“The first 6 months were glorious.” There was a far-off look in his eyes. “We were happy, in love, never even argued! We adored each other. I was in heaven.
Then came month 7. Freakin’ month 7. That’s when things went downhill.”
This story is more common than you think. As a relationship therapist, I hear it all the time from couples who have been together for 1 year or 20. The first 6-18 months were magic. But something changed along the way and things felt… different. “We just couldn’t seem to get the magic back.”
Many couples are surprised to find that it doesn’t take very long to break their negative cycles, act in ways that align with who they want to be, and feel happier in their relationship. They only needed to know what to do.
Can you get your relationship back to feeling like it did in those first 6 months? These 5 simple steps will help.
1. Laugh more!
Go to a comedy show. Watch a funny movie on Netflix. Better yet… laugh at his jokes even if they’re lame and you’ve heard them a thousand times. Make him feel like the funniest guy in the world. How you make your partner feel about him or herself directly impacts how they treat you and the relationship. If you see your partner as an adorable, respectable, admirable person, they will act in ways that mirror that expectation. If you see your partner as lame, grumpy, or unhelpful, they will mirror that expectation. How you expect your partner to act is how they WILL act because your interpretations of their actions are coloured by your expectations.
2. Prioritize Positivity
Leading relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman has found that the happiest relationships are those that have 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction. A positive interaction is simple: a smile, a giggle, a supportive conversation, a compliment, physical touch, doing something nice, listening intently, or simply being there for your partner when they reach out to you in any way. When your marriage is filled with positive interactions, the occasional negative ones don’t feel so awful. They won’t break you. Positive interactions have a good ROI (Return On Investment) – they don’t cost anything, and they could save your relationship.
3. Notice & Appreciate
NOTICE when your partner does something nice, and APPRECIATE it. Sometimes we get so caught up in the drama and negativity that we forget to even notice when our partner is reaching out to us. It can be in small ways, like with a smile or a coffee, or big ways, like being there to support you when you’ve had a crappy day.
An easy way to remember to notice your partner is to start a gratitude journal: write 3 things that your partner did that you appreciated that day. Did she compliment you? Did he cuddle with you even though he was exhausted? Did she bring home your favourite beer? Notice and appreciate (out loud). When you appreciate something specific your partner did, it increases the chances of them doing it again because that acknowledgement feels so good.
4. Just Say Yes
If your partner wants to do something that you’re not that into, like going for a walk in the freezing cold or to see a movie you think will be boring or to visit his family, just say yes! It sounds simple but it will make you feel good and it will make your partner feel loved.
5. Engage in Touch
Intimacy is a necessary part of a romantic relationship. And it’s one of the first things to go for many couples.
Touch each other. As Dr. Sue Johnson says, couples who are falling in love touch all the time. Couples who are falling BACK in love touch all the time. Hold hands, sit close on the couch, give back rubs and foot rubs, stroke their hair and face, simply be intimate. It may feel unnatural at first, especially if you’ve broken the habit of touch a long time ago, but sit with that discomfort. It’s about to get a lot better.
Notice that I didn’t say argue less or learn better communication. Arguments are a part of love, and we argue because we want to feel heard. Arguing doesn’t typically solve anything, especially in the heat of the moment. But actively trying to stop arguing isn’t going to solve your problems either.
What’s more important than how much you argue is how you connect after the argument, how you heal the wounds of the words you’ve spat at each other, and to what extent you are able to make each other feel heard and seen. So don’t stop arguing, but do start apologizing for being hurtful, touching more often, and laughing more frequently. Start putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and seeing life from their perspective. Start recognizing that it’s your choice how you want to react to a situation: you can react with kindness or anger. The more often you choose kindness, the happier the tone of your relationship will become. Your relationship is a product of the choices you make in how you connect with and respond to your partner on a daily basis. Follow these simple steps consistently and you’ll find your relationship becomes more stable, secure, and connected.