Deciding how you'd like to
spend your free time with your partner, including when you'll go on dates, where you'll have dinner, and what movies you plan to watch after a long day of work, can be one of the best parts of a relationship. These moments are so nice, and can be fun to look forward to. But in many ways, they're also the glue that holds you together.
In fact, how you spend your downtime as a couple can be so important, you may even want to go out of your way to ensure it's quality. "[This] time should be spent meaningfully and mindfully so your relationship bonds can grow stronger," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at
Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle.
And this is especially true if you've been together for a while. "In the early part of a relationship you are so tightly bonded that everything you do feels like an intimate connection," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of
The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. Over time, though, you may need to try new things in order to reconnect. And that's OK.
You may even want to
spend time apart on occasion to focus on your own likes and interests, Dr. Klapow says, since doing so can also help strengthen your connection. It's really all about striking a balance, and making each other a top priority. With that in mind, read on for some great ways to bond in your free time, according to experts. 1 Go On An Adventure
There's a reason why going on an adventure as a couple, or stepping outside your comfort zones, can feel so refreshing. "Research has shown that
doing new and exciting things on a regular basis increases relationship happiness," Bennett says. "So, if you want to strengthen your bond, get out and do something exciting, unusual, and adventurous together."
This might include trying a new restaurant, exploring a new city, or going on an impromptu road trip. It's impossible not to feel more connected to someone once you've shared a unique experience, so go ahead and include your partner — especially if you've been in a rut.
2 Be Present With Each Other Anastasia Gepp/Shutterstock
When you spend a lot of time together — and live busy lives — it's easy to forget all the reasons why you started dating in the first place. But by setting aside time to focus and reconnect, you can feel close once again.
"Any activity can be a bonding moment if you put away the electronic devices and other distractions and simply focus on communicating with each other in the present moment," Bennett says. "Good examples are cuddling, taking a walk, or talking over coffee."
3 Have Sex
Having sex will quite literally make you feel connected thanks to
the hormone oxytocin, which "is responsible for creating bonds between two partners in a relationship," Bennett says. So if you're both in the mood, this may be one of the best ways to spend your free time. 4 Hold Hands LightField Studios/Shutterstock
You can also get a healthy dose of oxytocin by snuggling on the couch, holding hands, hugging — anything that gets you close. "Hugging also
decreases cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone, so that we feel less stressed," psychotherapist Loren N. Barnes, M.Ed., PLPC, NCC, tells Bustle. And when you're bonding with your partner, that's key. 5 Ask About Their Day
If you two are currently overwhelmed by busy schedules — and are losing contact as a result — it can help to make a conscious effort to ask about each other's day, whenever you're together.
"Spend 20-30 minutes daily truly talking about your day,"
therapist Irene Schreiner, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Share things that were stressful/challenging, things that didn't go your way. Couples who feel like their partner truly has their back and that they are a team against the outside world feel closer to each other." 6 Walk & Talk After A Movie
Many couples go to the movies as a way to connect. But when you think about it, not much bonding can occur when you're sitting side-by-side in a dark room, unable to talk.
So while you can still see a movie, "make it early enough that you can spend time afterward talking or just being with each other," Dr. Klapow says.
As you stroll around or get coffee, ask about each other's days, and feel free to expand your conversation into deeper topics. What have they read recently? What's on their mind? Ask questions, and have a good chat.
7 Keep It Simple
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that bonding doesn't
have to be elaborate, if you'd prefer to keep it simple. And in many ways, it can actually be beneficial.
"You can do activities (going to the park, enjoying a concert, going to dinner) but bonding comes when you can be with each other and soak each other in," Dr. Klapow says. "Too many activities, and too many distractions, means less chance to bond."
8 Run Errands
Believe it or not, some of the best bonding can be done in the car on the way to the bank. Sure, you can go on trips, or schedule a vacation. But it's these little moments that truly add up.
"Bonding should come in small increments, frequently," Dr. Klapow says. "If you have a couple of hours, do something easy. Take a walk, go on an errand together, do something that doesn’t stress either of you out."
You can definitely bond during a weeklong vacation, Dr. Klapow says, but remaining connected is something you can work on every day, throughout the year. And in small ways like this.
9 Do Something Scary Impact Photography/Shutterstock
Anything you do to
get your blood pumping — such as watching a scary movie, riding a rollercoaster, etc. — can be a great way to spend your downtime, too.
"This is helpful for the same reasons as doing something new together," Barnes says. "If your adrenaline rises and your partner is there, you will start to associate feelings of excitement and energy with your partner."
And that's because of the connections that are formed. "If your partner is there with you," Barnes says ,"you will start biologically and emotionally associating them with that feeling of arousal and excitement."
10 Set A Regular Date Night
If you typically have some downtime on Friday nights, designate that evening as your official date night. And stick to it.
"Most couples are busy with work [...] and dating gets pushed far down the priority list,"
Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist, neurotherapist, and coach, tells Bustle. "However, [a regular date night] gives couples something to look forward to and a way to stay connected no matter what else life throws at them." 11 Do Chores Together
"Completing household chores together creates the feeling that you are functioning as a team," Justin Lavelle, relationship expert and chief communications officer for
BeenVerified, tells Bustle. "Whatever the task may be, the goal is to come together as partners and complete a task." So if you really need to deepen your connection, why not wash a dish? 12 Get Some Exercise Igor Kardaso/Shutterstock
Nothing will bring you closer together than going on a run, hitting the gym, or taking a long walk together. "Exercising with your partner can create an opportunity to serve as the other’s supporter," Lavelle says. But it can also be a way to, once again, show that you're a team.
13 Have A Laugh
Whenever you get the chance, look for ways to make each other laugh. "Having fun together and laughing is a great way to bond
and relieve stress at the same time," Lavelle says. "You may be surprised that laughter will help get those depressed feelings moving and lead to a more substantive conversation. Either way, it never hurts to have a good laugh." 14 Teach Each Other Something
"Teaching the person you love something you enjoy and sharing your interests with them can be fun and exciting,"
licensed psychologist Dr. Rachel Needle, tells Bustle, as well as bonding.
Do you play an instrument? Know how to cook? Or are you an expert in a certain field? Spend the time revealing all your knowledge. And let them teach you something, too.
15 Learn Something New Together
Whether you're learning a new language, taking a class, or practicing a new skill, expanding your minds together can be a great way to bust out of a relationship rut, Dr. Needle says. And bonding, too.
If you decide to make this a priority, you may find yourselves on a road trip, riding a rollercoaster, or simply strolling around after a movie.
Whatever you choose to do, as long as you do it with the goal of connecting — and really enjoying each other's company — it will help you appreciate your relationship, and
feel closer as a couple.