RELATIONSHIPS TAKE WORK.
And the sky is blue. I don’t think I’m handing out any spoiler alerts when I say that a strong and healthy relationship takes true effort. You can’t bullshit your way through a great partnership.
For those of you who are genuinely trying to make your relationship better each day, yay! You are a rockstar. And even if you aren’t the master of romance, I am sure there are plenty of big things you do for your relationship. You attend those tedious work events to impress your partner’s boss. You cook dinner every other night. You leave each other sweet notes. You talk each other up with your friends. You buy each other nice gifts for their birthday.
…But what about the little things?
Are you making a habit of building a solid relationship Monday through Friday?
Here are five little things you are (probably) not doing that are ruining your relationship. Read through and see, does your relationship need some work?
1. NOT STAYING PRESENT
While this may seem like an obvious “duh” in every relationship, it’s not as common as you think. Staying present takes focus and energy – and it requires not zoning out, checking your phone, or daydreaming while being with your partner. As a counselor/coach, I practice it every single day with my clients. It’s a discipline that really does take practice. And while you don’t need to implement it into every daily interaction you have, if you’re not at least unleashing it for your relationship, you’re in trouble.
Now…do you have to be present with your partner every second of every day? Of course not. Impossible. However, when your partner says something to you, even if it’s indirectly, that’s your cue.
“The weather out there looks pretty bad.”
“Dang, I wonder if the Dodgers are going to pull this one off.”
“Katie said we might hang out tonight. Not sure though.”
My favorite relationship therapist in the WORLD, John Gottman, is a stickler about these. He calls them “bids” for affection. Basically, your partner is giving you an opportunity to connect in those moments. They could have kept what they were saying to themselves, but instead they put it out there to see if you would latch on and create a conversation. They are sharing their inner thoughts with you. It might not seem like much – and sometimes, perhaps, we would rather have the silence – but it’s a big deal in the grand scheme of your relationship.
Over time, your relationship isn’t going to be as exciting as it is right now. The novelty is going to wear off. You won’t have as much to talk about. Things will slow down. So if you aren’t in the habit of making small talk with your partner now, you are not going to be set up to last. It’s also good to note that ignoring these bids is essentially shutting your partner down. By not communicating back, you are signaling that their inner dialogue isn’t interesting enough for you to muster up enough energy to respond.
Yikes. That’s kind of hurtful.
Get in the habit of accepting bids and offering them in return. You’ll be so grateful down the road.
2. NOT KISSING UPON ENTERING/LEAVING
Sealing the beginning and ending of your day with a kiss is a wonderful foundation for your relationship, and a lot of you aren’t doing it. You might leave the house at different times or get home too late to even bother. Perhaps you used to do it awhile ago and somehow the habit slipped. Whatever the excuse is, find a remedy today.
Living together has its unique set of challenges. You might not be there yet – and if that’s the case – start practicing this NOW.
Kissing is a quick and easy way to show affection and to remind the two of you that while you are probably roommates, partners, and friends – you are also lovers. Your relationship is romantic and sweet and caring. So release some oxytocin at least twice a day and add kissing into your daily habits. You don’t want to risk your relationship morphing into something platonic, and as you all know, that is a very plausible risk in long term relationships. Start good habits now. Kiss more!
3. NOT ASKING QUESTIONS
At this point in your relationship, you might actually think you know each other so well that you can practically predict the other’s behavior.
Aww, so cute.
And so dangerous.
You are dating a growing, breathing, and changing human being. They are constantly being exposed to new people, new places, new moods, and new thoughts. While he or she might be more of a “loyalist” who keep tradition close to heart, that does not mean you can predict every thought or response they express. And their consistent nature definitely does not excuse you from asking questions.
If you are not asking your partner daily questions, you are not showing interest in their life. Period.
The couples who say to each other, “you continue to surprise me!” are the couples who constantly engage within each other’s lives. They ask about their thoughts, about their feelings, about their dreams, about their fears. They ask about their stressors and their worries and their losses. They ask about their victories. And while after awhile it might seem like they really do know everything there is to know about their partner – ONE new question could shatter that entire theory.
Asking each other questions (yes, it must be reciprocal) is the foundation for communication. A few questions could unlock a gridlock that’s been interfering with your relationship for weeks! It opens space for honesty. It removes any armor you might be carrying around. It builds trust. Questions invite authenticity, empathy, and understanding.
Everybody likes to talk about themselves, and everybody should have that opportunity – especially with their partner.
Never stop exploring your relationship. Never write off your partner as a constant. Human beings are not meant to stay stagnant, we are constantly growing, and if you refuse to ASK them anything, you are forfeiting the excitement of their journey.
4. NOT GOING TO BED AT THE SAME TIME
I get it. You both are busy.
You have a full time job, volunteer opportunities, obligations to close personal friends, networking gigs, and of course – your beloved “me” time. They, on the other hand, might work odd hours or simply have a different circadian rhythm. You guys have fallen into the habit of going to bed and waking up in drastically different timezones, and it’s not because you don’t love each other. It just is what it is.
But it’s pulling you two apart without you even realizing it.
Couples need to feel like they are in sync with each other. You two are on your own wavelength, and everybody else files in and out. So having days that start and end at completely different times hinder that process. This is why couples call themselves “ships in the night” when they have completely opposite schedules. They aren’t a unit anymore. They’re just roommates sharing a common space.
Don’t let your amazing relationship fall victim to this. Try your hardest to start the day and end the day at similar times. Practice kissing upon each arrival and each exit. If one of you still has work to do or needs a few extra hours before they fall asleep, compromise. Maybe invest in a subtle nightlight that allows one member to read or work while the other drifts off. Just do SOMETHING to trick each of you into thinking you have similar schedules.
Because a lot of your communication is going to happen as you wind down for the day. You guys can share how your day unfolded, ask each other questions, kiss, and do your thing. You guys are going to need time to bond during the week.
A relationship is not fueled on the weekends, it must be nurtured every single damn day.
So do your best to keep each other on the same wave length.
5. NOT CARVING OUT QUALITY TIME
Let’s go over the basics first:
Sitting side by side while scrolling through Facebook is not quality time.
Hanging out with a group of friends is not quality time.
Going to the movies in a dark room where talking is forbidden is not quality time.
Being in the same room alone is not quality time.
If all of these instances were considered quality time, most couples would be doing swimmingly. Alas, this is why couples counselors exist.
Guys, this is not quality time. Not even close. You don’t get quality time through osmosis. You actually have to participate.
Quality time must have two things:
a) You two must be alone
b) You two must be interacting
That’s it. Seriously.
Quality time does not require money. Quality time does not require a ton of planning. All it needs is a little designated space and it’s good to go. But without it, your relationship suffers.
It’s easy to get caught up in social gatherings, extra circular committees, downtime, and social media – which is why you have to actively carve out quality time. It doesn’t matter if quality time is your love language or not – you still need it to function. I am all about incorporating the other prioritized love languages into your life (touch, gift giving, acts of service and words of affirmation) as needed – but really try to make sure quality time doesn’t slip through the cracks even if it’s not at the top of your list. Working on your friendship is always going to be a necessity of a solid relationship.