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17 Small Things You Can Do Today To Have A Stronger Relationship

Grand gestures are way overrated. Sometimes it's the small, simple things that make a huge difference in your relationship.

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1. Tell your partner what you ate for lunch.

Or shoot them an email about your boss's wacky tie. Or send them a Snapchat pic of any of the other random, meaningless, and mundane things that you noticed throughout the day.

Keeping your partner up-to-date on the small things you think, see, and experience fosters what some relationship experts call "interrelatedness," a key factor in intimacy. This is especially important if you're in a long-distance relationship, where you don't have many chances to chit-chat about the silly stuff.

2. Say thank you, even for the small expected things.

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Gratitude is one of the most important traits in happy relationships. The obvious reason is because it feels good to feel appreciated and acknowledged by someone you love. And the less obvious reason is that in high-gratitude relationships, both of you will be more willing and open to doing the work needed to keep the relationship strong and healthy. Researchers from Florida State University found that expressions of gratitude are correlated with greater "relationship maintenance behavior" — like bringing up concerns in a mature way, rather than letting them fester.

And here's something else: "The more you train yourself to acknowledge all the positive things your partner does, the more likely you are to see those positive things instead of the negative ones," Robert Taibbi, L.S.C.W., a Charlottesville Virginia-based therapist told BuzzFeed Life. Got that? Saying thank you can make you both feel better about the relationship.

3. Work out together.

Go for a run, play tennis, hit the gym, go to a yoga class, whatever you're both into. The UK company Vouchercloud surveyed nearly 3,000 American adults who had been living with their significant others for at least a year. Of the people who reported that they worked out together as a couple, 85% said it improved their relationship, and 61% said that it brought them closer together.

4. Get a good night's sleep.

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Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley had people take a survey every day for two weeks. The study participants answered questions about how much sleep they got, and whether or not they fought with their significant others. Turns out, people who slept poorly were more likely to report fighting with their partners the next day.

"[Not getting enough sleep] makes people experience more negative emotions and react more strongly to bad things, which means that people might feel more annoyed or angry at their partner than they would if they weren't tired," Amie Gordon, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California at Berkeley, told BuzzFeed Life in an e-mail. Another issue: "If the couple faces some unpleasant (negative) situation, partners who suffer from sleep loss might react more strongly in the situation (blowing things out of proportion for example)," Gordon says.

Gordon writes about how she and her colleagues carried out some of these sleep studies in a cool blog post for Psychology Today — worth reading to really understand just how important good sleep is.

Need help sleeping the full 7 to 9 hours that experts recommend? Check out these 14 Scientific Hacks To Help You Get A Better Night's Sleep.


5. Snuggle up at night.

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Or just find a way to make some physical contact with your partner while you're sleeping. Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, surveyed 1,000 people at the Edingburgh International Science Festival about their sleeping habits and their relationships. He found that 94% of couples who touch each other while they sleep reported being happy in their relationship, compared to 68% of couples that didn't touch.

The obvious disclaimer here is that this is a correlation that doesn't prove that touching at night causes happiness — it's just as likely that being in a happy relationship makes you feel like snuggling more. That being said, there's a good deal of research that shows a link between warm, affectionate touching and higher levels of oxytocin (the so-called "bonding" or "cuddle" hormone) in your blood. Which is to say: It certainly can't hurt to warmly touch each other a bit more, at night and otherwise.

6. Give your boo a foot or back rub that doesn't lead to sex.

About that warm, affectionate touching thing: enough with the back rubs with ulterior motives already. "A lot of couples fall into the pattern where the only time they show each other physical affection is when they want sex," Taibbi says. Taibbi, who is author of Doing Couple Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Work With Intimate Partners, says that this kind of pattern means that people begin to associate warm touch with pressure and anxiety, rather than kindness or affection. Not good.

There's a simple (and sweet!) solution, though: Find opportunities to squeeze, hug, rub, nuzzle, cuddle, or hold your partner throughout the day in a non-sexual way. Kiss them on the cheek while they're sorting the mail. Gently rub her feet when she's watching Netflix. Rest your hand on his knee when you're sitting next to each other in the car. You get the idea.

7. Show positive interest in the random things they're interested in.

John Gottman, Ph.D., has studied marital stability and relationships analysis for decades, written over 190 academic papers about his research, and is considered a leading expert in the field of psychology on these topics. In one of his studies, Gottman found that one of the biggest predictors of a happy and healthy marriage was that partners responded positively to each others' bids for attention. What that means is that when one person says, "Ooh, look at that adorable kitten!" the other person responds positively — they look, they coo, they make it clear that they are interested and share the appreciation. The less healthy way to respond would be to ignore their partner's bid, or to tell their partner to stop bugging them. Couples with partners who didn't positively respond to bids were much more likely to have problems.

There was an awesome piece in The Atlantic about this, and you should definitely read it for more details.

8. Go on a double date.

Call up your closest couple friends and get that ish on the calendar, stat. According to a presentation at the February 2014 Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference, scientists from Stony Brook University had 150 couples meet with each other, either spending 45 minutes making small-talk, or spending 45 minutes asking and answering increasingly personal questions. The couples who chatted about personal topics with other people said they felt more in love with each other after than the ones who just engaged in small talk.

The takeaway: Make sure your double date involves a lot of warm and personal conversation. Dinner and drinks good, movies or loud concert bad.


9. Schedule actual couple time, even if it's just for fifteen minutes before bed.


Taibbi says lots of couples in therapy report that they never really connect with each other anymore — they're just always so busy with other things. "When I see couples who are struggling, they're spending all their time being parents, the kids finally get to bed, and then someone goes to the TV to zone out and someone else gets on Facebook, they wander to bed at different times and then they're never fully connecting throughout the day," he says. "It's easy to get into autopilot and start living totally parallel lives." If that thought terrifies you (or sounds depressingly familiar), he recommends this simple tip: Be adamant about making regular time for one another, even if it's just fifteen minutes a day.

"Have a conversation about it, and then make it happen," he says. It could mean that you make a pact to chat about your day — one on one with no electronic devices — for ten minutes before bed each night. It could mean actually scheduling every other Friday night as date night on your calendar, and sticking to it. The details don't matter as much as just making an effort to stay on the same page, and recognizing that sometimes that does take a little bit of work.

10. Split the housework.

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According to a Pew Research Survey from 2007, 62% of couples say that sharing the chores is "very important" for a happy relationship. The only two other factors that ranked as more important than sharing chores were faithfulness and having a happy sexual relationship. And sharing chores ranked higher in importance than sharing religious beliefs, sharing political beliefs, and making enough money. It's that important. That held true across genders, ages, and even relationship status.

Here's a tip for how to make each other very happy when it comes to household tasks: Each of you promises to do one of the chores that the other one loathes. So if you hate doing the laundry, your bae can always handle it. But that's only if you solemnly vow to always be the one to clean the kitty litter box (because she just can't even with that scooper). Then remember to say thank you.

11. Go to bed angry.

Burn the old cliché. Burn it to the ground. "If you're too emotional or too tired or too stressed, your rational brain goes out the window," Taibbi says. You can't accomplish anything productive when you're in such a state (and no, the fight isn't "over" when one of you just gets too tired to go on anymore and gives up altogether). Going to bed angry doesn't mean shelve the issue indefinitely, or give each other the cold shoulder and then pretend it never happened the next day. It just means you sometimes need to take a step back and call a long pause. "Say, 'This is not a good time to talk about this — this is important, but let's talk about it in the morning when we're both less tired and can think clearly,'" Taibbi says.

12. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

He's late to dinner. AGAIN. Instead of assuming that this is obviously because he doesn't care about your time or your feelings, take a deep breath and try to think about other possible explanations.

Gordon wrote a great post for Psychology Today about this — according to research on relationships, she says one major way to avoid conflict is to "start by not assuming the worst." In an e-mail to BuzzFeed Life, she says: "I think the key is realizing that different people see the world in different ways, and your view of the world isn't necessarily the right one (there is no right, there is just how we interpret things). [...] This realization leads to a host of good things — trying to take your partner's perspective and understand where they are coming from, giving your partner the benefit of the doubt."

Gordon says to put yourself in your partner's shoes, to try to determine why they might have acted the way they did (instead of assuming the worst, as you might be prone to do. "[If] your partner was late, what situations have made you late when you didn't want to be? Think about what is going on in your partner's life — are they so busy and stressed that they don't have the energy to focus on the relationship right now? Did they get a poor night of sleep?" Just some things to think about. (She gives the disclaimer that if your partner is abusive or constantly letting you down, you shouldn't feel compelled to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is advice for how to avoid unnecessary conflict in generally good relationships.)


13. Get pumped about your boo's good news and accomplishments.

Yes, it's important to be there for your partner when they're going through something hard. But it's also important — maybe even more important — to celebrate with them when things are going great. Researchers from UCLA found that when you respond happily and enthusiastically to your partner's good news, that's a good predictor for future relationship commitment, satisfaction, and love. On the other hand, if you respond passively (say, by ignoring the good news) or destructively (by making fun of it, belittling it, or minimizing it), that's a predictor of bad things to come for your relationship.

The researchers say that it's because when you celebrate good news with your partner, it makes them feel understood, validated, and cared for — all good things for your relationship.

14. Do something weird together.

Your Netflix marathons are great cuddletime and all, but you should mix it up every now and then, too. There's research that shows that couples that feel bored with their relationships at year 7 are more likely to feel dissatisfied with those relationships at year 16. But here's some good news: Couples that participate in "novel and arousing activities" together report feeling happier with their relationships than couples that do mundane things together, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Some ideas of where to start: Check out LivingSocial deals in your town to find some odd activities you maybe didn't even know were an option. Or see if you get any inspiration from local MeetUp groups. And the next time a friend mentions they're going to check out a live-action role-playing murder mystery game, or a silent rave, or a haunted mansion... maybe ask if you and the bae can tag along.

15. Maybe don't tweet that.

Or this, either. Data from over 800,000 OkCupid users showed that people who professed that they "tweet frequently" had shorter relationships on average than those who weren't so active on the network. (Related, useless fun fact: People who say they tweet frequently also say they masturbate more. The more you know!)

16. Plan a night out with your friends, without your partner.

Or even a weekend. Experts say that having your own interests, friends, and hobbies separate from your partner is important for you to retain a sense of self. And Gordon agrees: "Maintaining your own identity is important as is having outside support so that you don't become codependent with your partner," she says.

And as a bonus, it can also benefit the relationship — you'll have more to talk about with each other; you'll come home from hanging out with friends feeling excited; and it'll give your partner the opportunity to cultivate their own friendships and hobbies. And it'll even help you appreciate your partner and relationship more, Gordon says: "We tend to get used to good things, so removing those things from our lives for a brief period (such as getting away from your partner on a solo trip or just for a night out) may help us remember why they are good!" Everyone wins.

17. Kiss more. And make it count!

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Smooching your partner a lot is tied to higher relationship satisfaction, according to a study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Researchers from the University of Oxford gave an online survey to over 900 adults and asked questions about kissing frequency, attitudes toward kissing, and relationship satisfaction. Some of the things that were associated with high relationship satisfaction: having a partner who was a "good" kisser, and kissing frequently. Pucker up!