Regardless of what others might tell you, relationships are hard work. We live in a world that pressures us to believe that we will know we have found our soul mate when things just seem to work. But if it sounds too good to be true, it’s a pretty safe bet that it is too good to be true.
The reality is that relationships require an investment. There is nothing automatic. There are no gimmes. Both partners have to roll up their sleeves and commit to doing the hard work of relationship building. But, like any difficult task, it might be best to break it down into more manageable chunks.
Let’s look at three incredibly easy things you can start doing today to improve your relationship with your partner.
1. Ask New Questions
One of the things that we find couples do less and less is engage in meaningful conversation. Instead, we often choose to ask the same, repetitive questions: How was you day? What do you want for dinner? What do you want to watch tonight? Routines can be nice and having emotional conversations can be sometimes be draining. But, engaging in deeper conversation does a couple of important things for our relationship. We show our partner by our actions that we are interested in them and that they are important. We provide a safe space for them to share about the things that concern them.
One way to promote creative and helpful conversation is to start asking creative, open-ended questions. Take some time – maybe 20 minutes during dinner or before your favorite show begins – to simply talk. You can find lists of open-ended questions pretty easily online (here’s one to get you started). Try it for a week. You’ll be amazed at how much better your conversation flows throughout the entire day!
Give Them a Hug
This one seems too simple to be true. Give your partner a hug. You probably give your partner a hug every single day? How is this helpful?
Before we dismiss this, let me give you a little more information.
Research has found something remarkable about hugging. When you hold your partner in a close embrace, there is a hormone called oxytocin that is released into your blood stream. You might remember from biology class that oxytocin is the same hormone that is released when a mother is given birth and it helps to create a sense of connection.
The catch? You have to hug for at least twenty seconds. Try it. Hold your partner close in a tight embrace and set a timer if you need to. It's not about using a hug as a substitute for working though the problems you may be having. It is about creating a sense of connection. When you start to feel more connected, it gives you a great foundation on which to build.
3. Put Down the Phone
I know you love you phone. I love my phone too. There is so much to read, so many friends on Facebook to keep up with. So many texts that seem to want our immediate attention. It’s a never-ending stream of information. And this is precisely the issue.
The immediacy of information that our technology allows also creates a false sense of urgency – that we have to stay connected in case that important call or message comes in. But this is most often a lie. Truth be told, it’s more than reasonable for us to leave our phone in another room during dinner. In most cases, our world won’t come crashing down if we leave our phone face down and out of arm’s reach.
The same thing is true of laptops and tablets and video games. Put them away. At least put them away long enough to spend some significant time with the person you love. If you’ve not been together all day and, when you come home, you continue to be immersed in a virtual world, what will you partner think? It can be subtle or blatant but the message that is most often received is that “They would rather be somewhere else instead of here with me.”
Let’s make sure that this is not the message we are sending. Your challenge is to put the the phone down for an evening. Turn on the do not disturb setting. Leave it in another room. Initially, you might find yourself reaching for it, patting your pants pockets trying to locate it. Soon, though, you will find yourself reaching for your partner instead.
The work of improving your relationship is a life-long task. But it’s worth it. And it can start with just three simple steps.
After ten years in digital media and marketing, Desmond recently graduated with a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy from Pfeiffer University. He is currently working towards becoming licensed as a therapist in North Carolina. His wife, Kristy Yetman, is the owner of Yetman Counseling Services.
Desmond writes about relationships and life at his blog, PartSaintAndPartSinner.com.