No matter how long you’ve been together, there are some simple, fundamental rules of the road. Putting them into practice isn’t always easy, but it is critical. Make your relationship stronger, and the good stuff—fun, sex, trust, affection—will be better than ever.
1. Be Vocal About Things You Like
Boredom, frustration and everyday irritations can douse the spark between you and your partner—and more of the same certainly won’t feed the flame. Making the good stuff your top priority will. First, consider that it takes up to 20 positive statements to outweigh the harm done by one negative one. So compliment your girlfriend on her new shoes, or your boyfriend on his new blue shirt. Thank him for helping around the house. Dial her office for a quick “thinking of you” check-in. Be sure these compliments and thank-you’s are heartfelt and specific, and make eye contact when you smile.
Once you take this approach, you’ll realize that, in addition to knowing how to push your partner’s hot buttons, you know how to push his or her joy buttons too (and we don’t just mean sex). After all, that’s how this whole thing started. It won’t be long before you appreciate that it’s always the right time for small acts of love, like sharing a long kiss before you turn in each night.
2. Touch Each Other
Human touch aids the release of feel-good endorphins, for giver and receiver. So hold hands when you’re walking, and brush her cheek when you smooch good morning. Revive the ways you touched in the early days—a kiss on the back of the ear, a hand through her hair. Adding more of this kind of touch will help you build a fortress of love. That’s important, because a couple who form a tight unit can weather any storm (and are better able to stave off infidelity).
How do you build this bond? First, support your partner. Take his or her side whenever possible if trouble arises in the “outside world.” Keep their secrets to yourself, even when everyone at work spills theirs. Except in a true emergency, don’t let anything interrupt “us” time. That’s what voice mail and bedroom-door locks are for. Make a commitment to spend up to 30 minutes a day chatting with each other about everyday plans, goals and, yes, dreams. This is time to build a friendship. Studies show that being friends pays off over time, ensuring a closer, sexier union. And don’t forget to make time for intimacy, even if you must log it in your day planner.
3. Stop Blaming Your Partner for Everything That’s Wrong
It’s tempting to blame your partner when you feel angry, disappointed, bored, betrayed or stressed out about your relationship. The next step is seeing your mate as the one who must change for the relationship to improve. That’s a cop-out. Trying to improve your partner puts him or her on the defensive and casts you in a negative light. The result? Nobody changes. Nobody takes responsibility. Everyone is unhappy. And making your partner the bad guy means ignoring the 90 per cent of him or her that’s good.
The true fix: Change yourself. When you address your own flaws and seek the best in your companion, magic happens. Optimism increases. Your partner feels better because he or she feels appreciated, not chastised. And you both feel motivated to change in ways that lead to even more joy.
4. Improve Your Relationship by Relaxing
The classic advice experts give to singles seeking a perfect match: Be “the one” to attract “the one.” Same goes in a long-term relationship. The happier you feel, the happier your relationship will be, and the easier it will be to manage conflicts. If 15 minutes of morning yoga, a switch to decaf, or a new hobby help you relax, the good feelings can’t help but lead to happier, richer moments together.
Meanwhile, admit it: You used to fuss over your hair and obsess over the sexiest item to wear to bed. Now, it’s stained sweats and a ratty old T-shirt. Time to spruce up your look. Comb that mane, brush those teeth and throw on a new robe. Feeling good about the way you look makes your eyes sparkle. You’re more likely to make eye contact. That sends a spark to your partner. You know what to do next!
5. Fight Fair
Conflict is a normal, even healthy, part of any relationship. What’s important is how you handle it. In a Florida study of longtime couples, joint problem-solving ability was cited as a key factor for 70 per cent of satisfied pairs. With the right tools and attitude, conflict becomes a gateway to deeper intimacy—the chance to be seen and loved for who you truly are, to accept your mate’s adorable, vulnerable real self, and to build a strong union without silently seething.
First, steer clear of criticism, confrontation and hostility. They’re like gas on a fire. University of California researchers who followed 79 couples for more than a decade found that early divorcers fought long and loud and were always on the attack—or the defensive. Happy couples, on the other hand, avoid verbalizing critical thoughts, keep discussions from escalating, and don’t use absolutes like “never” and “always.” If a fight does start, try to change the subject, inject gentle humor, empathize or show your partner extra appreciation. Too late? Call a truce, walk away and cool off for a while.
Learn to Listen
The single most powerful step you can take to keep a relationship solid? Speak less and listen more. Blame, insults, criticism and bullying predict a bad end, or at least a living hell. When talk turns combative, don’t interrupt, offer a solution or defend yourself too soon.
When feelings are at issue, they need to be heard. So nod, rephrase or provide a soft “um-hum” to show you honors the emotions behind the words. Sometimes, all we really need to do to feel closer to someone is pay closer attention to what it is that they’re saying.