In romantic relationships, connection is key, but when the stresses of life feel like they're piling on you, the effort you put toward your partner may slip to your peripheral. This is especially true for couples who have been together for awhile; it's easy to take the person who's always been there for you for granted. That's why more and more people are seeking the help of trained professionals. However, if you're not quite ready to see therapist, there are a few effective couples' therapy exercises you can give a try.
Needless to say, there a definite ebb and flow, and it's important to reconnect after you've drifted apart. And while quality time spent on a romantic getaway can certainly do the trick, sometimes time and money don't allow. For some busy couples — especially those with kids — it may even seem impossible to find time for a date night. The good news is, whether you have 20 minutes, 10 minutes, or you barely have one, you and your other half can connect with each other every single day with a few tried-and-true professional tricks.
Ahead, two relationship experts share the common exercises they often give to their clients. Whether you've been in a relationship for three months or 30 years, these techniques will help you and your S.O. get on same page so you can grow closer than ever before.
1. Define & Prioritize What You Want In Your Relationship
In order to clearly communicate with your partner, it's important to identify what you need and expect from your relationship. Noah Clyman, clinical director of NYC Cognitive Therapy, a private practice in Manhattan, suggests taking some time to make a list — and having your S.O. do the same. "Each of you write a series of short sentences starting with the word 'we,' in the simple present-tense phrased in the positive," he explains. (For instance, "We kiss 'hello' and 'goodbye,'" or "We sit down for dinner together at least three times a week.")
Next, rank your lists in order of importance, then compare. The last step is to compile a master list that you both agree on — then keep it in a place where you see it every day. "Put it in a nice italic font, print it on colored paper," Clyman suggests. "Read it together and post it, make it suitable for framing [or] have it posted, framed, or engraved."
2. Identify Your Partner's Positive Traits
Another listing exercise: Clyman advises couples to write down what the other does to make them feel good. This can include things like cooking dinner, holding your hand, or texting you to check in during the day. Next, take a look at each others' notes and commit to doing two or three of those things over the next week. The final step, he says, is to "express appreciation and gratitude" when your loved one delivers.
3. Get Closer Through Physical Connection
Dr. Valeria Chuba, a clinical sexologist, sex educator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, shares a technique that helps two people get in sync — literally. "A great and very simple intimacy exercise is to lay down together on a couch or a bed and synchronize your breathing," she explains. "For an added touch of closeness, you can face each other and put your hand on your partner's heart. Or, you can try spooning so that you can really feel your partner's heartbeat and body. Breathing in unison for five to 10 minutes helps regulate both partners' nervous systems and synchronize their heartbeats. It's a very balancing, relaxing and connecting experience."
Clyman adds that cuddling is not only cozy, it releases oxytocin, the "feel good" hormone. He also suggests that couples share a lingering 60-second kiss at least once a day, giving them a minute to reconnect no matter how busy they may be.
4. Make (Extended) Eye Contact
"Eye gazing is another way to create a sense of closeness and connection with your partner," Dr. Chuba points out. "It sounds deceptively simple, but because it's quite a vulnerable exercise, it can be surprisingly difficult to do for extended periods of time. I recommend starting with 30 seconds and building up to three or four minutes. Don't worry if you feel self conscious, nervous, or start laughing — this is a completely normal reaction to this new and vulnerable experience."
In today's multitasking, plugged-in world, she explains why something this basic can be so impactful. "The power of this exercise is in the fact that your attention is focused completely on each other, with no distractions or masks to hide behind," she explains. "And while it may be a bit challenging to eye gaze at first, it can be very rewarding. The experience of truly seeing, and being seen by your partner, is incredibly powerful, connecting, and intimate." She adds that this, in addition to the synchronized breathing technique above, can be particularly transformative.
5. Let Each Other Blow Off Steam
Work, money, family issues ... there are a lot of things that stress us out. In order to blow off some steam — as well as limit the time you spend stewing — Clyman suggests spending 10 minutes a day hashing it out. One important "rule" for this exercise is not to bring up grievances regarding your partner or your relationship. "Take turns talking about your day to whine, complain, and get support from your partner," he says. "The goal is to be a good listener. Don’t try to solve the problem. Take turns listening and being supportive, validating your partner, even if disagree."
6. Practice Arguing Constructively
Speaking of disagreements, they're a natural part of any relationship. However, the way the argument unfolds determines whether it's constructive or destructive to your bond. If a hot-button issue arises, Clyman points out an effective way you can each express your point of view. "Take turns as the 'speaker' and 'listener,'" he recommends. "The listener should take notes and write down what their partner says. Then the listener summarizes what the partner just said and how they might be feeling inside. The listener must summarize to their partner's satisfaction. Then, switch roles."
Keep in mind that, when arguing, there are some things you should never say to your S.O., including blameful, hurtful, or blanket "always" and "never" statements that will only work counterproductively. Remember that being kind in the way you do conflict is essential to respecting your partner and your relationship.