Once we’ve settled into a long-term relationship, it’s easy to get stuck in routine. After months or years together, we tend to notice the annoying things about our partner and not so much the good things–those, we take for granted. So we end up having a lot of interactions that are emotionally neutral or negative, and not as many positive ones.
This is a common pattern, but it’s not a pattern that builds happy relationships. Fortunately, there are easy things you can do to improve the dynamic.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman are premier researchers into couple relationships. They’ve recorded countless hours of couples interacting, from which they’ve learned to predict—years ahead—which couples will divorce and which will stay together.
One of their key findings is that happy couples have a 5-to-1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones. For every complaint or unpleasant request, they have five supportive, complimentary, appreciative, or fun experiences. How does that compare with your partnership?
If you’re a little short on the positives, here are some easy things you can do to tip the balance.
- Express appreciation. Thank your partner for things you may take for granted: for taking out the trash, for the loving way he handled a situation with your child, for the coffee she makes you every morning, for helping to provide for your family, anything.
- Acknowledge comings and goings. Surprisingly many couples forget to say goodbye when they leave and hi when they come home. Make a point of greeting your partner—preferably not just in passing. Eye contact and a quick hug or kiss strengthens your connection.
- Share positive experiences in your day. If a co-worker tells a great joke, or you see a beautiful sunset, tell your partner. Texting is great for this—it sort of sprinkles positivity during the day. (And positive texts are much more fun to receive than the “please pick up milk” variety.
- Set aside time to ask about your partner’s day—and really listen. Even 10 minutes a day of interested attention makes a huge difference.
- Be affectionate. Most of us really like touch from our partners. A hello hug, sitting close together on the couch, a quick shoulder rub while someone’s doing the dishes—anything like that can make us feel more connected to the one we love.
- Do something fun together. Watch a funny movie, go for a bike ride, take an interesting adult-ed class, do any of the activities you enjoyed together when you were first dating—anything both of you will enjoy. Sure, there’s a lot of work in life. Just make sure there’s also some fun, and that you have fun together.
For more information on the Gottmans’ research, check out the resources of The Gottman Institute.