Long-lasting love is built every single day.
Prevention and consistency are not sexy.
You daydream about romantic getaways with white sand beaches. And worry about betrayal and abandonment in the wee hours of the morning. But you probably don’t use much of your brain space thinking about what your relationship is like on a normal Tuesday afternoon.
The truth is, relationships rarely end due to drama or trauma.
As a professional couples therapist, I spend forty hours a week helping couples save their marriages. They often tell me they wish they had come in earlier because small changes to their routine made such a big difference.
Hopefully, becoming familiar with these ideas now may save you a whole lot of time (and money) on couples counseling in the future.
My husband is also a couples therapist, and we believe in this so much that we practice what we preach. At this point, we follow this routine without even thinking about it, and we’ve been happily married for 19 years :-).
The silent killer that slowly eats away at relationship happiness.
Most people think that the biggest risk to living happily ever after is infidelity or intense conflict. These issues are problematic, but they are front and center, so it’s almost impossible to pretend they don’t exist.
The more dangerous risk is the slow, steady disconnection that happens when people stop prioritizing one another. I see it all the time in my practice. People with amazing relationships can start to take their love for granted and neglect the necessary TLC it deserves.
This leads to a feeling of “going through the motions.” Romantic, passionate lovers become roommates or co-workers running a household together.
Daily relationship habits can prevent this gradual decline in intimacy.
If you don’t build regular relationship routines, the lack on intentionality will allow other things to swallow up your time. It’s not usually anyone’s intention to move their partner to the back burner. People are putting fires out all day; standing on stilts juggling plates.
Like all health regimens, a relationship routine isn’t hard; it just requires commitment and consistency.
We know from Dr. John Gottman’s research that it’s the little, everyday habits that lead to long-term relationship success.
The good news is that it hardly takes any time at all to keep your relationship healthy. You have time to manage all the crises in your life and stay passionately in love at the same time.
In fact, this is crucial. If you wait until every crisis is resolved, the time might never come.
Instead, simply insert some quick, easy habits into your daily life. It will take you less than an hour over the course of a weekday, and an extra 20 minutes on the weekend.
You probably put your seat belt on instinctively without even noticing you’re doing it. Every time you click the metal together, you are dramatically increasing your life expectancy.
At first, you had to get reminders from someone who cared about you. Remember those eyes in the rear-view mirror checking to see that you were buckled up before putting the car in gear?
Please think of me as the person who cares about you, reminding you to put your seatbelt on. Eventually, you’ll do it out of muscle memory.
First thing in the morning – 3 Seconds
A kiss on the forehead from the person who wakes up first.
A gentle, sleepy kiss will start your day off with a reminder that you are in love. It’s a small gift to both of you.
That little connection is a way to be intentional about your priorities. As you’re beginning to gear up for the day, everybody wins by starting off with a micro-burst of warmth.
Saying good-bye — 6 Seconds
The famous 6 second kiss.
I’ve been recommending John Gottman’s famous 6-second kiss to my couples therapy clients for over a decade. And one of the things we’ve learned a long the way is that, believe it or not, one of the best times to work on physical intimacy is first thing in the morning.
Most communication about sex is non-verbal. This is part of what makes it fun but also part of what leads to initiation shyness. One person often wants closeness, but not necessarily “going all the way” kind of closeness. Instead of holding a hug for an extra moment or two, people often hold back out of concern that their action will be misinterpreted as a bid for sex.
It’s hard to figure out how to say something like,
“I want to make out with you right now, but am not sure if I want to do anything more than that.”
The magic of a kiss that lasts six seconds is that both people understand that it is a moment of intimacy, not necessarily a bid for sex. This takes the pressure off when both people have agreed to it in advance. By creating a routine to make out a little bit every single morning, there is no risk of misinterpretation. It also is a reminder that you are partners, not college roommates.
So I recommend that you say goodbye in this manner every day for the rest of your lives. If both people want the kiss to lead to more, that is not against the rules!
Mid Morning — 29 Seconds
Send a gratitude text.
Gratitude is the super glue that holds relationships together. everyone wants to be noticed and appreciated.
I’m not a fan of texting to communicate about serious topics, but emojis have their place when it comes to quick expressions of appreciation. Every day you can think o fone thing your partner did that you appreciate.
Here is a list to get you started:
- Thanks for emptying the dishwasher.
- I know you’ve got a crazy day today…really appreciate that you carved out time to bring the dog to the vet.
- I noticed you bought my favorite kind of coffee. Thanks for remembering!
Lunch — 120-1800 Seconds
Lunchtime is a great time to just chat with one another to see how your days are playing out. If there’s a way to grab lunch simultaneously, that would be ideal, but if not, just leave a quick voicemail. This provides a pleasant reminder that you have someone in your corner who cares about you.
Try to loop in something you know about their morning to show them you’ve been listening:
- Hey babe, hope you had a good morning and you meeting went smoothly.
- Hi there, just touching base to tell you I love you.
- I hope the kids didn’t give you a hard time this morning because I know you woke up with a headache.
Reconnecting at the end of the day — 4 minutes
Walk in the door. Hang up your keys. Find your partner.
Sometimes we enter our homes on the phone or with 18 bags of groceries. This is normal, and you might be stressed out about getting dinner made or relieved it’s finally time to relax.
You still have time to go find your partner and just say hi super quick. Most couples don’t have luck trying to talk about their day in the middle of re-entry turbulence, so it’s better to postpone that conversation to evening.
When one person enters the home, it’s absolutely crucial for couples to find one another to connect briefly. If you know anything about Attachment Theory, you understand that the goal here is object-permanence.
I’m here. You’re here. Good, now we can keep goin.
Dinner — 30-minute minimum
Turn off screens and make eye contact.
I feel this one doesn’t need an explanation. Talk about whatever you want; just turn off your devices.
Evening Check-In — 10 minutes
Beyond “How was your day?”
Once things have calmed down, and everyone is wearing comfortable clothes, it’s time to have a conversation. Some couples schedule the same time every evening, and for others, they plan to connect after a given event has been completed (e.g., after the kids are asleep or the dishes are done).
I recommend allocating a minimum of 10 minutes for this conversation, so both of you have a chance to vent about your stress or brag about your wins. Follow these simple tips:
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Empahtize with your partner
- Don’t play Devil’s Advocate
- Join around the emotion you are hearing – ie “That’s so frustrating”
- Maintain eye contact and stay actively engaged
Weekend roundup — 20 Minutes
This 20-minute conversation should happen when both of you are comfortable and relaxed. Check in about the ins and outs of your week, and what’s been on your minds. It’s also an opportunity to talk about any conflicts that might be brewing so that they don’t become the last straw on the camel’s back.
Leave a message in the comments if you’d like me to write an additional post about the weekend check-in with some more details about how to prevent little annoyances from turning into big fights.
Stay connected and avoid taking your person for granted. Just like putting on your seatbelt every day, these routines will help keep you safe from a danger you might not otherwise see.