Building and maintaining intimacy takes time and dedication. It takes being attentive over the long haul. But many of the things that contribute to intimacy over time can also revitalize your relationship in the moment. Here are five things you can do right now—but that we hope you’ll do regularly—to make your relationship better.
“Speak” your partner’s love language. According to Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, there are five ways to express love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. It’s important to use your partner’s love language. While you may feel most loved when your partner spends time with you binge-watching your favorite show, he or she may feel most loved when you fix the problem with the router on the home network. Figure out your partner’s language, and then express your love by doing something in that love language.
Say something positive. Years ago, two researchers did a longitudinal study of couples solving conflict. They found they could predict with 90-percent accuracy which couples would break up “based on the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict…. For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions”—inside jokes, teasing, or touching, for example. These so-called masters of marriage use positivity not only in moments of conflict but on daily basis to stabilize their marriage, and you can, too.
Lighten up. Sing off key, dance La Macarena badly in the kitchen, or simply tell a joke or share an amusing anecdote from your shared history. (Be sure to choose one that’s entertaining to you both, and not one that’s humorous at your partner’s expense.) This time of life involves some emotional and physical hardship, so is it any wonder that we sometimes take it all too seriously? While we intuitively know that playfulness and shared laughter brings us closer to our beloved, research verifies that it really does. And not everyone has to think you’re funny—the only thing that matters is that your partner does.
Check your cell phone at the door. Smartphones have become central to our lives, but their ability to distract us exacts a toll that we often overlook. In tests that measured cognition, people who completed task with phones on their desks (even when the phones were turned off) performed worse than people whose phones were in another room. The greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention. Leaving your phone in another room with the notifications off demonstrates to your partner that he or she has your undivided attention—and makes it easier to deliver on that promise.
Celebrate a recent success, even something small. According to Tara Parker-Pope in her book, For Better, there’s a correlation between celebrating and increased trust, intimacy, and satisfaction in the relationship. So, whether your partner got a promotion, finished an online course, or had the courage to have a difficult conversation with a family member, get out a cheese platter and a pitcher of lemonade, and sit on the porch for a spell and savor the accomplishment together.
And here’s one extra thing you can do right now: Share this list with your partner—because you shouldn’t be the only one working at laying the groundwork for intimacy in your relationship.