Looking for some good news?
You can have a better relationship starting today.
While there are no quick-fix solutions, the effort you put into improving your relationship will pay off.
Maybe your relationship just needs a tune-up. Maybe it’s time for a major overhaul. Either way, change occurs in small steps, taken and sustained over time.
With that in mind, here are 52 practical to-dos—one for each week of the year—to get you started.
- You know that thing your partner hates that you do? Coffee grounds left all over the counter. Your wet towel on the floor. Stop doing it and see what happens.
- Pay attention to your “yeses” and “noes”. Say yes when you can, and no when it matters. Generosity is always beneficial.
- Be a Secret Santa: Do some small thing each day that your partner would appreciate and don’t say a word about it. Put the toilet paper onto the holder, clean their car windshield, put gas in their car. My favorite is to shred the huge pile of paper on top of my husband’s shredder.
- Question your assumptions, especially about your partner’s motives. When in doubt, ascribe a positive motive rather than a negative one.
- Many of us say we want to be close, yet we rebuff our partner’s bids for connection. Sometimes we miss their move entirely! This week, pay attention to how you push your partner away and how you reach out. If your partner doesn’t notice your move towards them, don’t give up. Make it again, in a way they won’t miss.
- Here’s a simple way to improve your communication. After stating your position, ask, “What do you think?” Most of us assume our position is a fact when, often, it is an opinion.
- Sometimes our calendars are so chock-full of activities that trying to fit in a formal date night can seem like a chore as opposed to a treat. Try “speed dating” instead — as in taking ten minutes to sit down together and give each other your undivided attention. Tea, wine, candle light optional.
- You know the question you’ve been wanting to ask, the thing you’ve been wanting to say, the action you’ve been wanting to take, but you’re just too afraid? This is your week to take a risk. Go on. Step out of your comfort zone. It’s the way that we grow.
- Do something about your phones. You know what I’m talking about.
- Talk three times this week for more than 15 minutes about something other than kids, work, logistics, or politics. (Yes, it’s possible!)
- Add this little gem to your repertoire: Be curious instead of furious. Instead of saying, “ARE YOU KIDDING?!” try, “What’s most important to you here?” “What’s upsetting you?” “What is it that you want me to understand?”— rather than stating and restating your position.
- Vow to stop griping about each other’s tone, look, timing, body language. Calm down and see if you can simply listen to the message.
- Remember the saying about all work and no play? This week, do something fun together. Want extra credit? Do something your partner likes to do more than you.
- Far too frequently, we make “helpful” comments that hardly help. “You should have taken the frontage road.” “Are you really going to wear that?” When you’re not driving, learn to be a passenger. I mean this literally and figuratively.
- It’s amazing how few issues are really worth going to the mat. The phrase, don’t sweat the small stuff, is one we’ve all heard, and it’s much easier said than done. This week, ask yourself, “Is this really important? What would I lose if I just let it go?”
- Raise your hand if you like being interrupted. Few of us do, yet many of us interrupt without noticing. Put it on your radar. Stop yourself, even after the fact.
- Skip the corrections when your partner is talking. Was it Tuesday or Wednesday? At Thanksgiving or Christmas? Who cares? Don’t bother setting the record straight.
- Fun fact: Even under the best of circumstances, most of us miscommunicate and misunderstand each other most of the time. With this in mind, strive to be more patient, less judgmental, and more accepting of the times you are misunderstood. Aim as well, to calmly clarify what you want your partner to understand.
- Some of us are better than others at apologizing. If you’re already good at it, hats off to you. If not, use this week to practice giving a Class-A apology, if one is needed. That means no “Sorry if I offended you,” or “Sorry that bothered you.” Be accountable for what you did.
- Know that complaining, as tempting as it is, doesn’t solve problems. Try being creative and proactive in your solution seeking.
- Use this week to pay more attention to the positive and negative contributions you make to your relationship, and pay little or no attention to what your partner is doing.
- Make a list of five things you appreciate and present it to your partner each day this week. Can be things about who they are— their kindness or generosity—or things that they did.
- The marital researcher John Gottman names these behaviors The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: dismissiveness, criticism, stonewalling, and contempt. If any of these are part of your repertoire, vow this week to work toward eliminating them. (This one will take more than a week to master, but if you want a happier relationship, you might as well get started.)
- Kiss hello and goodbye. (Make them real kisses. Not a peck on the cheek like you’d give your Aunt Mildred.)
- Chances are your partner has some annoying behaviors. Chewing too loudly. Misplacing their keys. Spend this entire week not commenting on any of them.
- Check in during the day. A text, a photo of the bird on the bird feeder, a quick voice mail — all quick ways to say, “I’m thinking of you.”
- Be nice. All too frequently, I hear couples speak to each other with impatience and annoyance, and even disdain. I mean out in the world, not just in my office. Keep in mind, this is your loved one. There’s no reason to treat each other as if your feelings don’t matter.
- Do more than your fair share. Without keeping score. Without being resentful. No relationship is fifty-fifty. Sometimes you do more. Sometimes you do less.
- Many of us talk without listening, or listen without looking at each other, or give half-hearted attention at best. For an upgrade, give your partner your undivided attention at least once a day. Start with sometimes and aim for always.
- In the midst of a conflict, instead of continuing to escalate, try saying this: “We’re on the same team.” Isn’t that what we want as couples: to be working together, as opposed to against each other? To feel that we’re allies instead of enemies? The trouble is, we often lose sight of this when we get into battle mode. “Same team” is particularly effective—and comforting—because it says, “We can be friends, even when we disagree.”
- Figure out your partner’s love language and express love the way he or she experiences it.
- Figure out your love language and make sure your partner knows how you feel most loved.
- Practice forgiveness. Grudges are toxic to your relationship. Besides, chances are, at some point, you will need your partner to forgive you.
- Bring home some flowers. Who wouldn’t appreciate tulips on their nightstand?
- Under pressure, many of us resort to one (or even all) of these damaging behaviors: Blame, Withdrawal, Complaining, Resentful Compliance, Feigning Confusion (as in, what are you talking about?) As with The Four Horsemen, make an effort to find healthier strategies to deal with your conflicts.
- If you find yourself in an argument, be the one to suggest that you pause, back up, and then take a different, healthy approach.
- When it comes to relationships that last, psychology researcher Dacher Keltner has found one skill in particular that couples need to hone. And it’s not what you’d guess. Yes, it’s important to be kind and respectful and have tools to solve problems. It turns out, however, that laughter is key. Couples who can laugh at themselves and each other, can joke about the crazy, frustrating aspects of their relationship, have far more staying power. In other words, couples who lose this are sunk. So this week, find some ways to yuck it up.
- Trade chores.
- Have a frank conversation about money. Where you are regarding your retirement savings, paying down the credit card, how you feel about your spending, what you would like to see change in the coming year. Keep in mind #s 6, 11, and 35.
- Touch more. Maybe a neck rub or foot rub or simply scooting closer on the couch. Most of the couples I work with say they’re longing for physical contact that doesn’t necessarily lead to sex. (Yes, even the men.)
- It’s easy to get into a rut when you’re with the same person, year after year. Sex. Vacations. Dinner. How you spend Saturday night. Do something surprising this week. Add some spice.
- Declare this week “daily walks week.” It’s good for your heart in more ways than one.
- Take a “Tech Shabbat”— as in 24 hours of no TV, phone or computer. Dust off the scrabble board, read side-by-side, or… well, use your imagination. Don’t be surprised to discover just how addicted you are to your devices.
- Couples who are able to talk openly about sex — what they want, what they do and don’t like, new things they would like to try — are more satisfied with their sex lives than those who find talking about sex too awkward or uncomfortable. A good starting point is to talk about messages you received about sex growing up and how they have affected you as an adult.
- Bring back bedtime stories. We’re never too old to enjoy being read to. Try a different poem each night, or find a good short story to read in installments.
- Be quiet together. Sit on the porch or in a park bench and look at the stars or the sunlight in the trees. Sometimes it’s nice to connect without words.
- Ask your sweetie to dance. It doesn’t matter if you have two left feet or can’t keep a beat. Think of it as hugging to music.
- Arrange for a date night. Start to finish. Get the babysitter. Buy the tickets. Plan the outing. Why this is so hard for so many people is a mystery to me. Date night shows up on every good-for-your-marriage to-do list because we all need to get out of the house (without kids) and do something special.
- Many of us routinely ask, “How was your day?” Instead of simply answering,”Fine,” don’t stop there. Comment on a piece of music you heard, or a passage in a book that you’re reading. Share some funny snippet of conversation you overheard on the train. The more we reveal about ourselves, the more intimate our connection to each other will be.
- Do something of service together.
- If you’re the messier one, clean up more stuff without being asked. If you’re the neater one, be more patient than usual about your partner’s messiness. Face it. This is an issue that will never fully resolve. The key is to be more gracious in dealing with it.
- Say I love you. This never gets old, especially when your partner can see that you truly mean it.
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