Sure, it takes time and effort to build a successful relationship, but there are some quick, easy, surprisingly effective ways to strengthen your bond with your partner. These simple, research-based strategies are not likely to salvage a deeply troubled relationship, but they can help keep a relatively happy one on solid ground until there’s time for a grander gesture. Six of the simplest ways you’ll ever find to strengthen your relationship…
Make a big deal about your partner’s little victory. Listen intently and respond enthusiastically when your partner tells you about something that went right for him/her that day. Do this even if he describes something very small, such as fixing a broken appliance or receiving positive feedback from a colleague. Caring partners know that they must provide support when their loved ones experience challenging times. But research published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that reveling in partners’ victories also is pivotal for relationships, increasing trust, intimacy and overall satisfaction.
Next step: After your partner shares the story of a small success, suggest something that commemorates the accomplishment, such as, “That’s worth opening a bottle of wine.” This turns an everyday moment into a relationship-building shared celebration.
When your partner makes a misstep, picture an external, temporary explanation for it. Your partner arrives late to dinner, leaving you waiting. Do you think, He doesn’t care about my time…or He was probably stuck in bad traffic? If you’re like most people, it often is the former, negative conclusion. We tend to blame individuals and ignore potential external factors.
This tendency is very bad for relationships—blaming our partners for everyday missteps decreases our satisfaction with our relationships, makes our partners feel persecuted and gains us nothing. When you feel let down by your partner, instead take a moment to ask yourself, What temporary, outside factor could be to blame for this?
Do exactly the opposite when your partner gets something right—think up a permanent, internal explanation for this success. Example: If your partner brings home your favorite ice cream, don’t think, Oh, he did that just because he wanted ice cream, too—instead think, He’s such a thoughtful person.
Reflect on what your partner has done recently for the sake of the relationship. Find a few minutes every month or so to mentally list two or three things your partner has done lately for you or for your relationship and note to yourself that you are grateful for these actions. They can be small things—maybe she walked the dog even though it was your turn…or he called in the middle of a busy day just to say he loved you.
Several studies have found that focusing on gratitude for even a few minutes a month is an effective way to strengthen the emotional bonds between partners. One researcher even referred to gratitude as a “booster shot for romantic relationships.” It’s so powerful that it can lead to a virtuous cycle—your sense of gratitude might boost your positive feelings for your partner so much that your partner senses your positivity and starts feeling and acting more positively toward you, too, encouraging kind deeds and warm feelings on both sides.
Be your own neutral arbitrator after arguments. Most of us get caught up in self-righteousness after we argue with our partners—we tell ourselves that our side of the disagreement was 100% correct and our partner’s side was 100% wrong. Instead, try this trick soon after an argument—mentally revisit the exchange from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. What would this person think about the disagreement? How might he find the good that could come from it?
A recent study of 120 married couples in the Chicago area found that doing this significantly improved marital satisfaction—even though the couples did it for only a few minutes every few months. These couples still argued as much as ever, but their arguments did not lead to the same degree of lingering displeasure.
Next step: Attempt to take this neutral perspective during arguments.
Learn to accept your partner’s praise. Some people struggle to accept compliments from their partners, often because they suffer from low self-esteem and/or consider themselves unlovable. Overcoming this tendency could do wonders for their relationships—receiving kind words from a partner makes people feel much closer.
A psychologist at Renison University College in Canada found a way for people who have trouble accepting their partners’ compliments to greatly improve this ability. After receiving a compliment, take a moment to silently explain to yourself why your partner admired you…and to reflect on what this compliment means to you and its significance for your relationship. Doing this will encourage you to see the praise in abstract terms, rather than only in terms of the specific, isolated item or event that was complimented. It’s easy to dismiss compliments for isolated things—Sure, I got that one thing right, but it was just luck—but much more difficult to dismiss abstract praise.
Touch. It won’t surprise you to learn that happy couples tend to do more affectionate touching—such as holding hands, giving shoulder rubs, placing a hand on a partner’s knee—than unhappy couples. What is surprising is that affectionate touching is very effective at making couples feel closer—so effective, in fact, that it’s likely to work even if your partner knows that you’re doing it only because it takes a lot less thought and effort than most other relationship-building strategies. In one study, psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University found that people felt more secure in their relationships and more trusting of their partners following physical contact, even when they knew that their partners were making physical contact only because the academic running the study had just instructed them to. If touch can make couples feel closer under those entirely unromantic circumstances, it’s very likely to work in your life as well.