Deep down, you know the things you should do to strengthen your relationship: communicate, fight fair, never go to bed angry, and the list goes on and on. But there are also smaller, more unexpected ways you can connect with your partner every day. To learn what they were, we chatted with therapist Trevor White, couples coach Julie Ann Otis, and marriage and family therapist Antonia DiLeo.
Ask better questions.
Who among us hasn't been caught in the one-word-answer conversations? While it's easy to roll your eyes when you hear for the thousandth time that your partner's day was "good," taking it upon yourself to ask better questions is a practical and easy way to show you're not just asking to be polite. "Instead of saying, 'How was your day?' try asking your partner, 'What were you proud of today?' or "'What were your grateful for today?'" suggests White. "These new questions stimulate more dynamic conversations and inspire each individual to feel that their partner is interested in them on a deeper level."
Have the talk.
"If you're not talking about sex, you're not in a relationship," says Otis. Whether the conversation revolves around what sex means to you, what's working and what's not, or new things you'd like to explore, it's the fact that you're discussing it at all that is important. If you've chosen not to have sex, talk about why. "It's very easy to assume it's a box that gets checked and you say, 'Ok we've figured out a way that the two of us work,'" says Otis. But the reality is that our preferences and attitudes around sex changes over time just as people do. Regardless of what happens between your sheets, talking about what can feel like a taboo topic and exploring the subject matter together makes both you and your partner—and the act itself—more comfortable.
Take out the garbage.
Sometimes bonding is more functional than romantic, and that's totally fine. In fact, there are plenty of people in the world who'd agree that your partner putting away the laundry so you don't have to is the kindest gesture known to man—and DiLeo agrees. "Do something you would not normally do in the relationship to help each other out," she suggests. "If you usually don't walk the dog early in the morning, let your partner know you will be doing it." It might not feel big, but odds are they'll be dreaming of you with their extra half hour of sleep.
This isn't unexpected per se, but it's important enough to warrant making the list. "There's something in that physical act actually powering down somehow energetically shifts that you're both in this physical space together," says Otis. Interestingly enough, the pros say that whether or not you spend this screen-free time doing something together is inconsequential. Just being mentally present while sharing the space is enough to ground your relationship and make you feel more connected.
When it comes to relationships, two halves do not make a whole. In fact, Otis stresses that one of the most important things an individual can do in a relationship is take time for themselves. Whether that means spending time separately with friends, sticking to your workout routine, or working on your mental, spiritual, and emotional maturity anything you do for yourself ultimately you do for your relationship. "When you are choosing the self," explains Otis, "you are choosing to be in a healthy relationship."