Do you know how to avoid taking each other for granted? There is now a science behind what makes relationships happy. Research by marriage specialists such as Dr. John Gottman, author of the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Bill Doherty, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, gives practical suggestions for how to strengthen long-term relationships.
These tips are simple enough for anyone to apply in relationships. The trick is to do them consistently and daily. Doing this keeps topping up the “emotional bank account” of your relationship, which leads to more intimacy and sex.
To see the current state of the emotional bank account in your relationship, take this free relationship happiness quiz . Get instant feedback now to see if you are taking each other for granted.
Doherty makes a vital observation about marriage/committed relationships. He says that the natural trend in long-term relationships is for romance, affection, appreciation, and communication to fade away over time, not necessarily because couples start to dislike each other, but because they become too comfortable or unmotivated together. In other words, they neglect to make an effort to be their “best selves” with their partners, and they start taking the path of least resistance and falling into bad habits of criticism and defensiveness. Too much comfort and not enough positivity lead to boring and tense relationships.
Doherty explained that while it’s important to choose the right person, it’s also essential to have a strategy, backed by research, to stay happy. His phrase is “the intentional couple,” meaning you need to be mindful of what you’re doing, and you need to have a plan to nurture the positive in your relationship. Just drifting along, or getting caught in the business of life, just doesn’t cut it! Avoid taking each other for granted.
Couples who are rich in relationship habits, rituals, and traditions will be better suited to avoid the trap of taking each other for granted and will keep the positive side of the relationship nurtured over time. Gottman shows that adding a weekly “State of the Union” meeting to the strategies below, is vital for keeping track of the state of connection, sex and intimacy between you.
Here are three important rituals to prevent you and your partner from taking each other for granted and drifting apart.
- Create a habit of reunion every day.
According to Doherty, the most important moment in your marriage is the moment of reunion—how you greet each other, either on getting up in the morning or on coming home in the evening. If you consistently greet each other well, you will look forward to seeing each other. If you are inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose the sense of excitement. If you criticize each other at the moment of reunion, you can become fearful of seeing each other.
Make a commitment to be loving and or/upbeat when you greet each other. Make it a habit to give each other a full-bodied hug for at least 6 seconds first thing when you get home. On days when you work late, or are travelling without your partner, send them a kiss from your Smartphone or via Skype/Face time. Consistently greeting each other well will transform your relationship. Make sure every day your relationship has romance and affection in it, so that you and your partner are always excited to see each other.
- Set aside two minutes of undistracted communication every day.
Right at the start of the day, have a ritual to nurture the romance, affection, and connection in your relationship. Gottman has found that two minutes daily of undistracted communication as a couple can be more important than spending a whole unfocused week together. If you’re not a morning person, resolve to wake up a little earlier each day and have a hug in bed before getting up, or a coffee/breakfast with each other before you both head off into your day.
Gottman found that even the food you’re eating together at breakfast may be a distraction. When you‘re finished eating invite each other to have a 6 second, full-bodied hug. Make sure you ask each other one thing about your day ahead, what you’re each planning to do. Then check in with each other about that event at the end of your day.
You may find, like many couples have, that starting your day in this way generates a good feeling that persists throughout the day. It sets you up for a good day ahead. If you add two minutes of non-distracted communication (and hugging) at the moment of reunion at the end of your day, it keeps this daily connection topped up.
- Practice an appreciation ritual every day.
Sadly, couples tend to take the good in each other for granted very quickly, and can even stop noticing the good that the other is doing. They get into the bad habit of focusing more and more on the petty failings of the other. Beware! It’s important to focus on what your partner is doing right. What you focus on grows.
Using Gottman’s research, build in a ritual of appreciation into your daily life. Learn to say thank you throughout the day, even for the small things that your partner does for you. End each day before going to bed by sitting together, turning all electronic media off, and thank each other once again for all the big and small things you’ve done for each other that day. Gratitude vaccinates couples against the inevitable hardships of life.
When you start doing this ritual, you may be surprised to realize how much each of you is doing for the other, and your life together, during the day. If you’ve become so focused on petty complaints about your partner, you’ve probably forgotten the good qualities they have! Your thank you ritual at end the day will help you become more tolerant of each other’s failings. Who amongst us doesn’t have failings?
Most couples allow their relationships to slowly decay over time, often without realizing it. Don’t make this the fate of your relationship. Daily rituals keep the sense of connection strong between partners. Make sure that romance, affection, and appreciation are a part of your couple life every day.
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