While Hollywood tries to pedal those hot and heavy romances that burn bright and fast, we all know the truth: What everyone really wants is for their love lives to reflect those first 10 minutes of the movie “Up.”
We all want someone who “gets” us. We want to be understood, seen, loved, and appreciated for our little quirks and oddities. We want someone who’ll hold our hands while we’re climbing up the hill, trying to catch our breaths. We want someone to hold our shoulders when we cry. We want someone to have adventures and grow old with.
It’s no surprise that relationships like that take a lot of work and won’t just happen overnight. But with the right habits, you can cultivate an Up-like romance that will stand the test of time.
So, in honor of Valentine’s weekend, today we bring you some tried and true tips for building healthier, happier relationships. While these are primarily geared toward a romantic partner, you can apply most of them to other types of relationships you want to improve in your life (friends, children, co-workers, neighbors, your Great Aunt Marge, etc.).
When it comes to co-existing with another human, you have two choices: you can focus on the good or you can focus on the bad. Whichever one you look for most, you’ll see. Make a conscious effort to think about everything you love about your spouse/partner. That’ll prime the pump for deeper affection!
Talk about the tough stuff
In your efforts to stay positive, don’t overcorrect by being too positive. (You’ve probably heard the term “toxic positivity,” right?) Couples need to be able to share the good and the bad with each other. If you’re having a hard day or something is keeping you up at night, tell your partner! You don’t have to be a Debbie Downer all the time and treat them like a dumping ground for all your complaints, but share what’s in your heart and mind on a regular basis. It’ll make them feel good to know that you trust them enough to share, which will strengthen your relationship.
Be genuinely happy to see each other
No one wants to feel like old news, least of all your spouse or partner. So here’s what you do: Get into the habit of lighting up every time they enter the room. You don’t have to go over the top and throw streamers or anything, but just smile and say “hey!” If you want a really good example of this, just think about how your dog acts when you get home after being gone all day. (You can tone down the excitement a notch, but the general idea is the same.)
Say thank you every day
A little gratitude goes a long way, friends. A simple, “I appreciate all you do,” or “Thank you for changing the toilet paper roll” can work wonders. You can definitely show your gratitude with your actions, but actually saying the words “thank you” is important, too. Especially if your sweetie is a “words of affirmation” type of person.
Check in during the day
Assuming you work in separate locations, 8 or 10 hours is a long time to go without speaking to one another. A simple text at lunchtime or whenever you get the chance sends more than an SMS message. It lets them know you’re thinking about them.
Respect your time with them
It can be so easy to get distracted by outside things when you’re in a relationship. Whether that’s friends, work, or that little cell phone in your pocket, don’t let anything take away too much time from your loved ones. Sure, every once in a while, hang out with your besties or take a little “me time” to shop all the aisles at Target. But let your spouse know that he or she is Numero Uno when it comes to priorities.
Be physically close
Alright, slow down, tiger. We’re not necessarily talking about bedroom stuff here (though that’s important, too). No, this means that if you’re sitting down on the couch, at the dinner table, or in a church pew, sit next to your spouse or s/o. Not only does this send the message of “hey, I like you,” but physical touch also releases that feel-good hormone, oxytocin.
Kiss — for this long
Speaking of oxytocin, there’s nothing like some good kissin’ to get those feel-good hormones running! But don’t just settle for a little peck on the cheek. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends that couples share a 6-second kiss each day because “a six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.” So set that timer on your Apple Watch and pucker up!
Support each other’s passions
So your husband loves cars and you don’t. That’s fine! Don’t roll your eyes every time he drools at a passing Lamborghini on the freeway. Lean into it. Send him pictures of his favorite cars that you spot around town. Go with him to test drive a few on a free Saturday. Stuff like that can mean the world.
Don’t keep score
The minute you start to tally things in your mind (e.g., laundry, dishes, bill paying, grocery shopping) you can start to feel resentful if your other half seems to be slacking a bit in one of the “categories” you’ve created. Instead of demanding equity, be the one in the relationship who serves happily. Don’t tidy up the house out of duty or a sense of martyrdom; do it out of love! After all, there are probably plenty of things your spouse/significant other does that you may not be aware of.
Have a “thing” that’s just between the two of you
Be it a secret handshake, an inside joke, or a simple pleasure (indulging in a treat while you watch your favorite TV show, for example) — have something that you two do on a regular basis that helps you connect in a unique way.
Sometimes your s/o is going to forget things (like that milk you asked them to pick up on the way home). Sometimes they’ll leave dishes in the sink of your newly cleaned kitchen. They might even be a little short with you when you ask them questions like, “How was your day?”
Don’t assume that they’re doing any of this out of spite. Like you, they’re probably just doing the best they can — and some days are a little harder than others. Be a little more forgiving when they don’t show up the way you hoped they would. Don’t stew on the negative. Feel your feelings and move on quickly.
Ditch the perfectionism
It’s a pretty well-documented fact that people who expect things to be perfectly fair in life are much more miserable than those who can roll with the punches of the ups and downs. Well, your relationship is one of those things that’s going to have some ups and downs. (By virtue of the fact that two humans are involved, you can pretty much count on it.) Deal with the bad days/moments and don’t make them mean something about your relationship. It’s just life!
Set goals together
In the world of “you do you,” don’t forget about doing “us” too! Couples that set goals together and have something to look forward to will have a greater sense of purpose. Even if your goals are stressful ones (like, oh, renovating an entire house while you’re living in it) the experience can draw you closer because it’s something you go through together. (It’s why all those action-adventure couples end up together at the end of the movie. The shared trauma. :))
Ask questions for connection
How well do you really know your sweetheart? Because there’s always more to learn! Set aside some time — whether it’s on a dinner date, out on a walk, or some late-night pillow talk — to ask each other some questions. You might be surprised by what you find out! If you need a little inspiration, tune in to the “Questions to Connect!” episode of the Modestshoppin Movement podcast.
Just pick one
They say habits take 21 days to form, so don’t overwhelm yourself all at once with everything on this list. Pick the one you think is most important and commit to it for three weeks straight. Your relationship will thank you!