10 Ways To Improve Your Relationship, Part 2


More helpful suggestions to increase collaboration and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Last week I suggested that revitalizing your relationship involves looking at what you're doing, and how you're doing it. Today's list addresses both dimensions of your relationship, with two essential communication tips (#10) and a practice of connecting with yourself that I recommend everyone try at least once (#9). But this should top the list: create loving connection by being the first to reach out with affectionate touch, a compliment or expressions of endearment. Over time this will increase your positive feelings toward your partner, and they'll feel better as well.

6. Explore New Environments or Activities

You've probably heard this one before, but exposing yourselves to new situations and people can have an energizing effect for your relationship, as well as for yourself individually. The variety of things you could do are endless, from classes--cooking, dancing, painting, to name a few--to volunteer work (for a day or ongoing), attending a talk at the Common Wealth Club or elsewhere, or trying some new activity, like kayaking or a meditation class. Our brains like novelty, and novelty is good for relationships too. Not only do you have a new experience to share, but in different contexts you get to see different parts of your partner, which lends itself to a different conversation between you. 

7. Plan a Weekend Getaway

Sometimes all a relationship needs is more time together. Along the continuum between date nights and a longer vacation, a weekend away can be a great way to reconnect. Besides, even going somewhere overnight will make the weekend seem longer. Camping and being in nature are great ways to rejuvenate, but even if you're not into roughing it, at least try unplugging from your digital world and tuning into yourselves. Getting away is an opportunity to slow down and be with each other, in addition to taking in something new.

8. Wheel of Life Assessment

Most life coaching models begin with a self-assessment of how satisfied you're feeling in different areas of your life. The areas commonly addressed (often drawn as a circle with eight quadrants) are: Relationship, Family & Friends, Fun & Recreation, Career or Job, Personal Space, Spirituality or Contribution, Health, Money. Using a numerical scale of 0-10, assign a value to each area indicating your degree of satisfaction or fulfillment. Share your assessment with your partner, and discuss ways you can support each other in strengthening the areas in which you feel deficient. Odds are, if you're experiencing significant challenges in some of these areas, it's affecting your relationship as well. 

9. "I am . . . " Exercise

This exercise allows you to connect with a deep place in yourself, and share that with your partner. The format is simple. Each person takes 7 minutes, and makes a series of statements about themselves, each beginning with "I am . . . " or "I . . . " After each statement, the listener simply says, "Thank you, and what else?" There is no right way to do this, but it's an opportunity to express the range of who you are—some of your statements may be silly, others serious or heartfelt. For example, "I love certain chord progressions in music, they touch me in a way other things don't," or "I am as old as the trees and the stars." Let yourself be poetic or metaphoric, or speak to what you most care about, your deepest wishes or fears, or what you connect with most strongly. Using the full seven minutes is important, as is not deliberating about what you say, or elaborating on any one thing. Think of it as tapping into a dreamlike space in yourself, but if you're willing to let go and try, this exercise can take you somewhere unexpected. And to share this with the person you love is very powerful and intimate.

10. Changing Your Conversation

The most common complaint of the couples I see in my practice is that they don't communicate well. Despite whatever else is troubling them, they're usually unable to talk about it in a productive way. Here are two things to keep in mind that should help. When you argue, or even just have a different opinion about something, take the time to listen to what your partner is saying first, and let them know you understand it before offering your opinion. If they feel heard and understood, they will generally be much more willing to hear your point of view. Often arguments happen because we're so quick to dispute what our partner is saying, they feel shut out and have to escalate to be heard. Acknowledging what they say doesn't mean you have to agree or think they're right. It's a way to slow things down and give you both a chance to be heard. Only then can something new begin to emerge.

My second piece of advice is to speak more about your own experience and less about what you imagine your partner is going through. Therapists often call this using "I statements," but truthfully just beginning a sentence with the word "I" doesn't necessarily make it about you. Here's an example. Rather than saying, "You promised you'd be on time, you really don't care about me!" try this: "When you're late I feel really uncared for, I'm upset and sad, and I start to doubt that I matter to you." In speaking this way you not only communicate that you're upset but also your more vulnerable feelings. Doing so, your partner will be less defensive than if you blame or assume to know what they feel. It can also facilitate a new conversation (see paragraph above), rather than the argument you usually have.