Beginning a relationship is generally the easy part; it’s maintaining the connection that gets a little tricky. That’s why a growing number of twosomes (whether or not they’ve tied the knot) are going into couples therapy as a preemptive strike against the tough times that will inevitably hit… and to learn how to keep the good times flowing. To give you a leg up in your love life, we asked a few top relationship experts to share the most crucial things they’ve uncovered over the years—from big-picture philosophies to little gestures that go a long way. These practices will help keep your union in a happy, healthy place.
- Act Out Of Character
Couples develop a particular dynamic: the way they relate to each other that repeats itself over and over. If you break that pattern and act against type—in a positive way—you inject new life into the relationship. For example, if you always get angry at your guy when he doesn’t follow through on some chore, try addressing him in a nicer, friendlier tone, then thank him when he does a good job. It works every time.
- Get In Touch A Lot
No doubt you hug and kiss each other hello and maybe snuggle a little after having sex. But simple acts like stroking his arm while you’re watching TV, taking his hand when you’re walking down the street, or fondling his thigh during dinner are also ways to bond. Touching your partner throughout the day triggers your feel-good hormones, which reinforces your affection and makes you feel closer on an instinctive level.
––psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, PhD, author of Emotional Fitness for Couples
- Don’t Be BFFs
Being pals with your man is great in theory. But that kind of connection can actually kill your sex life. You could wind up having a roommate-like bond with each other rather than a hot one if you let yourself lose track of the masculine-feminine tension that excited you at the beginning of your relationship. Save the gab sessions for when you hang out with your girlfriends and your sexy energy for connecting with your guy.
- Enjoy A Steady Diet Of Sex
If you want to maintain closeness with your man, get out of your head and into bed. Guys feel more comfortable connecting with women on a physical level, not engaging in deep discussions. To strengthen your bond, approach your lust life as you would your gym regimen or your diet—make it part of your routine. Set a goal to have sex at least a couple times a week.
- Be More Positive Than Negative
There’s a more effective way to air grievances than to file an angry complaint. Sandwich your negative comment between two positives. If you want to complain about how he’s always late, for example, try something like “You know, I love that you’re so laid-back and easygoing, but it really bothers me when you show up so late. I’m sure you can still be the fun guy I adore and also be on time.”
—Los Angeles psychologist Yvonne Thomas, PhD
- Take Turns Talking
To make sure you both get a chance to state what’s on your mind during a disagreement—and get your points across—alternate playing reflective therapist, where one listens while the other talks
—psychologist Diana Kirschner, PhD, author of Opening Love’s Door
- Find The Intersection
When making decisions together, try to find common ground. You each should write down exactly what you want. Let’s say you’re angling for a vacay in Hong Kong to see the sights and hit up the cool shops and restaurants, while he wants a tropical getaway where he can veg out by the pool and sip drinks decorated with miniature umbrellas. Now that your desires are clearly laid out on paper, you can pick a place that will satisfy both your needs. A cool city, a little sun...how about Thailand?
—Paul Dobransky, MD, author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love
- Echo Each Other
When you and your man are having a serious relationship talk, it’s easy to get so caught up in how you want to respond. Thus, you don’t really listen to what’s being said. That’s why it’s important for both of you to repeat each other: so you know you’ve been heard and you feel understood.
- Grow Your Tolerance
Neither of you is perfect, and the quirks you both have are here to stay. So, rather than let those annoying traits work your last nerve, try to get in touch with the upside of those particular flaws, even if it’s not immediately recognizable. Instead of getting annoyed when he starts screaming at the TV while watching a basketball game, for example, remind yourself how much you love his passion. Or, if his shyness with new people bugs you, think about how refreshing it is to be with a chill, genuine guy rather than a blowhard who needs to chat with everyone in the room.
—Denver psychologist Jennifer Oikle, PhD, dating coach for Coupling Connection
- Take A Time-Out
It’s important that you take a break from the daily grind and spend alone time as a couple—cell phones and the Internet are off-limits. It can be a fun day trip or just a few quiet hours to yourselves. The point is simply to steal away (even if you’re going nowhere) so you can reconnect, free of any distractions.
- Have His Back
You might not agree with your guy when he’s had a riff with a friend or he thinks his boss is being unfair, but you should always be on his side…and vice versa. Otherwise, you’ll both feel like you can’t count on each other. That doesn’t mean you have to take the “you’re so right” route all the time. Just hear him out, and let him know that you’ll support him no matter what.
—New York City psychotherapist JoAnn Magdoff, PhD
- Spend A Little Money On Each Other
You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to give small presents to show your love. In fact, gifts are more fun—and meaningful—when they’re not expected. Try to get into the habit of exchanging sweet tokens of appreciation for no particular reason. Don’t go and blow your paycheck though. It’s not about being extravagant; it’s just a way of showing that you really get—and think about—each other. Maybe you buy him a T-shirt of his favorite band that you saw on sale or he gets you a pair of pajamas in your favorite color.
- Be A Good Date
Face it, no one can stay fascinating forever. After being together for a while, the initial excitement fades, and your guy can start to get kind of boring sometimes. Hey, don’t think you’re off the hook—if you’re feeling a little ho-hum about him, the feeling is likely mutual! To combat the blahs, take turns coming up with an interesting date idea every month. Keep the time and details to yourself, and try to think outside the box—dinner and a movie is not exactly innovative. An awesome concert or a wakeboarding lesson, for example, is a much less predictable treat.
Avoid these often-overlooked issues.
- You ignore money matters. Even if it’s awkward, you need to discuss who should pay for what and how much both of you can afford.
- You’re too friendly with his pals. They’re his friends, and he wants to preserve that separate part of his life that doesn’t include you. So, don’t tag along every time he’s with them.
- You never argue. By not addressing a problem, it probably won’t be resolved. Explain how you’re feeling, give him a chance to respond, and don’t let it turn into an insult bout.
- You’re too low-maintenance. If he’s inconsiderate and you don’t call him on it, he’ll keep treating you badly. Just be straight-up and say you don’t like being disrespected.