My husband and I are sometimes like two ships passing in the night. Or perhaps more aptly, two ships passing out at night. These days, not even a juicy Dateline can convince me to stay awake past 10 PM. By the time the work is done, the kids are (reasonably) pacified, and the sun has set, I’m pooped. The last thing I want to do is sit down and have a heart-to-heart about how I’m feeling.
A few months ago, we found ourselves particularly out of sync. Call it COVID, call it winter, call it whatever you’d like. We weren’t connecting, and our fuses seemed to shorten by the day. After a marathon midnight chat, we decided to take concrete steps to strengthen our relationship and make more time for each other. By incorporating 10 simple changes into our routines, we have slowly begun to reconnect.
If day-to-day stress has done a number on your relationship, you might be surprised at how effective these steps can be.
1. Commit to getting real – No more glossing over emotions; no more disengaging from difficult conversations. Prioritize 100% honesty when you are together. It may be cringe-worthy at first, but trust me. It will get easier.
2. Consider an erasable white board for the refrigerator – If you’re like us, your conversations are chock full of administrative items. After the fourth round of “Did you remember to…?” I usually lose it! These days, we skip all that. I can see what my partner has done and vice versa courtesy a quick peek at the fridge.
3. Go for walks together – The Norwegians like to say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothes.” We’ve taken to bundling up and going for a walk around the neighborhood over our lunch breaks. It’s a great way to get out of the house, squeeze in some exercise, and talk in private.
4. Mix up the caregiving routine – Some couples have a parenting routine that works like a charm. Others don’t. In recent weeks, my husband has taken over the most stressful part of our daughter’s daily cystic fibrosis care. He now gets 60 minutes of daddy/daughter time each evening, and I get to spend more time with our son.
5. Make dinner together – My spouse and I have gotten really good at dividing and conquering. But making dinner is something we can do together. And if I ever get hit by a bus, I’ll at least know that the kids will be fed.
6. Get out of the house – The past year has been isolating for so many couples. These days, we are looking for any excuse to safely get out there. We go for bike rides, pick up pizzas, and explore our newly vaccinated freedom. After months of Groundhog’s Day, the smallest excursions can liven up our days and get us out of our heads.
7. Sit together – I hate piles of dirty dishes and unread emails as much as the next person. But as the weather starts to warm, I’m allowing myself to be lured to the front porch instead. A cold drink and a quick catch up after dinner are a hell of lot better than a date with the dishwasher.
8. Treat one another as you would a best friend – Once upon a time, my husband and I were best friends. It’s tough to say when that thread frayed away. These days, we are trying to assume more positive intent, interrupt less, and be quicker to apologize. It’s not about winning a conversation; it’s about connecting.
9. Exercise self-compassion – It’s amazing how nasty our inner critics can be. Mine is constantly telling me that I’m not doing enough or that I’m just plain “not enough.” These days, I am working on being a better friend to myself. I’m finding that when I approach myself with something other than clenched teeth, I am able to bring a kinder person to our relationship.
10. Allow yourself to be human – My snark still sidles out when I least expect it. But I try to own up to it. “I have no idea why I just said that,” I’ve confessed time and time again. “That was awful.” None of us is perfect, but that’s okay. Life is messy, and we are human. And sometimes, just admitting that we want to do better is the most important step.