When you've been with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife for a while, it can be easy to fall into a sort of groove. You start doing the same things together, having the same conversations, and even eating many of the same meals. This is entirely normal when you're in a serious relationship—the experts call it a sort of nesting. Although it may start to feel like you're up to the "same old" behaviors, there are subtle, but incredibly important, things you're doing to strengthen your bond each day. Here, couples counselors share some of the mindless habits that really matter in relationships.
Even saying "thank you" when your significant other does something for you—big or small—goes a long way for your relationship, experts say. "When people don't feel appreciated it leads to resentment and disconnection. That's a relationship killer," says Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago. She recommends practicing the act of showing your appreciation every single day.
Helping Around the House
You might each have your own set of chores and household responsibilities, but sometimes it means a whole lot when you just go above and beyond your call of duty. "Taking out the garbage without thinking about it communicates a vibe of 'let me help you,'" says Lisa Bahar, L.M.F.T. and L.P.C.C. "Changing the water bubbler when you see it running out of water versus waiting to be asked, folding clothes and taking them up versus just looking at them, washing the car, and getting it gas if needed are all little ways you can help your partner out."
After a long, grueling day of work, having more conversations may be the last thing you want to do. Even so, you still need to listen to your partner. If he or she is venting to you about their day, asking your opinion about a certain personal matter, or just in a chatty mood, you should listen. "This may require you to turn towards you significant other and physically make eye-contact, hold hands, or touch in some way," says Derichs. "Listening to understand rather listening to respond goes a long way, and once you practice it can become almost mindless."
Learning how to sincerely apologize helps many couples decrease resentment and conflict, explains Derichs. "Shame and guilt often get in the way of learning how to apologize." If this is the case for you and your partner, she suggests seeking the help of a licensed counselor who can help you better manage coping with arguments and identifying ownership of blame.
Unplugging from Your Devices
In this day and age, it's nearly impossible to part with your smartphone. But too much quality time with your phone takes away from the real kind you should be getting with your partner. "Keep your cell phone out of view whenever you share a meal or have a conversation," Derichs suggests. "This forces both of you to prioritize, listen, and be present with each other."
Whether it happens spontaneously or it's something you planned having it regularly is so important, according to relationship experts. "It's difficult to hold onto anger and resentment when you are intimate," says Bethany Marshall, Ph.D., M.F.T., who has a private practice in both Beverly Hills and Pasadena, California. "Frequent sex can reinforce the fact that you are romantic partners—not roommates."