Happy, healthy, fulfilling relationships are an important part of our physical and mental health (it’s true, love is good for our health!).
For many people, that means sharing a healthy, happy, fulfilling relationship with a romantic partner.
But, love is complicated—and relationships even more so!
It’s true that relationships (and marriage, if that’s the form your relationship takes) require continuous work. That doesn’t mean relationships should feel like difficult toil (in fact, definitely not!), but that there are some small, simple ways we can continue to strengthen and nurture our relationships over time.
Here are ten simple but impactful ways to nurture and grow (or maintain) a happy, healthy relationship with your partner:
1. Enhance your love maps
“Love maps” is a term used by Dr. John Gottman, a prominent psychologist and researcher in the field of marriage and relationships.
Dr. Gottman and his team have spent decades studying hundreds of couples to determine the factors that influence marital stability—and whether a relationship will last, or not. Their decades of research found seven key principles that lead to harmonious, long-lasting relationships (all outlined in Dr. Gottman’s popular and helpful book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work—one of our favorite relationship resources to recommend, if you’re interested).
One of these seven principles is a building a detailed “love map”: the part of your brain where you store information about your partner’s life. Things like their favorite food, their greatest fear, their biggest hopes and dreams, what’s currently stressing them out, how they like to fold their laundry. All the little details about them that make them tick.
Dr. Gottman’s decades of research found that couples who have highly detailed love maps (in other words, who pay attention to each other’s details, and know a lot about each other) are likely to have a stronger, more long-lasting bond.
2. Cultivate shared hobbies
You might not love to do all the same activities as your partner all the time (and that’s totally okay—more on that below!), but having shared hobbies and experiences is a big part of healthy relationships.
Whether that means you enjoy hiking together, or you like to cook new recipes together for Sunday brunch, or do a movie marathon on Friday nights, or you sign up for a ballroom dancing class… it doesn’t matter so much what the activity is, just that it’s something you both enjoy, and you can enjoy it together. (And that you schedule time to enjoy the shared activity regularly!)
3. Spend time alone
While it’s, of course, mega important to nurture your relationship by spending quality time together, it’s also equally as important to nurture your relationship by spending quality time apart.
Spending time away from each other helps to keep life in perspective (you’re not the same person; you’re separate people who choose to spend time/life together). And, it allows you to each cultivate your own individual interests and skills and be sure you’re taking care of yourself and keeping yourself healthy as an individual too.
4. Know your partner’s love language—and speak in it
We’ve talked before about the importance of understanding love languages in your relationship. These five “love languages,” as defined by counselor Dr. Gary Chapman, describe the different ways people express and experience love.
It’s important for couples to understand each other’s love languages so you can “speak the same language” by expressing and receiving love in those ways.
It’s certainly helpful to a) know what to look for in terms of how your partner expresses their love, and b) know how to share your love with them in a way they’ll easily see and understand, so your efforts are received.
5. Discuss the underlying issue
Conflict is a natural part of healthy relationships. But we can respond to it in healthy or unhealthy ways.
Part of nurturing a healthy relationship is mastering your conflict resolution. How do you perceive conflict in your relationship? How do you handle it when it comes up? How effectively do you and your partner discuss issues of conflict?
One of the traps many couples fall into is discussing (or, in some cases, jumping from discussion right to “fighting about”) surface-level examples of underlying problems.
For example, perhaps a couple argues regularly because Lovebird A doesn’t help with tasks around the house without Lovebird B asking them to do it. The issue continues to come up repeatedly because they’re discussing something very specific (emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage) rather than the underlying concern: Lovebird B doesn’t feel a sense of partnership in taking care of their home.
It’s important to discuss the actual issues coming up in a relationship, rather than getting stuck talking in circles about a surface-level symptom of the real problem at hand.
6. Listen first
Another simple tip for conflict resolution (and stronger relationships overall) is to listen first.
Often our instinct is more along the lines of “defend myself first.”
But when we choose to listen first (meaning: listen to our partner before asking them to listen to us), we’re focusing our energy on paying attention to our partner and what they’re trying to communicate to us—which means we’re more likely to actually hear what they’re trying to tell us. And that, in turn, means we’re more likely to be able to show understanding, compassion, and help resolve the issue they are trying to discuss.
7. meet in the middle
“Meeting in the middle” has to come with a quick disclaimer, because there are some things that are firm non-negotiables for people in a relationship. (For example, exclusivity isn’t really something that can be met in the middle—if one person wants a monogamous relationship and one person wants an open relationship, there’s not a happy middle ground there.)
But, for most day-to-day things that come up, it’s important for both partners to be able and willing to meet in the middle.
(And, if you’re not able and willing to meet in the middle, that’s more an issue of value compatibility.)
In relationships, there’s rarely a right and wrong “side” of things. Each person is an equal part of the relationship, so each person’s needs and wants tend to carry equal weight (or so they should, in most cases).
But there are also some instances in which “meeting in the middle” means one person’s preference take priority. For example, if Spouse A cares a lot more about interior design and decorating the home, even though their style choices may not be something Spouse B would choose for themselves, Spouse B recognizes that this is an area that’s much more important to Spouse A, so they “meet in the middle” by letting Spouse A’s preferences hold more weight in the design decisions.
Compromise is not always meeting exactly half-way on every issue or disagreement that comes up—it’s understanding how much leeway you each have to give, so overall, across all issues and circumstances in the relationship, you each are accounted for and supported by each other.
8. Ask for what you want
One of the most common causes of unhappiness or discord in a relationship is not getting what you want—not because your partner is not willing or able to provide that, but because they don’t know that’s what you would like from them.
Sure, it’s great if your partner knows you well enough to know exactly what you want, when and how. But that takes time (and communication!) to build. Especially in newer relationships, or if you haven’t been as open or direct with your communication previously, it’s helpful (and, in many cases, necessary) to be explicitly clear about what you want or need.
For example, “I would like for you to be very quiet when you come home late and I’m already in bed. I don’t want to wake up when you come in.” Or, “I would like you to text me if you’re going to be home later than planned, because otherwise I will worry about you.”
Being clear with your partner about what you want, or what’s important to you can help them meet you there.
9. Date your spouse
Many couples lament the loss of spark that comes as they get to know each other better and “the honeymoon phase” subsides. Some people even feel that they’re no longer in love at this time.
There is common marriage advice to always continuing “dating your wife” or “dating your husband”—and this is true whether or not you’re formally married.
Continuing to date your spouse simply means to continue making an effort to be together, enjoy time together, and cultivate your special bond and spark. That can mean different things for different couples. One example is to schedule a regular date night, get dressed up for it… and perhaps even put on your special perfume or cologne!
10. “Same team” mentality
Having the “same team” mentality with your partner means that, whatever issue arises, you know deep down that you’re on the same team, rather than opposing teams. Your partner is not your enemy or opposition you need to “win” against—they’re on the same team as you, and you win or lose together.
This is similar to another one of Dr. Gottman’s key findings in relationship psychology: One of the factors he found in marital success is the capacity to manage conflict by turning toward each other, instead of away from each other.
Conflict is definitely a theme of many of these relationship tips, and that’s because it’s a theme of relationships! Healthy and happy relationships are not conflict-free. They’re relationships in which conflict is well-managed and well-recovered from.
And, that often comes from staying focused on the shared sense of purpose that comes from knowing you’re always on the “same team.”