, which is why Brene´ Brown’s teachings with “you are enough” messages resonate for so many people.
Offering to help your partner or jumping in with an extra set of hands communicates caring and recognition of the demands your partner is juggling. It also promotes a sense of teamwork in a relationship. Be proactive and specific. “Can I pick anything up for you on my way home? Can I set the table while you finish cooking? Can I do the dishes so you can return your work email’s? Can I take your shirts to the dry cleaners? Can I fold the load of laundry in the dryer?”
11. Be curious about your partner - their day, dreams, desires.
Doing this shows interest in your partner which communicates care and love. I really like the concept of being curious. Fast Company wrote about the habits of curious people in this 2015 article. Three habits were:
- They listen without judgement
- They seek surprise
- They're fully present
Tania Luna, coauthor of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected. “When we have too much surprise, we experience anxiety, but when we don’t have enough, we get bored and disengaged,” she says. “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”
12. Watch the sunset together.
Noticing the vast beauty of the sunset is such a calming and relaxing experience. You can make it even better by deliberately driving or hiking somewhere with a great sunset view. I am obsessed with sunsets. When we moved, being able to see an unobstructed sunset was a priority for me. I love nature and delight in noticing the grandeur that surrounds us, whether it’s the contrast of the vibrant color of fall leaves across a landscape, the way Aspen leaves sound when they blow in the wind, the first few flowers poking up through the ground in the spring, or the smell of being on a hiking trail in the woods. Pausing to appreciate the beauty around us is a mindful way to be present and grateful, and sharing this experience with your partner can be very fulfilling.
13. See your partner in a new light.
Observing your partner interacting with others when they are in their element has been shown to cause you to perceive them in a new light. It can show you parts of their personality or highlight their abilities and can remind you of some of the reasons you became attracted to them. You can do this by observing them interact with friends or when you are out with another couple by taking note of how others see them. It might be noting how kind they are, how well they tell jokes or the knowledge they have about a subject. The next time you go out with another couple, pay attention to this. You might be surprised by how it makes you feel closer to your partner.
14. Write a note for your partner that says "I Love You."
There are tons of ways you can communicate your love through a simple note. You can:
- Tape a note to their steering wheel
- Put a note under their pillow
- Write “I love you” on the bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker.
- Send an “I love you” text or GIF.
- Put a note in their purse, bag or briefcase.
- Write it on their calendar
- Put a note in their favorite coffee mug
- Put a note in their shoe or shirt pocket or in their underwear drawer
Be creative! Another wonderful part of doing this is that it’s a surprise, and surprises release dopamine, which makes them feel good.
15. Flirt with one another like you did when you dated.
Remember how fun it was to flirt with one another when you first began dating, when you could communicate so many things with a look or smile? Remember how great it felt when someone flirted with you? Be playful and flirt with your partner. Make them feel desired. Dress flirty, talk flirty, act flirty – whatever feels authentic to you.
16. Give your partner a greeting card.
Visit your local Hallmark store and buy a real card that feels true to both of you. It can be an “I love you” card, a thinking of you, or a blank card, and it can be serious or funny. Slide it under their pillow, stealthily put it somewhere unexpected where they’ll find it, or mail it to them, either to work or to home. There’s something about holding a physical card in your hands that makes it feel special. Plus, who doesn't like to receive a card whose sole purpose is to make them feel good?
17. Tell one another about a personal desire that is unfulfilled.
Sharing a desire or dream you have that you haven’t yet fulfilled is an act of vulnerability. It’s helping your partner to understand you better and to see your humanity. Brene´ Brown’s research has shown that vulnerability connects people. It is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Rather than being a sign of weakness, it’s an act of courage. Being vulnerable with your partner helps to create a safe space for them to share their thoughts, dreams, and concerns.
18. Look at photos of your partner.
Research studies show that simply looking at photos of your partner can increase your feelings of love and relationship satisfaction. You can do this by:
- Making their photo be your phone or computer screen saver
- Framing a favorite photo of them for your desk
- Keeping photos of them around your home where you’ll see them every day.
19. Make a shared bucket list.
Have you ever created a bucket list for your relationship? This could be things such as: wanting to travel somewhere, taking a road trip, buying a vacation home, doing a hobby together, going skydiving, taking a cooking class together, going on a couple’s cruise, making fondue, learning to play bridge, retirement plans, and where to live. I encourage couples to create both short-term and long-term bucket lists. There is a lot of power in writing down your goals as research has shown that writing them down increases the odds that you will achieve them. As Steven R. Covey said in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” So, work with your partner to envision some of the “ends” or goals for your bucket list. And then go do some of them!
I hope these ideas will be a starting point for you to intentionally focus on improving your relationship. Long-term love is a daily choice and great relationships take work and effort. You will need to consistently do things over time to strengthen your relationship and your emotional intimacy.
Don’t forget to re-evaluate your relationship after you have done many of these activities. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate your progress.
I encourage you to continue your journey toward building a close, connected, emotionally intimate relationship. If you’ve found new activities or ideas that helped you grow even closer, I’d love to hear about them!
So what's your takeaway? What's something you can implement in your life so you can get your needs met?
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