Whether you are in couples therapy or not, you have probably wondered at one point or another about some tips to strengthen your relationship. If you are in marriage counseling/couples therapy, this list can provide some ideas for making progress outside of your appointments. If you are not in couples counseling, this list of tips will hopefully generate some ideas for ways you can be more intentional about putting in the work your relationship deserves on a daily basis.
- Check-in monthly about how fair things feel with division of labor – chores, work, childcare, scheduling, etc.
When the to-do list isn’t divided fairly, it tends to hurt both partners and the relationship. Most couples don’t talk openly and specifically about who does what and why it’s that way, which often leads to tasks getting divvied up without much thought or care (usually leading to one person doing an unfair share). Discussions about division of labor can be difficult, especially if there is pent-up resentment or defensiveness. The following is a great resource to help you and your partner navigate these discussions to establish a fair division of labor. In couples therapy or marriage counseling, I usually recommend partners go through each of the FairPlay cards together to get a good understanding of who does what and what, if anything, should change about the division of tasks.
- Share a quick, daily connection ritual: set aside at least 15 minutes a day for uninterrupted time together
Fifteen minutes might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the time in a full day, but if couples are deliberate about using that time to connect, it can make a huge difference in how close they feel. Ideally, couples can find more than 15 minutes a day to focus on one another, but if not, rest assured that it’s not so much the amount of time that matters as it is being intentional about how the time is used. Here are a few ideas of rituals that can foster connection:
- Take a walk together
- Share the best and worst parts of your day
- Work on a shared project you enjoy (planning a trip, creating a memory or picture book, building something for the home)
- Share new music you are listening to
- Read together or watch an episode of a favorite show
- Couples scrabble or puzzles
- Check-in daily about each other’s mood and wellbeing
This might seem obvious, but couples in marriage therapy often report that they gradually lost connection because they stopped checking in regularly and conveying that they care in small, but meaningful ways when life got busy. Do you ask your partner one of the following every day?
- How are you feeling today?
- I’m feeling ____ today, how about you?
- How’s your day going so far?
- You doing ok?
- Is there anything about how you’re doing, overall, that you wish I understood better?
The key to these sorts of check-ins is conveying that you genuinely care about how your partner is doing. Steer clear of telling your partner how they’re feeling or pushing an issue if they say they’re not feeling great but don’t want to talk right then.
- Use apps or games to spark up conversations and continue to get to know each other
Couples who are continually getting to know each other better are much more likely to feel satisfied in their relationship and deeply connected. Even if you already know your partner better than anyone else, make an effort to continuously discover new things about yourself and your partner. If you feel like you’ve run out of new things to talk about, you’d be surprised at how many unexplored topics there might be that can make for intimacy-building moments! Here are three resources that can be a goldmine for fun, new conversations you and your partner can have:
Some of these questions or exercises can also spark up conversations that can be very important and bonding for couples who are engaged to be married or who are in premarital counseling.
- Find something to share together – a hobby, a goal, a passion, a tv show
Consider “getting into something” together. Think about things you like or bucket-list items that could make for some fun new sharing. Some ideas include:
- Try to learn a new skill together, like
- Baking or cooking something new (a cooking class can make for a great date!)
- Gardening – a quick run to the nursery to look at plants can be a fun, quick break in the day.
- Improve on an exercise skill or train for a race: Weight lifting, biking, cycling, swimming. You can bond over your progress and struggles!
- Woodworking – YouTube, I’m looking at you here for a “How to get started DIY woodworking” video.
- Brewing beer or roasting coffee beans
Remember, the point of all this is to find new, enjoyable ways to spend time together. Focus on the process of learning this skill, rather than just the outcome of what you learn or produce (i.e., try to enjoy the journey of learning about the science of bread-baking together even if it results in a failed loaf of sourdough!)
- Sign up for a coffee bean subscription and try new roasts together
- Sign up for a wine-of-the-month club
- Go to an arts festival or music festival and explore – share what you like and don’t like, and talk about why!
- Ask one more question than you’re used to asking. Especially in an argument.
Arguments tend to escalate when one or both partners gets defensive. If you can find it within yourself to replace a defensive comment with a question about something you’re confused or curious about, this will convey that you care to understand your partner.
- Show you respect your partner by accepting their influence
The healthiest marriages are those where both partners accept influence from one another – where they are open to hearing their partner’s opinions and feedback and can integrate it in a way that still allows for their own sense of self, grounded in their own values. So much of couples therapy is spent helping couples find ways to accept that their partner has a different perspective and not take it personally while integrating the information about differences.
- Say more than “I love you” – get specific.
Saying you love each other is good! Love is why you’re together, after all. But, when the going gets tough, sometimes couples can benefit from a more specific reminder of what exactly that love is about and why it is foundational. When couples are able to get specific with their partner about what they specifically love and admire about their partner, this helps strengthen the foundation of the relationship every time it happens. What do you love about your partner, and why? What specifically do you admire about them?
- Instead of saying, “I love you,” or “I like you” try “I love how you are so ______ (e.g., playful with the kids; hard-working; passionate about your hobbies; generous; whatever it is you really love!)
For more on this and more examples, check out what the couples therapy research says about the need for a fondness & admiration system. Marriage therapy often starts with couples discussing what drew them to each other in the first place. Talking frequently about the specifics of why you fell in love is a powerful relationship maintenance tool.
- Use mind-reading powers only for good. Couples often try to read each other’s minds – guessing what the other person is feeling, wanting, expecting – this happens all the time, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, partners who know each other well are better at attuning to and meeting their partner’s emotional and physical needs. However, regardless of how well you know each other, there is a lot of guesswork involved in this, and attempting to read each other’s minds can definitely take a turn for the worse, especially when partners start to make negative assumptions about their partner’s intentions, feelings or beliefs. A good rule of thumb is to only guess what your partner is thinking, feeling, or wanting if it is in an effort to show them you care or to try to meet a want or need. Also, this is best done when followed up with a fact-check – something like “it seems like you’re feeling stressed, is that right? Is there anything I can do to help?” This will help you avoid telling your partner how they feel or should feel.
- Say “Sorry”.
This one might go without saying, but many couples in couples therapy or marriage counseling need coaching on making amends and repairing effectively. Saying “I’m sorry” is only one aspect of truly repairing after an argument or doing something hurtful, but it’s a very important step that has to take place in order to move on and past mistakes. Some tips, in order of when they should take place, for a “real apology” include:
- Deep breath and try to calm down
- Self-reflect on what you did and whether it reflects the best version of yourself. If not, get clear on where you veered.
- Acknowledge what you did
- Express your remorse
- Provide an explanation, not an excuse
For a great podcast on how to say sorry, check this out
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of what it takes to have a healthy marriage, but using these tips regularly can certainly provide a “booster” for a relationship that feels a bit hollow at times. These tips can be especially useful for couples in couples therapy or marriage therapy to try between sessions. The more couples do outside of couples therapy, the faster and more effective the couples therapy will be.