Whether you've been dating your significant other for the better part of the last decade or just a handful of months, establishing healthy habits that create a solid foundation for the relationship is crucial, especially when marriage is on the horizon. Making the effort early on, ideally before obstacles arise, helps you and your partner identify the strengths and weaknesses that you will need to build upon and contend with in the future, explains Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor. "It also helps couples to remember what is important to them about their relationship such as feeling safe, secure, stable, kindness, having the ability to reconnect after a rift, and the willingness to take ownership for the good and the bad that takes place in their lives," she adds. Here are the habits that experts recommend couples establish well before they walk down the aisle.
Greeting your partner with a smile and a kiss.
Even when you've had a hard day at work, try to put on a smile when you get home so that you can start the evening off right with your partner. This not only sets the mood, but it also makes your partner feel important and loved, explains psychiatrist Susan Edelman, M.D. "When you are distracted or in a bad mood, it affects your partner and makes them feel like they are not your priority," she adds.
Put distractions aside.
Most of us are glued to our smartphones these days, which can be detrimental to the health of your relationship. That's why Derichs recommends that couples unplug when they spend quality time together. "Think about when you were first dating and you turned off (or down) your devices, turned physically towards your partner, made eye contact, held hands, and truly paid attention with curiosity to what your partner was saying," she says. "You and your long-term partner deserve the attention it takes to keep the 'other' in your focus and on your mind."
Take time for yourself.
You're in a committed and loving relationship, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve solo time for reflection and enjoyment. This, Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist, explains, helps with decreasing resentments toward your partner. "Being able to be autonomous in a relationship allows personal growth to occur and gives you more to be able to nurture the relationship," she says. "It also keeps your 'mystery' alive so to speak, since it is something that you are doing on your own."
Express love and appreciation.
While actions most certainly speak louder than words, it's also important to verbally let your partner know that you love and appreciate him or her. "When you are conscious of doing this on a daily basis, it helps let your partner know that you are not taking them for granted," says Dr. Edelman. "The more positive interactions you have with your partner, the more protected you feel from the negatives."
Protect "date night."
Bahar says it's important to keep the love alive as you both settle into the marriage, and the best way to do that is with regular date nights. She suggests working on creating pleasant experiences together and ensuring that they make their way onto your shared calendar. "Scheduling these date nights is really helpful, especially when the marriage is strained," she says. "Being able to recall these memories when the going gets tough will help you stay committed."
Listen effectively, even with conflict.
Although it's not always easy to do, especially in the heat of the moment during an argument, it's important to try to understand where your partner is coming from, which involves listening. "Try to avoid becoming defensive or avoiding what they want to discuss," says Dr. Edelman. "Treat them with respect, even if it hurts."
Ask for what you want.
Being direct with your needs rather than passive aggressive goes a long way when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship, according to Dr. Edelman. "Maybe your partner can't give you what you want, but it's always harder to get your needs met when you don't ask," she adds.