Every couple needs time to connect. It’s essential for happiness and satisfaction in a marriage. But this year, with all its many diversions, has made it easy to push this to the side. We’re frustrated. We’re stressed. We’re frustrated and stressed about being frustrated and stressed. It’s easy to ignore the simple things a relationship requires but the upkeep — staying interested, staying creative, finding new and exciting ways to learn about one another — is more important than ever to continue moving through. So, if you’re feeling as though some things have slipped and are looking for ways to reconnect with your spouse, we spoke to a variety of experts for some simple ways to do just that. Each of these exercises, recommended by relationship therapists, have been proven to help couples get back on the same page. Incorporate a few into your lives — some require as little as five or 10 minutes — to get back to that good place again.
1. Ask Insightful Questions
Despite the scary novelty of everything this year, the COVID pandemic has made many lives boring. It’s easy to go about our routines and forget to learn about our partners, assuming we already know what there is to know about them. Nicholas Hardy, a Texas-based psychotherapist who specializes in individual and couples counseling, notes that this is common even during normal times: We assume we know what our spouse is feeling and thinking which, of course, likely isn’t true. He suggests using this time as an opportunity to grow closer through questions you might not normally ask. Think: What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?’ ‘If you could reverse one mistake in life, what would it be?’ ‘What was the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to share with me? These are Hardy’s examples and, yes, they might feel a bit weird. But they’re examples of the types of probing questions that can help a couple explore their relationship in less familiar ways. In turn, he says, “they will help you learn more about each other as individuals, and as a couple.”.
2. Learn Something New Together
Exploring uncharted territory together, per Hardy, is an easy way to bring about more teamwork in a relationship. “When you start something new together, it takes a lot of pressure off,” he says. “During these high-stress times, it’s easy to end up working ‘against’ each other through bickering and fighting. In order to reconnect, a fun, innocent, random hobby can be perfect” There’s no shortage of options, either. You could improve your iPhone photography skills, master the Moonwalk, practice pitting an avocado, or play 10 easy songs on a guitar using just four chords. All for free, and all perfect for partners. Keep this in mind during your next downtime.
3. Write Weekly “Thank You” Notes
According to Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor, and a certified Imago Relationship Therapist, we notice our partner’s flaws more readily than his/her/their virtues. “It’s a recipe for resentment,” he says. “You need to create a habit of expressing gratitude, so that you don’t lose sight of all the good things about your relationship.” Hardy agrees, and suggests simple notes as ways to express appreciation. “Gratitude naturally makes us refocus on everything we do have, including the connection with our partner” Writing one thank you note each week, he adds, can be helpful for your mental health, your spouse’s mental health, and your health as a couple. Be creative with your delivery, too, by packing them in lunches, hiding them under your partner’s pillow, or taping one to his/her/their windshield.
4. Synchronize Work Breaks
If you’re both working from home, use it to your advantage and schedule mutual break times, urges Dr. Rashmi Parmar, M.D., a double board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in family counseling. We’re all very busy but these breaks don’t need to be long. Take a five minute break at least every two hours, and try to coordinate interactions with your partner. What you do with your time is up to you — it could be anything from grabbing a snack, to venting about a frustrating colleague, to having a family dance party with the kids.
5. Keep a Daily Journal Together
Writing is one of the best ways to confront your emotions, figure out why exactly you’re feeling what you’re feeling, and reflect on the good and bad of a day. It’s also a simple exercise that can bring a couple closer together. “Whether you each have your own, or write in the same one at different times, the goal is to create laughter, educate each other, or explore your emotions as a couple,” explains Rabbi Slatkin. There are plenty of prompts you can explore to improve the health of your relationship, including probing emotional questions such as: “Who do I need to forgive, and why?” or “How can I bring more joy to this relationship?” You can also opt for silliness with suggestions like: “What movie title summarizes our sex life?”
6. Set Aside Time For Silliness
“Laughing,” per Rabbi Slatkin, “can create the same chemical bond as intimacy, which makes it essential to connection.” Dr. Parmar, agrees, and suggests getting hooked on a silly game that might be more therapeutic than you think. “Board games can help ignite romance, and there are plenty of free online versions of classic games like Scrabble and Taboo with a romantic twist,” she says. “In addition to being fun, these types of games can strengthen communication skills, encourage teamwork, and improve problem solving.” If games aren’t your thing, create a healthy habit of blowing off steam together through coloring, insanely challenging puzzles, or guffawing through a playlist of classic YouTube fails.
7. Get “Away” Together
Hardy worked with a couple who learned how to cook crepes from a French chef’s online course. They loved the experience — drinking together and “escaping” to another country — and it gave them a shared activity to enjoy together. “Everyone is thinking about places they’d like to visit, but can’t because of the current circumstances,” he says. “Think of a place you and your spouse would like to go, then investigate to see what types of virtual experiences you can enjoy together.” Need some thought starters? Learn to make pasta from Italian chefs, take a Mexican street taco course, or bounce around from Singapore to Spain with a new romantic dinner each time.
8. Compliment Each Other
Quarantine has a way of making us all feel a bit self conscious. Many folks are moving less and wearing sweatpants more. While it is always important to make your significant other feel desired and attractive, Rabbi Slatkin says acknowledging a physical attraction is even more crucial right now. “As we begin to feel more self-conscious about our looks, it’s really helpful to know that your spouse still finds you physically attractive,” he says. It’s important to leverage the language of physical attraction, including touch, adds Hardy. “Something as simple as holding hands can help re-establish this connection, even if it’s only for a few seconds.”
9. Prioritize Video Calls With Friends
If you want to reconnect with your spouse in person, try connecting with some random friends online, together. “We all appreciate others checking in on us,” says Hardy. “Calling or Facetiming someone randomly can bring you together by mutually surprising someone you may not have seen or spoken to in a while.” He adds that clients who’ve tried this all say that the randomness of the call created a good laugh and brightened up everyone’s day.” If you’re not in a super chatty mood, you can still spark connections through a random group text to a mutual friend or family member.
10. Check In At the End of Each Day
A proper couples nightcap, per Dr. Parmar, includes a moment of genuine appreciation, and recognition of the day’s accomplishments. “Spend a few minutes together at bedtime to check in with each other, cuddle into bed, and practice showing gratitude for the things you experienced during the day,” she says. Obviously, every day isn’t going to be ideal, but stretching and looking for something — anything — that you can celebrate will help you establish connection in a positive way.“This simple ritual is grounding,” says Dr. Parmar. “It’s a moment we can use to eliminate the negatives of the day, and wind down together for a peaceful night’s sleep.” Consider asking: What was the best thing to happen to you? The worst? How many fires did you have to put out at work? What was the weirdest thing you Googled…?
11. Give Yourselves Some Space
Okay, obviously, this doesn’t apply to emergencies, daily responsibilities or, really, most times during the day. But, according to Rabbi Slatkin, it’s okay to carve out time where you actively don’t acknowledge your children. “You have to figure out what works for you,” he says. “But it’s crucial that you and your spouse do your best to make this happen in some doable form.” When you figure out what part of your day works, focus exclusively on each other, he says. Take five minutes to look into each other’s eyes. Snuggle before bed. Toke up after the kids go to bed. It’s true, you are parents. But you’re also people. And people need connection.