We aren’t the first to say it: It takes more than love to maintain a healthy and successful relationship. Strong feelings for one another are a necessity, yes, but lasting partnerships require a bit more work—especially when other aspects of life require your attention. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to make sure that your relationship is getting the care it needs to be long-lasting. Below we talk about three simple, but impactful actions that you and your significant other can take to keep your relationship building going strong.
How we want, and need, to be loved changes throughout our relationships and, on a larger scope, lives. To keep your relationship with your significant other strong, it’s important that you’re both in tune with how you want to receive love to build trust. According to Mary Kay Cocharo, licensed marriage and family therapist of over thirty years, it’s paramount that you’re willing to continually “understand what constitutes love in your partner’s language and love them in the way that matters to them.”
Take a mother of a young child, for example. At some point (or likely several), all she’s really going to want is for her partner to offer to do the dishes so that she can go to bed. Not the sexiest showcase of love, but to a mother who’s begging to get some sleep that’s the most loving thing that her partner can do at that time. “It’s about getting to know, at this time in our lives, what is my partner’s greatest need and how can I support them to get it?” Cocharo adds.
The way in which you or your partner wants to receive love isn’t static, either. Depending on where you are in your life and relationship, it can shift. Before our hypothetical mother was a mother, she might’ve primarily preferred physical touch as a showcase of love. However, because of a significant life change, that’s no longer the case at this point in time. “Gary Chapman [author of “The 5 Love Languages”] talks about those love languages as being very constant over the lifespan,” says Cocharo, “but I also find that, at certain junctures in the relationship, people really need something more or less than they needed it before.”
Furthermore, she suggests checking in with your partner often by asking questions such as how are we doing, how are you doing, and is there anything you need to feel loved by me. Then making adjustments to your behavior as needed. When you’re both in tune with, and act on, how you’d like to be loved, you’re much more likely to be satisfied and confident in your loving relationship.
Another key to maintaining a strong relationship is having more positive interactions than negative ones. While that sounds obvious, there are actual studies behind a ratio of five to one—that is, five (or more) positive interactions to every one negative interaction. Cocharo highly encourages couples to pay attention to this data, saying, “Every couple’s going to have a bad moment, it’s just human nature. But every time something negative occurs—a huge blowout fight or an eyeroll—the couples who made it are those that had five [more] positive interactions.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pull out a notebook and jot down notes on every exchange (in case you were worried). Just pay attention to your relationship’s current balance. “Always be putting good things into the relational space, so that if you do have a withdrawal from that tank, you’re not depleting it entirely,” Cocharo adds.
Positive relationship interactions can be as small as genuinely listening to what your partner has to say or as straightforward as expressing affection or demonstrating small acts that say you care and have an appreciation for the other person. They could also be spending quality time together and even spending quality time apart.
“Something [that] nobody talks enough about, I think, is sex,” Cocharo tells us. “For couples to have a relationship that’s strong, they need to be willing to talk about their sex life—what they want and what the problems are, if there are any.” Physical intimacy plays a pivotal role in a romantic relationships, so it’s important that you and your partner are on the same page.
While this usually isn’t a topic that many couples are quick to discuss, in order to maintain a solid relationship, you should at least be willing to talk about it with each other. Perhaps bringing it up in front of a therapist isn’t quite your speed yet (which we totally understand). However, having that conversation with your significant other is one of the healthiest things that you can do for your intimate relationship. “The truth is, we have this privacy around talking about our sex lives. I think couples need to at least be talking about it with each other and figuring out how to make that part of the relationship strong,” Cocharo explains.
Perhaps prioritizing intimacy isn’t that easy for you. You have children, a demanding job, a busy schedule (possibly filled with wedding planning), or a myriad of other very real obstacles. Though these things may be demanding of your attention, your intimacy shouldn’t take a backseat. Cocharo’s marriage advice: Schedule it in. Really, write in it your calendar (or tap it into your calendar app).
Just like you may already be scheduling time for yourself, with workouts and pampering time. “Put it in your schedule. Know [that] Wednesday’s the night, light the candles, put on the music, take a shower, and go be together. Couples will go, oh, it’s not romantic to schedule sex, and I always respond with, well how romantic is it to not be having any at all?” Cocharo says.
If that weren’t convincing enough, consider the biological benefits. When you and your partner are intimate, you release two primary hormones—oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin, specifically, is often nicknamed the “cuddle hormone” and, in this case, helps you and your partner bond. By being intimate together, you’re actively strengthening your bond and, therefore, your relationship. “Couples who live in that zone of feeling good about each other generally report that they’re happier overall,” notes Cocharo.
Acting on these things has probably become a bit difficult, all COVID-19 things considered. If you find yourself in that boat, click here for more things that you can do to help your relationship thrive throughout these uncertain times.