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I’m always surprised when people tell me that relationships should be easy if you are just lucky enough to find the “right” person.  This could be the biggest relationship myth out there!

Maybe this is a news flash to some but, relationships require work!  They require active effort by both partners in the relationship.

As humans, we are notorious for resisting change at all costs.  We easily fall into patterns and continue to repeat those patterns even when they are no longer serving us.  Our patterns are easy to follow because we’re used to them and they require little effort, or even thought on our part.  They become comfortable- but sometimes, they’re destructive to our relationship.

Think about the relationship patterns you may have with your own partner.  Here’s some common ones:

  • You give a quick peck to your partner when you’re leaving in the morning, but you mind is really on what’s coming up at work.
  • You ask your partner how his or her day was, and you don’t think twice about just hearing that it was “fine” with no further conversation.
  • You point out the “wrong” your partner is doing, but rarely point out the “rights”.

Three Quick Tips for Improving Your Relationship Today

  1. Commit to giving your partner a six second smooch-a-roo before you leave for the day and when you return home.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage researcher of  the Gottman Institute and author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, suggests a six second kiss because “it’s long enough to be romantic” and not so long that it will make you late for work.  If you are in a new relationship, this probably won’t seem like much of a big deal, but if you’ve been in your relationship for a long period of time, you will be amazed at just how long six seconds feels when you’re kissing.  Do yourself and your relationship a favor and stick to it!

Here’s why- besides building connection and intimacy between you and your partner (which is IMPORTANT), awesome things happen in the brain when we kiss.

One of the most important is that the brain releases oxytocin, a neurotransmitter and hormone in the body.  Oxytocin has long had the handle of being called “the love hormone” or “the cuddle hormone” and believe me, this hormone’s street cred is the real deal.  Oxytocin provides a number of positive benefits- it makes us feel bonded to our partner, it promotes happiness, trust, and generosity, and it lowers our stress response which is helpful for things like anxiety.  If that’s not a way to start off the day, I don’t know what is!

  1. Make 15 minutes, with no distractions, to connect with your partner after work.

Use this 15 minutes to make a true connection with your partner with no distractions- no multitasking during this time.  Sit down together, hold hands and look into each other’s eyes.  Ask how his or her day was in an uncommon way like “What was the best part of your day?” or “What made you smile today?” or “What was tough for you today?”  Allow your partner to respond and truly listen to what he or she says.  Validate your partner’s feelings with comments such as “that must have been hard” or “wow, that is amazing!”

This kind of interaction builds intimacy, trust, and connection because you’ve made each other THE priority…even if it is for just 15 minutes.  You’ve also learned new information about your partner in a short amount of time, which builds connection.  In addition, the brain, neurotransmitters, and hormones get back in the game here as well.  Just like with kissing, sustained eye contact can also release oxytocin, and of course, all of the positive benefits listed above.

  1. Focus on the positive.

You’ve probably heard the old marketing adage that people share negative experiences with just about anyone who will listen but rarely share positive ones even with those closest to them.  This needs to be just the opposite in marriage.  I’m not suggesting that you ignore the negative or blow off bad behavior or every problem but having a positive focus in your relationship will help to improve it.  Dr. Gottman’s research supports this too as he has found that couples with happy marriages will say 5 times more positive statements to their partner and about their relationship than couples in an unhappy marriage.

To have a happy partnership, say more positive things to your partner.  These don’t have to be big, flowery, obnoxiously romantic things, just simple positivity will do:  “I’m happy you’re here”, “That’s a great color on you”, “I appreciate you”, “It made my day when you helped me with xyz”.  Simple stuff.  Try keeping a log of the positive and negative things you say to your partner to help you be mindful of the 5:1 ratio.

Don’t stop there though….also become mindful of how you describe your relationship.  How you talk about your relationship to your partner and to others has an impact on your own thinking and emotions and thereby influences how you will feel about your relationship.  There’s a big difference between saying something like “We both have a variety of interests”, which is a positive statement and “We have nothing in common”, which is obviously negative.

If these tips are new to you, I hope you’ll circle back and share with us how they worked in your relationship and what changes you noticed.  If they’re “old hat”, I’d still love to hear how they work for you and what tips you have that improve relationships!

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