Recently, I watched the Netflix original series Living With Yourself, which follows the story of a miserable man named Miles who visits a suspicious “spa” that promises to dramatically improve his life. He discovers he was cloned, but his clone is a way better version of him: more charismatic, more optimistic, and more loving towards Miles’s wife, who feels lonely and forgotten in the marriage.
In one scene, Clone Miles lovingly stares into the wife’s eyes. “You are so beautiful,” he says. She looks puzzled. “How was your day today?” He continues. “I want to hear all about it; your job is so interesting.” Still perplexed, his wife wonders what the heck is going on.
It got me thinking: what everyday, little things do healthy couples do to help keep their marriage on the right track? In today’s post, I answer this very question.
1. Saying good morning and good night.
Starting the day on a good note with your partner just takes a quick minute of intentionality: wake up, look into their eyes, and say good morning. Do the same thing at night. Wish them a good day at work and give them a quick kiss before they leave. These micro-moments might seem insignificant, but they have the cumulative effect of making you feel more connected to each other overall.
2. Asking about each other's day.
Ask about what they liked about their day, what they struggled with, and then—and this part is key—don’t jump into “fix it” mode if they tell you about a problem. Take off your productive, problem-solving, work hat and just be there for them. That must have been so frustrating when that happened. I so admire your ability to work with people who can be difficult sometimes.
3. Giving your undivided attention.
One of the first things to go in a relationship can simply be your presence. When your partner is talking, resist the urge to check your phone, zone out, or try to multi-task. Show that you are interested with your body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and more. Lean in when they are talking, ask questions, insert a few “mmhms,” and really let them feel that you are giving them your undivided attention. Can’t do it in the moment due to circumstances? Rather than multitasking, say, “Honey, what you’re saying sounds so important and I'd love to hear it, I’m just in the middle of something. Would you be willing to tell me about this a bit later when I can be really present?” Who can say no to that!?
4. Making “bids.”
In a fascinating study by Dr. John Gottman, it was discovered that people in happy relationships turn towards their partner about 20 times more than couples in distress during everyday discussions. “Turning towards” your partner can take many forms, like asking how their day was, showing them something that interests you, excitedly telling them to “come look at the sunset!” with you, etc. Gottman called these moments “bids for emotional connection,” which help you and your significant other create positive moments together. Don’t forget to continue turning toward your partner. And if they turn to you, respond! “Wow, that is a pretty sunset! Thanks for showing me.”
5. Being physical.
I don’t just mean sex here (though that’s important, too); I’m actually referring to the other physical stuff that often gets forgotten in the later days of a relationship: kissing, making out, holding hands, pinching each other’s butts, dancing for no reason, giving each other a massage, having a shower or bath together, etc. When couples reserve all sexual energy and physical touch for just sex, it can create a super un-sexy, stoic environment the rest of the time that inspires anything but satisfying sex. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for such couples to start having sex “just because they haven’t in awhile” rather than because they genuinely want to. I mean, it’s hard for anyone to feel sexually aroused when they don't get any sexual or playful energy 99% of the time.
6. Show appreciation.
Over time, the things we once appreciated about our partners become “givens.” Take a minute to remind yourself of all of the things your partner does—things that you could be taking for granted. Now, be sure to thank them for those things. Next time you see them doing something “inconsequential” like taking out the recycling in the morning, say, “Thank you so much for always taking out the recycling. You’ve been so reliable with that and I know it’s probably a bit of a pain. I appreciate it.” Or, you might tell them that they look nice that day and you like their outfit. These little things matter!
7. Making thoughtful gestures.
The beauty here is that these gestures don't even have to be big! Here are just some ideas:
Bring them a cup of coffee or tea
Make them breakfast in bed out of the blue one day
Have a bath waiting for them when they get home
Make dinner one night
Bring home their favourite magazine
Buy them flowers
Put a little love note on their steering wheel with a cute message
Say “I love you” like you really mean it
Give them a massage after a long day
Bring home one of their favourite treats like a chocolate bar or candy
These things don’t take very much time or energy but they make a huge difference!
8. Having fun.
Conversations between long-term couples can become super stale and business-like. When are you picking up the kids tomorrow? What do you need me to get from the grocery store? With the chaos of everyday life, we can forget how to be partners to each other rather than just parents, spouses, etc. What’s more is that Netflix makes it all too easy for us to get into the routine of mindlessly watching TV rather than genuinely connecting. Switch things up by:
Playing a card game or board game together
Going out and splitting a dessert or having a cup of tea
Asking questions about each other’s past that you might not know about
Asking questions about the other person’s hopes and dreams
Going for a walk
Going window shopping
Going on Groupon and seeing what events are on, even if they seem cheesy!
Having a philosophical conversation over a charcuterie board with ice wine and turning the TV off
Showing each other what music you’ve been listening to lately
Cook dinner or dessert together
FaceTime family members that don’t live close-by
Create something together like a scrapbook or something more hands-on like a new coffee table
Do a puzzle together
Build a fort like kids
Do a Paint Nite
Work out together (rock climbing is super fun if you aren’t into the gym!)
Have a silly lip sync battle
Never under-estimate the power of fun and laughter in a relationship. Sometimes we take each other so seriously that we forget to unwind and let loose together.
The Bottom Line
There's a great quote by scholar Yasmin Mogahed that says, “People wonder what goes wrong after the wedding day. I think it’s when giving turns to expecting and gratitude turns to entitlement.” Truer words have never been said!
The best thing about the above list is that none these habits are inherently difficult or effortful. Rather, these are small, practical, doable things that make a huge difference when you add them up over time. Do an experiment and see how engaging in these habits affects your partner if you haven’t been doing them regularly. You may be pleasantly surprised to remember that kindness begets kindness.
If you and your partner are in need of psychotherapy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment in Markham or Vaughan.