A deep and healthy partnership takes constant maintenance. Our relationships have to be fed and nurtured to grow but how in the world are we supposed to find the time (and money) to do so when our days are already filled to the brim with work, kids, school, and the never-ending blackhole that is housework?
We know that a healthy relationship is an investment but what do we do when we have nothing left to invest? For me, right now, this investment looks more like small daily habits that are free and manageable and less like grand gestures and big life changes.
In lieu of a Michelin star date night, beach vacation, or couples retreat, here are 10 small (and free) ways to start deepening your relationship today.
1. Stow Your Phone
Stowing our phones is somehow the easiest idea and the hardest to execute. But even 20 minutes of 100% focused time is worth more than an hour of split attention between your partner and your screen. No work emails, no texts, Snapchat, games, news alerts or socials. If you are like me and have trouble executing this, make ditching your screen a part of your night routine.
2. Implement Mid-Day Check-ins
A mid day text, phone call, or email can help you feel connected throughout the day. Think beyond routine schedule reminders etc. Aim for a “just because” check-in by sending a picture, memory, meme, TikTok video, inside joke, a sweet note, or even just an emoji if that’s all you have time for.
3. Start and End the Day Together
I’ve seen this called bookending the day because I like that visual. Having structured, reliable time together at both ends of the day makes your day feel held together even if you are apart. Ideally, I would do both, start and end the day with my spouse but current newborn sleep schedules prevent that. We do our best to go up to bed at the same time to end our day together.
4. Learn Something New Together
Whether it be a long term learning project (musical instrument, cooking, a language, etc) or a short term learning venture (museum, cultural experience, a book) learning something new together can give your partnership a fresh perspective and something new to talk about.
5. Plan for Your Future
Dream and plan together. This can look different for every couple. Maybe future planning looks like mapping your travel, house renovations, learning goals, community impact, or your binge-watch schedule. Both short and long term planning can bring a partnership together to work towards a family goal.
Although we haven’t done it, I like the idea of a yearly Family Summit. The idea is that you dedicate one night a year to dreaming, strategizing, and planning your family goals and values for the next year. My husband and I are excited to implement a summit this year.
6. Remember Your Past
Looking back to see how far you have come or to remember the building blocks of your relationship can strengthen and sweeten your present. My husband and I like to play a game where we both dig up a memory from each year we have been together. The nature of the memory changes every time we play (a song from each year, a funny moment from each year, a date night, a time we felt loved, etc). We frequently fail at completing this game because we never get more than a couple years in before we find ourselves cracking up laughing or deep in conversation.
7. Anticipate Little Needs
Know your partner had a rough day? Ask Google or Siri to play their favorite band when they walk in. Get their coffee machine ready to go for the next morning. Bring home a favorite snack. Today, I took an extra couple minutes to clean snow off my husband’s car and when I re-entered the house, he had warm lunch and hot tea ready for me. Could he have scraped his own snow and could I have made my own lunch? Yes. But anticipating the other’s needs makes us feel seen and loved.
8. Never Stop Asking Questions
Even if you know your partner like the back of your hand, I still believe there will always be more to learn. You can grow your relationship by making it routine to ask the same delving questions every day like this list. Or you can work your way through a fun and entertaining list of questions like these. There is even an app, Agape, that will send both partners a question prompt every day.
9. Amp Up the Casual Physical Touch
Scooch a little closer on the couch while you binge your nightly Netflix. Did you know that physical touch, like hugging, releases endorphins, reduces stress and anxiety, and ultimately promotes attachment? I know it can be hard at the end of the day to get that cuddle time in, especially if you are feeling touched-out, but try prioritizing a quick hug hello/goodbye and a nightly snuggle!
10. Do the Work Together
Tidying, dishes, yardwork, laundry, as much as I wish these duties would do themselves, they have to be done. So do the work together. Normally my husband and I take the divide and conquer approach, but it’s nice to tackle a task alongside each other. When we do the same task at the same time, it might take a few more minutes, but we earn valuable catch-up time and feel more like a team.
While I wish we could all spend one weekend a month beachside with our loves, having a toolkit of intentional relational pursuits can help breathe life into a partnership. Hopefully you’ll find that quite a few suggestions on this list can easily be implemented daily or weekly to work their way to becoming habits that serve to deepen your relationship with your partner.