5 Practical Ways To Strengthen Your Relationship
The strongest relationships may be the ones that focus less on champagne-drenched dinners and rose-petal-strewn beds and more on these five practical actions.
Spontaneous getaways and supersize bouquets settle squabbles in rom-coms and other fantasy realms, but in the real world, romantic gestures aren’t cure-alls for relationship woes. In fact, unromantic gestures can be the better salve. If you’re looking for long-term commitment, improving your partnership continuously is much more important and effective than small, expensive quick fixes, says Dr Elna Rudolph, WH sexpert and clinical head of MySexualHealth.co.za. Nobody is suggesting romance be killed off completely – far from it. It’s just smart to add these unconventional strengtheners into the happy-couple mix.
Consider A Love Contract
THE CONVENTION: Love should be spontaneous, not scripted.
THE COUNTER: “Negotiating the terms and conditions of your relationship upfront, in the form of a contract or agreement, makes more sense than fighting about things when they happen,” says Rudolph. “A weekly Ts and Cs session is a great communication exercise.” Even celebs do it: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Priscilla Chan reportedly drew up their own contract.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH: When you get serious, it’s very important to have the opportunity to make your needs and preferences known, says Rudolph. Hash out issues like sex, money, religion and chores. Putting the plan into writing is key, but involving the law is optional.
Spend Time Apart
THE CONVENTION: The more minutes you spend together, the closer you’ll be.
THE COUNTER: Maintaining independence actually solidifies couples. Experts say that constantly learning new things about each other is vital to keeping your relationship as riveting as your Twitter feed. “Having your partner at a distance from time to time creates more excitement than when he’s perpetually attached to your hip,” says Rudolph.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH: Take regular solo time. Merlé, 25, and her husband do their own thing one or two nights a week, and are often independent when they’re both at home. “After being apart, I look forward to filling him in on what I got up to with friends, and hearing his stories,” she says.
THE CONVENTION: Pencilling in intimacy is clinical.
THE COUNTER: “It’s a clear indication of your priorities,” says Rudolph. “The reality is, the better you plan for sex, the more spontaneous sex you’re likely to have eventually. It’s an investment in future spontaneity.” Couples who gratify each other’s sexual needs are 65 percent more likely to be satisfied in their pairing than those who don’t, says a study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH: Take turns to set a specific date and time for sex. If it happens spontaneously in between, bonus, but stick to the date you set too. If you aren’t in the mood at that hour, cuddle or kiss instead.
Don’t Talk About Your Relationship With Others
THE CONVENTION: Solid couples tend to gush – and vent – about each other to their friends.
THE COUNTER: Blabbing too much can make your relationship feel like a reality show. When Kgomotso, 29, started dating her now-fiancé, she told her friends everything, good and bad. The problem, however, occurs when you get over your relationship issues faster than your family and friends do. Kgomotso soon resolved to keep mum about her relationship, saying that they now have their own fun, private world.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH: You need a sounding board, but make sure it’s a wise person with your best interests at heart, says Rudolph. Kgomotso’s is her older sister, who knows both her and her fiancé, so when they have problems and Kgomotso is the one in the wrong, her sister gives her a head’s up. In which case, a small romantic gesture might be just the thing.
Welcome The Rough Patch
THE CONVENTION: Focusing only on the positives helps couples through tough times.
THE COUNTER: In fragile unions, having some don’t want- the-neighbours-to hear disagreements can help the relationship survive, according to a US study. Doing so helps probe – and repair – what’s wrong. Mary, 35, and her husband tell each other when something about them isn’t that great. “You have to feel free to do so,” she says.
THE REALISTIC APPROACH: Have constructive fighting rules, advises Rudolph. Focus on finding a solution, not killing your sparring partner. If you do get nasty, apologise for morphing into a mean girl and explain why you got upset.