When couples have problems, or they feel like they're not as happy as they should be, they pretty much always think there's one big shift or change that will fix everything. But in reality, it's more often the case that relationships get stronger and happier because of a collection of tiny changes. It's the little, daily work that make the biggest impact. I saw it first hand when I worked with couples as a domestic violence victim advocate and Planned Parenthood certified responsible sexuality educator. Big changes were important when there were unhealthy dynamics at play, but just putting in the effort of being a caring partner changed everything.
Because who doesn't want to feel loved, respected, adored, wanted, supported, fed, and valued? I can't think of anyone. And when we get wrapped up in our daily lives, especially when we've been with our partners for a long time, we can forget to make our partners feel that way. If this is you, fear not. This list is a great start for how to make tiny changes that will make your relationship healthier, stronger, happier, and more loving. And most of them don't cost a dime or take up more than a moment of your life. Can't beat that, right?
Check Out: Why You Do The Things You Do: The Secret to Healthy Relationships , $13, Amazon
1. Shared Experiences Instead Of Shared Stuff
Shared experiences are one of the secrets to strong, long-lasting love. When you use your money and time to travel, see shows, go to events, and experience new things together, you're building intimacy, friendship, and memories in a way that you can't replicate by purchasing material objects. So do more cool stuff! It doesn't get much better than having to do epic things in order to have the best relationship possible.
2. More Casual Affection
How satisfied you are with the amount and quality of affection you receive can indicate how satisfied you are with your relationship in general. And affection isn't just hugging, kissing, and holding hands. It's also in the little things, like putting your hand on your partner's back as they walk through a doorway, or touching their hair after a haircut. It can be a massage after a tough workout, or just touching skin as you sit next to each other on the couch. Our bodies crave affection, and finding the perfect amount to give and get can only improve your relationship.
3. Being On Time
Believe it or not, little things that determine how reliable you are make a big difference in the health and happiness of your relationship. That's because healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust. When you do what you say you're going to do, show up on time, keep your promises, and even take out the garbage every Tuesday night like clockwork, it strengthens the trust in your relationship. Whenever you have the chance to demonstrate that you're reliable, do it. It'll pay off in big ways.
4. Smiling At Your Partner
Every so often, just look at your partner and smile. A smile is an act of gratitude. It conveys that you're happy, that you just adore them, that you're thankful, and that you feel lucky. All just from moving some muscles in your face. I've never not swooned when I caught my partner just looking at me and smiling for no reason. It's basically a silent way to say, "I freaking love you."
5. Bringing Your Partner Food
When I'm in a bad mood, just tell me I'm pretty and bring me food, and everything will be right in the world. Ha! That's half a joke. But only half. There are real benefits to bringing your partner food on the regular. It satisfies a deep, biological need for fuel and for a good provider. It solves any hangry blood sugar situations. It's more romantic than flowers, if you ask me. And it takes the task of figuring out what to eat off of my plate when I'm swamped. Be the hero and bring food every once in a while. This is how happy relationships are made.
6. Make Some Decisions
This one time, I asked my partner what she wanted for dinner, and she told me exactly what she wanted. That's the moment I knew I wanted to marry her. Not really, but there's nothing sexier than a person who makes decisions. And nothing more frustrating than that, "What do you want for dinner?" "I don't know, what do you want for dinner?" debate which I'm pretty sure fuels the world's suffering on some cosmic level. Being more decisive might take no effort at all, or it might feel like moving mountains, but if you both master it, you'll be worth holding on to for all of eternity. And you'll have fewer hangry arguments. Win.
7. Get A Hobby
Satisfying time apart is the key to happy time together. No lie. If you spend all of your time together, it becomes boring and routine. Plus, healthy relationships are made from two healthy individuals. The key word there being individual. For the love of all things sparkly, please do not be those people who fuse themselves together into a codependent frankenperson. You have to bring something unique to the table. You have to have goals and friends and alone time. You have to keep being you. If you are those people, even if you're happy, try getting hobbies that you do independently of each other, and see how much happier you are. You'll be surprised.
8. Have Team Goals
"Attention please. The first official weekly meeting of Team Us is now in session. This week, we will be discussing savings goals for our dream vacation and how we can be better at keeping the house organized. We will open with the team high-five."
Goals unite you. They give you a purpose, they give you direction, they make your dreams come true, and they're a great way to add some happiness and strength to your relationship. No matter how big or small your goals are, you should have them. Even if those goals are "two dates this week" as opposed to "five-year plan to buy a house." Goals are life.
9. Be A Cheerleader
If you want to really deepen the love between you and your partner, up your cheerleading game. For real. If your partner makes a painting and it's the worst thing you've seen since the time you accidentally clicked on that factory farming video on Facebook, be an unapologetic supporter anyway. Share it on social media. Tell them how proud you are. When your partner tells a bad joke, don't act embarrassed. Be the only one laughing. Listen to their pipe dreams and impossible goals with interest, not doubt.
Be their biggest fan, the person who helps them believe they can be and do the impossible. A dose of realism is important once in a while, but for the most part, be the one who gives them all the trophies just for participating. The rest of the world will rain on their parade. They don't need you to do it most of the time.
10. Say Those Things People Forget To Say
I mean, yes, tell your partner you love them. And tell them they're hot. But also tell them things we often forget to put into words. Say, "I understand you." Say, "I appreciate you." Say, "I like you." Say, "You understand me." Say, "You make me want to be my best self." Say, "I'm thankful for you." We feel these things and we often show them in our actions, but we don't always say them out loud. Be a person who says them out loud.
11. Do Something You Hate
When my wife does things she hates because she knows they matter to me, it tells me she values my happiness, she's willing to compromise, and she's all in. If your partner has a boring hobby, annoying friends, or tedious work parties, go with them. Pretend you're having a good time. It will mean the world. Plus, they'll do the same for you. And odds are, when you're partner is saying, "they hate this, so they must really love me" in their head, they'll also be thinking about how much they love and appreciate you.
None of these little habits takes much effort at all, but they make a big difference in your relationship happiness. And really, they're also just nice things to do. So, win-win.
Images: Pexels (12)
Happy shopping! FYI, Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which were added independently from Bustle's sales and editorial departments after publication.