Perhaps you and your partner found yourself in a romantic rut in 2016.
It could be that you bickered over which presidential candidate to support. It could be that one of you was working long hours and left the other person feeling neglected.
Or, it could simply be that you’ve been together a long time now, and the spark has seemingly faded.
The good news: It’s possible to recover from any of these situations. The less-good news: You’ll have to work at it.
Up for the challenge? Awesome.
Over the past year or so, Business Insider has shared many research findings and expert insights on how to develop a great relationship. Below, we’ve rounded up the most compelling of that advice.
Whether you’ve been married for decades or just moved in together, you’ll be able to apply at least some of these tips to your 2017 romantic life.
1. Show gratitude for your partner
As Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin has reported, couples who express gratitude toward each other are more likely to stay together. In fact, thanking your partner even once can bring you two closer months later.
That’s possibly because a single act of gratitude sparks a cycle of gratitude and generosity: You thank your partner, so your partner feels appreciated and invests more in the relationship, which in turn makes you feel more grateful to them.
Meanwhile, in the 2015 book “The Gratitude Diaries,” journalist Janice Kaplan describes how being thankful to her husband — for something as mundane as fixing a leaky faucet or driving home from a party — meaningfully improved her relationship.
2. Occasionally remind your partner of all the ways you contribute to the relationship
There’s a concept called “operational transparency” that businesses can use to improve customer satisfaction. The idea is to show customers how much work goes into delivering the product or service.
For example, while you’re waiting for the available flights to appear on the screen, a flight aggregation website will tell you exactly which airline databases it’s searching. So you can see the amount of effort it’s putting in.
On an episode of The James Altucher podcast, behavioural economist Dan Ariely argued that you can apply these findings to the science of relationships. Simply tell your partner (once in a while — not all the time) about your day full of errands: the drugstore, the supermarket, picking up the kids from school, and so on.
Knowing what you’ve contributed when they weren’t looking, it will be harder for your partner to take you for granted.
3. Before you get married, talk about your individual career ambitions
For her 2016 book “Earning It,” Joann Lublin, who is management news editor at The Wall Street Journal, interviewed dozens of high-powered women.
Some women had partners with equally high-powered careers, and Lublin learned that the only way for both to succeed was to sit down and have a conversation about it — before things got really serious.
In the book, Lublin shares how she and her husband, also a journalist, signed a “marriage contract” years ago, in which they agreed that they would alternate who took the lead in any relocation for a job. It’s not a panacea for marital discord — but it can prevent a lot of frustration down the line.
4. Practice ‘mindful conversation’
“Mindful conversation” isn’t designed to help romantic couples, per se — but it’s a useful exercise in learning to actually listen to what your partner is saying, instead of tuning out or waiting for your chance to jump in.
You can practice with your partner or with someone else. Here’s how it works (one of you can be “A” and the other can be “B”):
- A talks and B listens for a set time period.
- B responds with, “What I heard you say is …”
- A gives feedback and B responds until A is satisfied.
- A and B switch roles.
It might be awkward at first, but it gets easier over time.
5. Look outside your relationship for additional sources of fulfillment
As Business Insider’s Jessica Orwig has reported, Finkel and his colleagues call the modern partnership the “suffocation model” of marriage because we expect so much from our relationship — love, companionship, and personal fulfillment, just to name a few things.
Finkel recommends looking outside your marriage for additional sources of personal fulfillment, like friends, hobbies, and work. That way, you’re not placing all your demands on your partner, and potentially setting yourself up for disappointment.
6. Try something new with your partner
Research suggests that couples who try new things together are more satisfied with their relationships.
For example, in 1993, psychologist Arthur Aron and colleagues published a study that found married couples who spent time jointly doing new and exciting activities — like hiking or dancing — were more satisfied with their relationships than couples who did routine activities together or who didn’t change anything.
It’s a reminder that relationships take work, and that boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s a sign that you need to spice things up a little.
7. Share your beliefs about money with your partner
Money problems in a relationship are rarely just about money — and resolving them often requires going deep into each other’s emotional lives.
According to Don Cloud, president and founder of Cloud Financial Inc., it’s important to share with your partner your beliefs about money, and let them share theirs. Maybe one of you believe it should be used for happiness, while the other thinks it should be used only for necessities.
Armed with knowledge of each other’s beliefs and feelings, which are ultimately driving your financial behaviour, you’ll be in a better position to reach a compromise.
8. Divide chores equitably between you and your partner
This might seem like an obvious one — but it’s important.
Interestingly, one study found that each member of a couple tends to overestimate how much of the housework they do, so that the total adds up to more than 100%.
“It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes” coauthor Paula Szuchman recommends a system where each person specialises in the chores they’re best at.
“If you really are better at the dishes than remembering to call the in-laws, then that should be your job,” she writes. “It will take you less time than it will take him, and it will take him less time to have a quick chat with mum than it would take you, which means in the end, you’ve saved quite a bit of collective time.”
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