Many people spend so much time looking for that “spark” or feel like it’s Happily Ever After once they’ve found The One, that they forget a relationship doesn’t just sustain itself; it needs work, like any worthwhile achievement in your life. If the word “work” is enough to get you sweating RN, don’t panic. The good thing about relationship work is that it should be enjoyable, fulfilling, and worthwhile when you’re with the right person. Since we’re all busy, stressed, anxious, and probably can’t think beyond seven days from now (nope, just me?), here are 10 simple things you can do today to have a healthier relationship by the end of the week:
1. Do one thing you did when you were first dating
There’s a lot of perks to a brand new relationship: butterflies, long conversations getting to know each other, can’t-keep-hands-off-each-other chemistry. And then there are the perks of a long-term relationship: feeling comfortable and secure, always having a plus-one, and never having to shave your legs. What if I told you that you could bring back some pros of the beginning of your relationship? Think back on the routines you and your partner had at the beginning. Maybe you gave more compliments, dressed up to impress them, or went on more creative dates than takeout and Disney+. This week, try to bring back at least one of those rituals, jokes, or dates to spark the long conversations, butterflies, and chemistry you had at the beginning.
2. Talk about money
It is probably the most unromantic topic, but relationship experts agree that money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce. Normalizing the money talk and getting on the same page early on can not only prevent finances from becoming an issue in the future, but it can also strengthen your trust and intimacy. While it may not be something you look forward to, schedule a time to go through and pay bills together or have a conversation about saving up for a house or dividing up pet expenses. If you’re in a newer relationship and don’t have any shared responsibilities or finances, you can still have the money talk by chatting about your individual money goals and spending habits.
3. Ask “how was your day?” every day
One of the simplest and most important things you could do to improve your relationship is to ask your partner, “how was your day?” and actually care about the answer, rather than letting the question become routine. Perfect the art of conversation: know how to make your partner feel heard, ask follow-up questions instead of just listening to what they have to say, and share your opinions or thoughts (only) once they’re done sharing with you. When your partner feels like you care about more than you have to and want to be a part of everything they do, it subconsciously creates a new level of teamwork, love, and intimacy.
4. Practice giving (and receiving) constructive criticism
If you’re in a healthy relationship, you should both feel safe and accepted. And if you feel safe and accepted, it’s probably easier for you to receive constructive criticism than in other friendships or familial relationships. The point of constructive criticism is that you’re working as a team and covering each other’s blind spots to become your best relationship and best selves. It’s the cliché that two heads are better than one, and giving supportive input builds trust, care, and teamwork.
Give your partner a suggestion on how they can improve their work presentation, or let them know they should call their sister more often. Likewise, ask them how you can improve a project at work or how they would handle a situation with a friend differently. What’s not OK? Criticizing what your partner cannot change, like their personality traits or needs. If you’re worried about constructive criticism (or it turns into an argument), either you’re going about it more critical than constructive, or your relationship might need some more growth.
5. Schedule sex
Yes, really. While many people think that scheduling sex takes the spark away and turns it into a chore, if you’ve ever been in an LTR, you know that spontaneous sex just doesn’t happen with a busy schedule, putting kids to bed, or working late every night. And even if it does, it still feels like a chore (let’s hurry up, we’re waking up in five hours!). Just as you schedule workouts and meetings, scheduling sex is another way to stay connected and prioritize intimacy. Plus, it ups the anticipation when you know it’s coming, and you might even want to “remind” your partner throughout the day for some bonus romance points (not my fault if they have a hard time concentrating at work!).
6. Look at arguments as if you’re a third party
The OG love life hack, called “The Marriage Hack,” became a viral sensation for a reason. Essentially, the fancy term means viewing conflicts and disagreements through the eyes of a third party who wants the best for all involved and realizing the obstacles each person faces when trying to think from a different perspective. This method lessens the emotions of a situation by reframing it in a way that allows you to not only understand your partner, but how to solve the problem. It’s like DIY couples therapy! Whether you’re in a marriage or a brand new relationship, the Marriage Hack can help reframe how you communicate and resolve arguments.
7. Read together
You know that final scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant is reading a very intelligent-looking novel on a park bench while a gorgeously pregnant Julia Roberts lays on his lap and watches kids play (oh yeah, and they’re holding hands)? It’s rom-com gold, yes, but it’s also a scene I think about often. Even though they were spending time together, they must have had such interesting things to talk about afterward: what Hugh read about or what Julia saw while watching kids play. Whether you read the same book separately or read at the same time to “spend time together without actually spending time together,” à la Hugh and Julia, reading stimulates meaningful conversation and a deeper bond.
Especially if you’ve been quarantined together with nothing to talk about except for which Netflix show to watch next, the novel you’ve been dying to read or your partner’s favorite book from college will form a closer connection and create exciting conversation. Bonus: it’s way easier to get the book club together when it’s just you and your significant other.
8. Have a check-in
While it may sound cheesy, couples who have regular check-ins are typically more in-tune and better at communicating. Think about it: you have a check-up with your doctor to keep your body healthy, so you need a check-in with your significant other to keep your relationship healthy. Schedule a time where you’re both free from work or the kids are occupied, and check in with how the other is feeling with different aspects of the relationship. Cover topics like workload and housework (and whether or not you feel like they’re being equally shared), if you’re satisfied with how the other one is expressing love languages, and one thing the other person can do this week to make you feel more loved in your relationship or happy in your life.
9. Apologize before you “need” to
I have a lot of personal problems with the classic romance film, Love Story, #1 being that no, love does not mean never having to say you’re sorry. Love means saying you’re sorry a lot because you care about your loved one’s feelings more than you care about being right. FYI, apologizing whole-heartedly means acknowledging the other person’s feelings, taking ownership, and then offering a solution to ensure you’ll never do it again (yes, I do remind my boyfriend quite often that this is what an apology is supposed to look like). To make your relationship healthier by the end of the week (it’s that effective!), apologize whole-heartedly before you even need to, meaning before your partner is looking for an apology.
Think of ways you recently could have been a better partner but fell short. Say, “I’m sorry I haven’t done my fair share of the chores this week,” or “I’m sorry I haven’t been a good listener lately.” Even if your significant other has not acknowledged it, let them know that you’re prioritizing their feelings without them asking. Bringing “I’m sorry” into more than just arguments will strengthen your bond because not only will you start noticing what your significant other needs before they have to ask (or fight), but it will allow your partner to feel seen, appreciated, and cared for.
10. Celebrate something
Even if there’s not an anniversary or birthday coming up, your relationship deserves a good celebration (2020 is almost over–need I say more?). Relationships can feel mundane when you’re going through everyday routines without stopping to acknowledge where you are or how far you have come. Take some time this week to celebrate a work promotion, a monthiversary like you used to do back in the day (double points for #1), or just to celebrate your lives together. No matter your reason, popping some champagne, cooking your favorite meal, or making a normal night feel special will help you feel gratitude for the person you get to celebrate life with. Cheers!