When things are going smoothly in our relationships, it's easy to feel connected to our partner. We naturally want to spend more time with them and engage in enjoyable activities. But when times get tough and the road is bumpy, it can be more challenging to find ways to connect. Think of your relationship bond like a muscle – if you want to strengthen it, it takes consistency and practice. Here are some tips for you and your partner to implement if you feel like your relationship needs some extra TLC:
1 | Set aside “us” time
If you live with your partner, it may seem unnecessary to schedule “us” time, since you may see that person a lot. But remember, quantity of time does not make up for quality of time. Set aside some time that is without distraction (i.e. no phones, laptop, T.V. or books) just for the two of you to be together. This time could be used for simple talking with one another, giving each other a back rub or cuddling and connecting.
2 | Mix it up!
Sure, a dinner and a movie is always a great staple for a date night. But the same ol’ same ol’ can get stale as old bread. Mix it up with something fun and new! If you want some new ideas for creative date outings, browse Groupon and Goldstar to see what strikes your fancy. The bonus is these sites also offer steep discounts for fun activities. Like live theater? TodayTix is a website and app for discounted last-minute tickets to plays. Love museums? Here’s a list of museums in Los Angeles that are either free or have free days.
3 | Make it sensual
Usually when couples are feeling disconnected, the first thing to go is the romance and affection. And when that’s not there, it’s really tough to employ the “fake it till you make it” approach to dealing with challenges. Instead, wake up the senses on a daily basis to start feeling more sensual and more interested in shared connection with your partner. How does one do this? Begin noticing throughout the day what naturally feels good (for example, walking through a park on your lunch break and feeling the leaves of a tree brush up against your arm) and share that with your partner. Have them do the same so you both know what’s pleasing to the other person. This will inspire you guys to want to create more physical pleasure for one another.
4 | Use the atmosphere
We’re going for the power of association here – think of how a spa atmosphere automatically makes you feel more relaxed, even before you’ve begun to receive your treatment. Simply walking into the spa and hearing the gentle music and noticing the pleasant smells invites you to feel calmer. We can do the same at home. Create an environment at home that’s more stimulating to the senses through lighting candles, putting salts in the bath, spraying aromatherapy, playing soothing music etc. When you intentionally make your surroundings more amenable to romance, you’re more likely to want to connect with your partner.
5 | Get inspired
It helps to get some outside inspiration when we’re not feeling so great about our relationship and need some new tools and ideas to work with. Here’s a list of 10 books that are great for learning about the dynamics of relationships and how to strengthen them. Don’t have time to read a whole book? Use Audible to listen in the car or choose a podcast instead. You can check out this round-up of 10 relationship podcasts you can sink your teeth into.
6 | Reflect on the good times
When we’re in the throes of conflict with our partner or seriously doubting our relationship, it’s easy to forget all the amazing memories we’ve shared with that person. Simply pulling out photo boxes, leafing through scrapbooks or looking at Google photos can remind you both of the fun times you’ve had together. If you and your partner are in need of some serious bonding time, set aside an afternoon or evening to sit together and look through old photos from vacations, dates and other occasions. The act of looking at these pictures will bring up stories, jokes and anecdotes that will surely bring you closer.
7 | Pull out all the stops
By now, you can probably tell that date night is a good idea. But don’t stop at that! Pull out all the stops. Spend some time getting ready and dolled up for each other. Buy flowers. Go to a restaurant you can’t really afford to go to. Get a couples massage. Your relationship is an investment and it’s worth the splurge every now and then! You’ll send a strong message to one another that the relationship is worth it. Most importantly, enjoy the royal treatment.
8 | Be spontaneous
It’s great to have plans, but sometimes plans don’t work out for one reason or another or sometimes something more exciting comes up. In your bonding time together, allow yourselves to divert from original plans and go with the flow. This will allow you guys to reconnect to a younger, more spontaneous side of one another. Often as we get older, we become more set in our ways and less able to let the night take us to unexpected places. If it’s a gorgeous night and you get the idea to take a drive up Mulholland for a gorgeous view or a drive up the coast to smell the salty sea air…do it!
9 | Have limits
Are there certain topics that inevitably spiral into arguments or stress? Take a vacation from those themes for a night or weekend to simply enjoy one another. No, this doesn’t mean putting off dealing with your problems forever. It means that it’s okay to set limits on what you won’t talk about for your bonding time together. If something gets brought up, and you don’t want to forget to address it later, simply write a short note in your phone about it and table it for another time.
10 | Hire a babysitter
If you have kids, and if you don’t have a babysitter yet, you need one! This is essential. I’ve known many couples who rely on their parents, neighbors or friends to watch their kids and this is not enough. You need and deserve to have professional childcare that is available to you on a regular basis so that you can go out on dates without the guilt associated with asking for a favor and without relying on other people’s availability. If you don’t know a sitter, there are great nanny websites such as Urban Sitter and Care.com.
Now I'd love to hear from you! How do you reconnect with your partner in times of conflict or emotional distance? Every couple is different and a strategy that works great for one pair may not fare well for another. That's why I'd love to get some varying opinions on what works and what doesn't work for couples who've hit a rough patch. Please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.