Is a regular date night feeling challenging or impossible in your relationship right now? Then this post is for you in particular, and I hope that life slows down soon so the two of you can run away together for at least a day or a weekend.
But these relationship hacks are also for every couple that wants to have a lasting and joyful bond in the midst of their busy lives.
Every relationship needs daily TLC to keep running smoothly – whether you are both consultants who travel four days out of the week, your partner is working 12+ hour days and you’re home with the kids, or you’re both nomadic travel bloggers who spend all your time together.
Though we’d all love to have frequent date nights and romantic weekends away, here are 3 simple things that you can do to stay connected on the numerous ordinary days in between:
1) Touch (and yes – quantity and quality are both important)
Many of us have heard before that physical touch releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which decreases stress and increases feelings of closeness and security.
Even something as simple as a thirty-second, full body hug on the way out the door before work can make a huge difference in your relationship. And I really mean thirty seconds (or more!) to enjoy the full effects, not a quick peck on the cheek and a pat on the shoulder. And here’s a few bonus ideas to increase touch, for when busy folks do find themselves in close proximity:
*Sit closer together (or touching) when you’re finishing up some work at home in the evening
*Trade checking Facebook for a quick shoulder rub or cuddle in between household tasks
*Make hugs and kisses the first thing you do in the morning – before you check your phone (even if you start your day at different times)
2) Active Downtime (with your phone out of sight)
Did you know that studies show even having your cell phone face down on the table next to you can be a major distraction? So even if your only plan after work is to watch your favorite show on Netflix, keep your phones silent and out of sight for those thirty minutes. Bonus points if you do this during dinner or leave your phones at home while you go for a walk. This might not be able to happen every day, but even having some intentional unplugged time sprinkled throughout the week can lead to increased intimacy through active conversations and activities, whether that involves a deep conversation over a meal or just catching up on the latest episode of Bojack Horseman.
3) Little Messages (texts, post-its, haikus on the back of junk mail – whatever works to express yourself)
If you’ve been feeling distant from your partner lately (which happens to everyone, especially couples with a lot to juggle), double down on the mushy gushy stuff. When you find yourself at work thinking of a funny memory or inside joke, shoot your partner a quick text and tell them so. Leave a flirty post-it on the mirror for them to see if you leave for work earlier.
Or just say I love you, even if it’s been quite a long time since you’ve “felt” that warm and fuzzy feeling. In a long-term, committed relationship “love” is a verb – it’s walking alongside one another not just when you feel close, but through times of prolonged stress, hardship and the often boring grind of everyday life.
It’s been shown that even smiling when you don’t “feel” happy activates neuropeptides to decrease stress. The same goes for expressing love to our partner. When life and work gets in the way and you’re feeling disconnected, being generous in loving words and gestures can go a long way in getting you back on track to feeling intimate (bonus points if your little messages to your partner are both serious and silly, because humor and play can be the quickest route to decrease stress and feel connected).
Daily positive behaviors like these keep gas in the tank of your relationship. According to Dr. John Gottman, famed researcher on marital stability and relationship analysis, the happiest couples have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions – and intentionally implementing small changes like those described above can help you and your partner achieve and maintain that average even in the busiest and most stressful seasons of your life.
However, like all cars, sometimes our relationship needs a more extensive tune-up. Think big moments when folks are working through infidelity, grief and loss, extended periods of disconnection, infertility and major life transitions. Do you have a trusty relationship mechanic that you can turn to in times of need for support and encouragement? This can be a trusted family member, friend, pastor, therapist – or ideally a combination of several different resources in your corner for when the road gets rocky.
An important side note: it can be most helpful to see a therapist before or in the beginning stages of a difficult chapter in your relationship – too often, couples come to therapy when in their minds, the transmission of their relationship has already blown – and neither have the resources to fix it. We can dig deeper into this phenomenon in another post. Click here to learn more about when it’s a good idea to go to couples therapy.
With the right toolbox and support system (and just a little elbow grease each day) even the busiest of couples can keep their relationships running smoothly for a lifetime.