There are more levels to every relationship. Despite how much you think you know about your partner, there’s always more to be discovered. And if you want to deepen your relationship and strengthen your already-strong bond, well, you have to, well, try to deepen your relationship. It’s the trying — the focusing on the little things, the willingness to be vulnerable and offer more of yourself in exchange of more from them — that make it possible.
So what helps deepen a connection? Below, according to a variety of relationship therapists, are ten suggestions. You might notice a common thread woven throughout all of these suggestions - communication (surprise, surprise). Here’s what to remember.
1. Actively Show Appreciation.
Whether it’s a note in your partner’s lunch, or a random text to say thanks for being such a kid’s bedtime savior last night, what you might think of as a fleeting gesture can build genuine closeness. The key with appreciation is to be specific in what you mention. “It can really be as simple as telling your partner how much you appreciate something they did for you, or something more complex like expressing gratitude for their support and presence in your life,” explains Dr. Callisto Adams. “Expressing appreciation and gratitude can help build positive emotions and foster a sense of connection. It can also help to improve communication and understanding, and can make your partner feel valued and appreciated.”
2. Lean Ito Conflict
Obviously, you don’t want to go around picking fights. But in all relationships, good or bad, conflict is inevitable. So, roll with it. “Many couples are terrified of conflict and see it as a sign of poor relationship health,” says couples therapist Sandra Harewood. “But healthy conflict can be a force for good, deepening the bond between a couple as it is a sign of growth, change, and transformation.” Conflict can present couples with the opportunity to explore communication and deepen trust which, according to Harewood, allows both partners to develop confidence in themselves and the relationship as a whole. “Accommodate your feelings and experiences by learning to argue well, and you’ll be less likely to be knocked off balance when things go wrong,” she says.
3. Increase Your “Bids For Connection”
‘Bids for connection,’ which are based on the research of Dr. John Gottman, refer to reaches for acknowledgement, reassurance, or validation within a relationship. And couples who “turn towards” a bid more often than not are happier and closer for it. “A bid could be a touch of the shoulder while passing in the hallway or a comment like, ‘Wow, look at that goat!’ while driving by a farm,” says therapist Erin Dierickx. “The more often they are offered and received, the more trust, satisfaction, and connection you will experience in your relationship.”
4. Have Check-Ins
More than just a passing “How was your day?” tossed off from the other room, a true check-in with your partner involves distraction-free conversation with the intent to listen. Sit down and have a five-minute check-in each night. Talk about your day, and highlight anything you’d like to talk more about when you have more time. Once a month, Wolfe also suggests a deeper check-in over dinner or coffee. “Try to have this check-in at the same time each month to establish a routine, and plan to discuss how each of you feels about how things are going in the relationship,” says Trisha Wolfe, LPCC. “Is there tension? Are you making progress toward shared goals? What can be improved on for next month?” The goal with check-ins — brief or length — is to stay on top of your relationship so issues don’t fester for weeks, months, or even years.
5. Stay Curious
Not in the sense of snooping around your partner’s unlocked phone or bathroom drawer, but through constant self-reminders that you definitely don’t know everything about them and want to learn more. “Curiosity is the secret sauce in a relationship,” says Harewood. “I’ve seen many couples get caught in the trap of thinking they know all they need to know about their partner, or that they’ve heard it all before. But, things are always changing, both for the individual and the relationship.” Staying curious and asking questions will prop the door for intimacy wide open.
6. Talk About Sex
Couples who communicate about sex have better sex. And couples who have better sex build deeper connections. “Talking openly and directly about sex normalizes these types of conversations,” says Dierick. If this isn’t something you do regularly, start by clarifying why you’d like to talk about sex. Set parameters and clarify your needs by saying something like, ‘It makes me nervous to talk about this, but I really want to better understand what you like in bed. As you explore the conversation, you can bond through understanding your partner and expressing wants and needs. And if you need a push, Dierickx suggests using the Gottman Card Deck app or something similar to facilitate the conversation.
7. Learn A New Hobby Together
Painting. Rock climbing. Bread making. There are hundreds of creative, healthy, exciting hobbies that are better with two people, and bound to create new experiences in your relationship. “When you undertake a new hobby with your partner, you're sharing an activity that you both enjoy and are both working hard to excel at,” says therapist Kym Tolson. “This gives you a common ground upon which to build conversations, share memories, and do something enjoyable with the person you love.”
8. Practice Active Listening
All successful relationships share a vital ingredient: empathy. “You have to be present and engaged in conversations in order to understand your partner’s perspective and emotions,” says Dr. Adams. “Don’t multitask, or become distracted. Actively listen to your partner so you can communicate effectively to build that deeper connection.” By letting your partner feel seen and heard they’ll also feel understood, and the two of you will be in a better position to discuss issues as partners who trust each other.
9. Set Boundaries
Seems backwards, right? If you’re trying to strengthen a bond, why would you close someone out of a part of your life? Well, according to Harewood, sharing and being vulnerable about boundaries is an exercise in intimacy. “Boundaries deepen intimacy,” she says. “Setting them means we must tell someone what we like, what we don’t like, what’s okay, and what’s not. To set and maintain boundaries, we have to reveal something of ourselves. It’s really the ultimate act of allowing someone to see and know who you are.”
10. Aim For 12 Hugs Each Day.
It’s not just an arbitrary number. According to the research of psychologist and family therapist Virginia Satir, a dozen hugs each day is magic because six seconds of hugging can release oxytocin — the feel-good hormone. “Satir said that four daily hugs is enough for survival, and eight is enough for maintenance,” explains Wolfe. “But 12 hugs each day will contribute to genuine growth between you and your partner. It’s a fun challenge, too, and all of that practice will invariably deepen your bond with each other.”