Many relationship-boosting suggestions make sense—and follow conventional wisdom: Show affection. Fight fair. Go on dates frequently. Be grateful for your partner.
Of course, these are very helpful and important tips to know and practice. But not all relationship advice is intuitive. At first glance, a lot of effective recommendations may even seem downright wrong.
We asked several relationship experts to share surprising ways that readers can bolster their romantic relationships. Here’s what they said:
Show you care even when you don’t. You love your partner but that doesn’t mean you always feel like doing loving things. Do them anyway. “My husband has brought me a latte every morning for almost 33 years,” said Linda Carroll, LMFT, a therapist, couple’s coach, and author of the new book Love Skills.
“Sometimes he brings it with a kiss and a smile; other times, he sets it on my nightstand in a hurry, or even annoyed. But that latte shows up every morning…”
Carroll noted that such sweet gestures—even when you’re not feeling so sweet—are like money in your relationship account, increasing the balance “regardless of what happened the day before.”
Go to bed angry. We commonly hear the advice that it’s bad to fall asleep upset with your partner (usually part of a wedding toast). However, the “pressure created by this belief can lead couples to repair prematurely without addressing the roots of the conflict,” said Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Taking Sexy Back. After all, it’s not easy to be logical and introspective after a long day and when your eyes are closing.
“Also, a good night’s sleep can give couples the gift of perspective, as they are able to view the problem with fresh (and hopefully more compassionate) eyes.”
You don’t have to go to bed seething, either. For example, Solomon explained that you might say something like: “I love us too much to remain stuck in this cycle. Let’s go to sleep. I have a feeling we’ll both feel a lot better in the morning.”
Don’t work on your relationship. Psychologist and sex therapist Cheryl Fraser, Ph.D., stressed the importance of adjusting your attitude from work to play. She suggested thinking of “your relationship like a hobby.”
For example, you make time for your hobby, and focus on how to improve your skills. “And you do it because you want to,” Fraser said. There’s a sense of lightness, fun, and curiosity, which are all things we can bring to our romantic relationships.
Reconnect in several minutes. We think connecting with our partner has to be time-consuming or some major event: a getaway, a night out. But connecting for just 8 minutes each day can be transformative. Carroll suggested setting aside 2 minutes to connect during the four transitions of each day: when you wake up, when you leave, when you return, and when you go to sleep.
In Love Skills, Carroll writes that this might look like holding each other in the mornings; making eye contact and wishing each other a good day before leaving for work; hugging and asking how the day went when you get home; and tucking each other in before bed (if you go to sleep at different times).
In the book, she also suggests talking to your partner about how each of you would “like to feel nurtured during the two-minute connections,” considering non-verbal cues, touch, words, and actions.
Schedule sex. This may seem terribly unromantic. But according to research, the majority of long-term couples don’t have spontaneous sex, said Fraser, author of the book Buddha’s Bedroom. “They ‘just do it.’”
She suggested scheduling a sex date for at least one day a week. “And then, whether you feel in the mood or not, take a shower together, start with a foot rub, or slip under the sheets naked.” As you start touching and connecting, she said, you’ll become aroused. After you’re done, “I guarantee you won’t say ‘Gee, I wish we hadn’t bothered.’ Instead, you’ll say ‘Wow, we need to do that more often.’”
Spend time apart. According to Solomon, “relationships need both separateness and togetherness.”
“When we take time away from each other, it can help us return to each other with a renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude.”
If you have kids, a demanding job, and a slew of responsibilities, or all of the above, your “me time” can be done in short bursts. If you have a commute, make the most of it by reading, listening to your favorite podcast, engaging in a hobby (such as sewing, working on your novel). Or, use your lunch break to go for a walk, eat out, or take a yoga class.
Make space for the hard stuff. “Many of us think that we need to have the ideal relationship—always happy, loving, tender, erotic,” said Robert Leahy, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of several books, including The Jealousy Cure. He calls this “romantic perfectionism,” which leads to unhappiness because it’s unrealistic.
The reality is that both partners will make a lot of mistakes and disappoint each other, he said. Both partners will be unreasonable, irrational, and unfair at some point.
Leahy suggested thinking of your relationship as a large room filled with objects, furniture, photos, and mementos. Each of these items represents an experience and triggers certain emotions and memories. “Your goal is to make room for everything in that room,” Leahy said. This means not eliminating things but making the room big enough to contain unhappy memories and feelings of jealousy, anger, and sadness, he said.
In other words, it means striking a balance of positives and negatives, Leahy said, so you can say: “This is our room and we will do the best we can to keep it our home.”