You don't need to carve out time for a romantic getaway to refresh your marriage. Instead, try one of these small bonding secrets each day to give your love a big boost. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.
Send him lexts (love texts)
When we focus on something, we tend to see it show up more often. So try sending him a text every day this month that acknowledges something you appreciate about him, such as "I love that you get me peanut M&Ms when I have PMS." "My husband did a text appreciation month for me after he forgot to get me a Valentine's Day card one year, and I was surprised that he found something new to write every single day - it made me feel so cherished," says Orna Walters, who co-founded Creating Love on Purpose, a relationship coaching service, with her husband, Matthew.
Use this excuse to hang those old pics
Research confirms that experiences rather than things increase your happiness levels, and recounting shared moments in your relationship can also boost marital satisfaction. Gather pictures of your favorite times together - such as the camping trip you took sans kids or his surprise 35th birthday party - and place your new collection somewhere he will see it as a happy reminder. Then, hit up Home Goods or Michael's for some cute new frames.
Look on the bright side
It's no secret that positive people are more fun to be around, and the same applies to your relationship. In a brand-new analysis of the most important strategies for overall relationship satisfaction, positivity landed at the top of the list. "Our research shows that there are concrete, small moves you can do in your daily life to make your partner like being around you more, and feel more committed to the relationship," says Brian G. Ogolsky, Ph.D., study co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "In terms of relationships, positivity really means those little fun, romantic gestures." In other words, zip the mother-in-law talk tonight at dinner.
Open up more
For a stronger bond, you have to create space for openness in your relationship. "We give as much as we get in terms of disclosure. The more open you are, the more likely your partner is to open up," says Dr. Ogolsky. "It leads to deeper conversations and connection." So carve out time to greet him with a glass of wine after work today and see where the conversation takes you.
Be a team player
It might be enough not make you love laundry, but doing chores around the house with your husband is actually a huge relationship booster. Sometimes merely spending time with him as he's tinkering around - not grand gestures - are what really makes him feel more close to you. And the research proves it. Taking part in shared tasks was another top-five relationship booster. "It doesn't mean that you have to vacuum the floor together, but simultaneously doing the chores that keep your household functioning, such as washing the dishes while he fixes the stove, reminds you both that you are working together as a team," says Dr. Ogolsky.
Pen a relationship bucket list
Just like you sometimes need assurances at work or from your friends - think: "I'm grateful to have a best friend like you" - your relationship also needs frequent positive reinforcement. Your guy loves hearing things like, "I feel like the luckiest girl in the world having you as my husband." Not surprisingly, this relationship strategy also made the top-five list. Think of those little things you do and say that remind your husband that you're not going anywhere as relationship insurance. "You're effectively boosting commitment by creating a shared future with your partner," says Dr. Ogolsky. Dreaming together strengthens your bond, so try creating a list of your shared dreams, such as owning a summer home or traveling to Asia one day.
Schedule a double date night
A shared social network - like having mutual couple friends - is the fifth tried-and-true strategy that makes for a better marriage, according to the research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Spending time with mutual friends strengthens couples' bonds because it gives you the chance to present your relationship to other people, share your inside jokes, and lets you see your partner in a different light when socializing," says Dr. Ogolsky. You'll quickly remember your husband's talent for spot-on puns, or how good a host he is.
Don't try to change him
Maybe you wish he folded his socks, or that he would chat it up with your friends without prompting. But, his inability to notice hair in the sink may stem from the laid-back personality that drew you to him in the first place. "Happy couples know their partner's differences, and have pretty much stopped trying to change the other person," says Darren Wilk, a certified Gottman Couples Therapist with a private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Rather than trying to fight their partner's personality style, they instead focus on each other's strengths." To better understand how to tap into both of your best qualities, take this quick relationship personality quiz.
Recognize his calls for attention
Happy couples are mindful of those little moves their partners make when seeking attention. In studying 120 newlyweds in Gottman's Love Lab, his team discovered that couples who stayed married six years later were paying attention to these bids for connection 86 percent of the time, compared to only 33 percent of the time for those who later divorced. So look out for the small stuff, and respond to his need to connect. Like if he complains that his back is hurting, it might be his way of hinting that he'd like you to take care of him, so stop and give him a mini-massage.
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Dress like a single girl - just for fun
If sweatpants have become your go-to at-home attire, try dressing up for him tonight. It doesn't matter how you do it - or how '50s housewife you feel. Paying attention to your appearance or wearing something special is an easy-to-get way to show him that he matters. "Men are visually tuned in," says Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., host of Investigation Discovery's Happily Never After and author of The 30-Day Love Detox. "Putting in the extra effort to look good makes him feel like you're still trying for him and are fully invested in the relationship."
Give him 20
It's so easy to forget that emotional closeness means being on the giving end, not just the receiving one. One way to cultivate this kind of intimacy is to offer your husband just 20 minutes of your undivided attention, where you just listen, and ask questions that pop up, but keep the focus on him. "Experts who teach attachment parenting classes say giving each child 20 minutes a day of your undivided attention keeps up your bond, and it's also emotionally nutritional for your spouse," says Dr. Walsh. "You'll get into his head-space and become more connected."
Virtually save your love story
Gone are the days of stashing handwritten love letters in a special box. Text messages, online photo albums, and social media sites make it easy to send your love an update, but tough to keep everything in one place. Try downloading the new app, Twyxt, to your iPhone or iPad. It lets you store all of your text messages (and they won't be forever lost if you transfer phones), and create private photo albums. You can even categorize your conversations into different threads so you don't have to search all over for, say, that link that he sent you about a concert he wants to see this summer.
Let your mate be right
Sure, it may drive you nuts that the kitchen tile samples he chose really do look better than the ones you picked, but acknowledging that will do your relationship good. "In order to have love in your life, you have to be willing to be wrong," says Matthew Walters. "Our ego wants to be right, but our soul wants connection. Your soul doesn't care who is right or wrong." Admit that his pick was the better one and that he has good taste - he also chose you, after all! If you make a point to acknowledge when he is right, he'll feel validated and therefore more connected.
Look at your relationship like an outsider
The next time you and your honey have a love spat, try seeing your argument from the perspective of a relationship outsider who has your best interests at heart, such as your sister. Couples who wrote down what happened during big fights from the view of a caring third party - rather than their own heated emotional accounts - reported less relationship stress and more overall satisfaction with their partner than those who didn't, according to new research from Northwestern University. So whether you write it down or think about it in your head, try seeing the fight from a different perspective to be happier with your husband in the long run.
Show him the light
Soft lighting is not only flattering, but can transform your living room into a romantic hotspot - and hide that pile of cookie crumbs on the carpet that you haven't gotten around to cleaning up yet. "Plus, candles make for a more relaxed atmosphere, and when your body is calm, you feel more sensual," says Dr. Walsh. Surprise him one night by arranging for the kids to have a play-date at the neighbor's. Then, fill the living room with candles and have an inexpensive bottle of Prosecco chilling next to two champagne glasses. We guarantee he won't even think about turning on the game.
Frame your demands as favors
Whether you want him to unload the dishwasher more often or pay closer attention to the kids, your partner will be increasingly likely to change his behavior if he feels like he'll get relationship brownie points rather than feeling forced to do it. "Throw it out there like a favor. Present it like, 'here is the recipe for what will make me happy,' because everyone wants to make their partner feel happy," says Wilk. "When you present your needs, present them as what you do want rather than what you don't want." Instead of saying, "I hate when you have to have everything scheduled," try saying, "I would love to have a day where we can just be spontaneous and have nothing planned."
Give him the gift of lazing around
One Saturday morning, wake him up with a coupon for a "do-nothing day," which lets him off the hook for chores or doing anything at all. Research finds that people who give more than they receive actually report being happier, less stressed, and living longer. For example, a new study reports that people who spend money on others feel more content than if they'd spent it on themselves. Think about it next time you're deciding between spending your leftover grocery funds on a new pair of shoes for yourself, or buying him another pair of his fave sweatpants.
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Behave like his girlfriend
When you begin dating someone, you do things that make your romantic prospect think you're going to be the greatest partner ever, such as baking him a special dessert or meeting up with his family even when you don't feel like it. "At the end of the day, a good relationship is an exchange of care," says Dr. Walsh. "To give and get a little more, try behaving like a girlfriend instead of a wife." Join him for game he loves that you wouldn't normally go to; initiate a spontaneous make-out session on the couch; or text him that you miss him just because.
Just say no to nagging
If you notice that you tend to "remind" him of things a little to often, try biting your tongue and smiling for a day. He'll want to come closer, says Dr. Walsh. It might seem like men fall in love for other reasons, but it's actually a matter of trust. And that means creating an environment where he feels like he can express his true feelings without being attacked. He may interpret helpful "advice" as a nagging criticism, so try asking him questions about what he thinks is a good solution rather than telling him what to do. Mention you're stumped about how to organize the entryway and see if he has any ideas rather than demanding that he finally install those shelves this weekend.
Make him a feel-good meal
Studies show that certain foods have the power to change your mood. Omega-3s and folate help ward off the blues while complex carbs boost levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. So skip the pasta and tater tots tonight and try cooking him an uplifting dinner. "Seared tuna and salmon are high in omega 3s, sautéed spinach is packed with folate, and baked sweet potatoes are a healthy, unprocessed carb," says Dr. Walsh.
Don't compare yourself to your FB friends
Have you ever felt secretly annoyed at your man after reading a friend's multiple status updates about how her husband surprised her with flowers for "no reason at all?" Constantly following all those positive news feeds has been proven to make you more jealous of your pals' lives and decrease your own satisfaction, finds German researchers. The next time you're tempted to pick a fight with your man because you don't think he's helping your social media posts live up to your friends', keep in mind that people tend to exaggerate the positive moments and downplay the negative times online. Them, give him a kiss. You'll feel happier with your own relationship than if you focused on Facebook versions of others' marriages, guaranteed.
Ditch the assumptions
Sometimes we think we know our partners so well that we can predict how they'll react, and play that assumption out in our heads. Instead of assuming that he won't go to that fundraiser with you, and starting your ask with, "I know you'd never want to do this but," try simply asking him, "Would you like to go with me to the spaghetti dinner?" Looking at your spouse with curiosity about how he'll respond to a situation or how he sees the world helps you keep the relationship fresh and avoid fights. "It prevents you from making assumptions about what your partner is thinking and feeling," says Walters. "Assumptions can be damaging because then we take actions based on those beliefs rather than leaving the door open for him to fully express his own opinion."
Let him take care of you
It may sound old-fashioned, but sometimes it's a good idea to let him be a man and just do stuff for you. Your impulse may be to give back when he gives you something, but "one of the biggest mistakes women make is trying to reciprocate rather than just appreciating the gesture," says Walters. "It's appreciating and acknowledging what he does - rather than reciprocating - that makes him want to do more." For example, if he goes out of his way to take your dress to the dry cleaner's before a big event, you don't have to make him pasta from scratch for doing it. Rather, pull him aside, look into his eyes, and tell him how grateful you are for his help in getting ready. Acknowledging his action will go a long way towards making him feel appreciated - and happier in your marriage.
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Mind your marriage manners
Every couple has a daily communication routine, such as how you greet each other or ask for things. "Research finds that 25 percent of couples don't say good night to their spouse, and of those couples, 75 percent have thought about ending their marriage, says Laurie Puhn, a couples mediator and author of Fight Less, Love More. "These are marital manners that we instinctually know to do when we're dating, but often stop doing once we're married because we assume the love will always be there." To give your relationship more value, take the things that are common and ordinary, notice them, and say thank you for them at least once a day. Those small moments are what make for happy relationships.
Be his biggest cheerleader
"When you get married, you're taking on the role of being your mate's head cheerleader," says Puhn. This means giving your hubby character compliments. "It's important to show appreciation for all the times he meets your expectations." Even if he simply unloaded the dishwasher - and it was his turn anyway - try thanking him for being so dependable. It'll have a bigger impact than thanking him merely for doing his job.
Don't act like he's a second-class citizen
"You don't say 'I do' and then 'I'm done,'" says Puhn. "What we come to expect, we come to neglect. So if you're not actively recognizing our mate when he walks through the door by greeting him and instead keep talking on the phone or plugged into the computer, you're sending the message that his presence means nothing to you." That's why it's so important to keep actively trying to make your marriage a great place to be.
Taking trips down memory lane
"Happy couples tend to rewrite history by glossing over the bad stuff and focusing on the happy times," says Wilk. By reliving memories out loud to your partner, it actually changes your mindset, and how you view him and think about your relationship. Try this exercise today for a relationship boost: Go over the highlights of when you were first dating, or rehearse the best moments of your relationship - such as the day you had an impromptu picnic in the park during your lunch hour, or that surprise anniversary trip he took you on to Disney World - to uncover buried memories.
Give him the short version
"Many men may act like they're not listening - and yes, sometimes they really are not - but if you make a simple request or share a feeling, just let it sit rather than going into too much detail," says New York City-based relationship coach Lois Barth. "Chances are, your husband will process what you're saying better if you don't bombard him with information. Believe it or not, a man's cave time isn't just about loafing in front of the TV, but processing your message so it can really sink in."
Have faith that your partner is making an effort for your relationship, whether it be by trying to be more patient or a better listener, and you'll feel more satisfied with your marriage - even if you think he has a lot of room for improvement. The more you believe your partner is capable of improving, the more he'll live up to your expectations and the happier you'll feel in your marriage, according to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. So rather than blaming him for not trying hard enough, give him props for his efforts to make your marriage happier today.
Be true to yourself
Knowing who you are and being realistic with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses also makes you more likely to be honest in your relationship, which in turn boosts intimacy and satisfaction. In fact, people who are truest to themselves also act less destructive in their relationships, which leads them to rate those partnerships as more positive, finds a study in Personality and Individual Differences. This isn't to say that you should simply accept all your faults without trying to be better, but knowing your own limitations and speaking your mind about the things you value will only draw you closer to your husband.
Do the little things
"When it comes to relationship satisfaction, you can't just ride on the big things like, 'I don't drink, I pay the bills, I don't beat you, we went to Hawaii last year,'" says Wilk. "This stuff is not really what keeps couples happy in their daily lives." What truly matters is all the small stuff that adds up, such as being there for each other when one of you needs to vent, noticing when he needs a hug, or making him his favorite meal just because. "It's also giving up on the idea that you have to feel in love all the time. Marriage is about trust and commitment and knowing each other," says Wilk. "That's what love is."
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