Maintaining a happy marriage is difficult for a lot of people, especially those whose schedules are packed with work, kids and household commitments, leaving very little time to bond with their partner. It’s no wonder that 33 per cent of first marriages in Canada end in divorce.
But studies have shown that spending more time with your partner leads to increased happiness. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that couples were happier and more fulfilled when they spent more time together. In fact, people reported feeling almost twice as happy when they were with their spouses.
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“Living with someone in a monogamous relationship for years can feel monotonous and unexciting but when seen through a different lens can also be seen as stable, familiar and safe,” says Sara Dimerman, a psychologist and author in Thornhill, Ont. “Regardless, marriage takes work.”
Before you start plotting a major relationship overhaul in an effort to create a happier union, consider incorporating one or more of the following “love hacks” into your spousal routine. They’re the small gestures that will show your partner you’re willing and eager to go the distance together.
Practice 7 days of appreciation
“Think about something small that you can do for your partner each day in the morning for a full week,” says Richard Tatomir, a Vancouver-based relationship expert. “The more specific the small gesture is, the better it will be received.”
He suggests making them coffee in the morning, buying their favourite flowers or even writing a love note. They’re small tokens that show you appreciate your partner and everything they do. This isn’t something that needs to be done every week or even every month, but once in a while, a “just because” bouquet of flowers or breakfast in bed can go a long way to strengthening your bond.
Learn their language and speak it
By this, Tatomir means your partner’s language of love and their language of forgiveness.
“This is a crucial idea in psychology because it forces a couple to really think about how they express their love and how it’s best received by their partner. You may express love through physical affection and they may do it in words of appreciation.”
The key is to know your language and theirs and to communicate through it.
“The same goes for your language of forgiveness,” he says. “You need to learn what is the best way to apologize in a way that your partner will understand and accept.”
Establish rituals of connection
It’s so easy to let the small intimacies you shared in the early days as a couple fall to the wayside. But these are the things that let your partner know you’re still a willing participant in your shared life.
“Whether that means giving your spouse a kiss and a hug in the morning before leaving for work or carving out some time in the evening to have a stress-reducing conversation, these rituals keep you connected,” Tatomir says.
Know how to start a conversation
Obviously, things will come up that will be upsetting, but how you approach your spouse about it is just as important as resolving your feelings. Tatomir says to avoid starting the conversation harshly with accusatory “you” language (i.e. “you did this”). And don’t ambush them with an argument.
“Don’t just drop a scary thing in their lap that they have to deal with immediately. Explain that it’s something you want to discuss but that they can address it right away or talk about it later,” he says.
It’s also important to start the conversation by explaining it’s an issue that’s important to you, and that you want to find a solution together — an approach that Tatomir calls using “team language.”
“Address it by saying, ‘let’s figure out a way to deal with this together.'”
There’s no question that practicing gratitude leads to improved physical, psychological and emotional health — but it can also ensure a longer, happier marriage.
A 2013 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that couples who are grateful for their partners are more committed to their relationship and report deeper trust in their spouse.
“Thank each other for things you mostly take for granted,” Dimerman says. “Even though your partner may say that no thanks are necessary, encouragement goes a long way towards helping each other feel appreciated and will likely lead to repeat performances.”
Turn off your phone when it’s ‘couple time’
Sometimes it can feel like your job is a 24/7 endeavour, but it’s not. When it’s time to sit down and relax as a couple, turn your phones to silent and enjoy being with each other. It’s a small gesture that shows you care about your time together.
“Couples commonly argue about electronics being too much of a priority in their partner’s life. Turn your phones off and show that you can be a couple without interruption,” Dimerman suggests.
READ MORE: Is monogamy a realistic relationship ideal?
Don’t forget to play
Life is serious business and it’s hard to get out of that mindset, but letting go and having fun is an important component of any relationship.
“Dust off your old LPs or take out your favourite CDs and dance in the living room,” Dimerman says. “Or just be playful. Even tickling your partner spontaneously can get you both rolling on the couch laughing. Enjoy being close or acting goofy together — it’s worth the effort.”