In romantic relationships, as with so much else, it’s the little things that count. Just as a mis-spoken word or odd look can throw a couple into a weeks-long feud, small and seemingly insignificant gestures can help keep a relationship on track. A little gift, an off-hand compliment, a moment of physical contact can vastly strengthen a relationship.
According to psychologists Nathaniel Branden and Robert Sternberg, who have both researched and written about the challenges of romantic relationships, these little displays of interest and affection can be more important than all the “active listening” and trust games in the world. Their research has suggested 10 keys to keeping both partners content, satisfied, and happy with each other.
1. Tell your partner you love them.
Although it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words often speak more clearly than actions. Take a moment every now and then to verbalize your feelings for your partner. A simple “I love you” or “You mean the world to me” can go a long way towards making your significant other feel wanted, cared for, and secure in your relationship.
2. Show some affection.
Small acts of physical intimacy – the hand on the small of the back as you brush by in the hallway, your arm around their shoulder on the sofa, your hand on their thigh when seated side-by-side, holding hands while walking down the street – give your partner a warm feeling and convey the love and affection you feel for them. The littlest touch can be as important, or even more important, than the longest night of sexual intimacy.
3. Show appreciation for your partner.
Let your partner know on a regular basis what it is that you like most about them – what you admire, what makes you proud, what their strengths are in your eyes. Building a romantic relationship isn’t jsut about the initial bonding – it’s about encouraging and supporting each other’s growth over the course of your lives. Help your partner achieve his or her potential by constantly building them up.
4. Share yourself.
Don’t keep your likes and dislikes, dreams and fears, achievements and mistakes, or anything else to yourself. If it’s important to you, share it with your partner. More than that, be sure to share more with your partner than you do with anyone else. While there is certainly a need for some personal space in even the closest relationship, give as much of yourself and your time as you can bear to your partner.
5. Be there for your partner.
It’s obvious what you need to do when your partner faces a major life challenge like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. But it’s just as important to be supportive when your partner faces life’s little challenges, too – an argument at work, a rough commute, a misplaced check. Don’t let yourself be a doormat, and definitely don’t stand for physical or verbal abuse, but thicken your skin a little and be the voice of calm and reason when chaos strikes. Listen to what’s bothering them and offer whatever help – even if it’s just sympathy – you can.
6. Give gifts.
Take advantages of opportunities to give material tokens of your love. Just the right book picked up at the bookstore, a special dessert, a piece of jewelry or clothing you noticed at the store – anything small or large that tells them you were thinking of them. Leave a love note for them, or send them an SMS at work to “I love you” – again, the little reminder that they’re always on your mind will help your partner feel better about themselves and secure in your relationship.
7. Respond gracefully to your partner’s demands and shortcomings.
A big killer of relationships is unreasonable expectations. Unless you married a robot, your partner comes pre-loaded with a whole range of human failures and foibles. These are features, not bugs! Learn to recognize and appreciate your partner’s quirks for what they are: an essential part of who they are as people. Since our weaknesses are often at the core of our deepest insecurities, make sure you don’t pick on or otherwise go out of your way to highlight your partner’s flaws.
8. Make “alone time” a priority.
No matter how busy both of your lives are, make sure you commit at least an evening every week or two to be alone together. Have new experiences, share your stories, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.
9. Take nothing for granted.
Cultivate a daily sense of gratitude for your partner and the thousands of little blessings he or she has brought into your life. Remember that, if you’re happy in your relationship, your partner is doing a thousand little things for you every day to make your relationship work (as, hopefully, you are for them). Never take that for granted – a relationship is work of the highest order, and the second you stop it starts to slide away.
10. Strive for equality.
Make sure you follow the Golden Rule in your relationship: do unto your partner as you would have done unto you. Strive for a fair division of household duties and other tasks, and don’t expect or demand special considerations you’d be unwilling to offer in return.