Whether you’re a newlywed or a seasoned partner and relationship expert, you can always learn something new about strengthening your relationship bonds. All relationships go through phases and require work. Even the most effortless-seeming bonds require maintenance for continual growth.
John Lennon was on to something when he said, “We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”
Co-authors of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James O. Pawelski, Ph.D. seem to agree. “Unlike in fairy tales, happily ever after doesn’t just happen. Rather, research suggests it’s healthy habits that build happiness over the long haul,” says Suzie.
Great relationships rely on a foundation of understanding, friendship, and respect. So what strengthens a bond and ensures your partner feels valued and respected? We turned to relationship experts and authors for their take on a strong connection.
Making Your Partner Feel Important
Remember when you first started dating your significant other? You probably had endless questions about their life, values, and who they are. The longer you are together, the less prevalent those questions become as you spend your days with each other.
Discussing the core of who they are in the world instead of merely going over the details of the day ensures they are heard and allows you to discover how they’re growing. It also prevents you from waking up one day and saying, “Who is this person?”
Lacrecia Dangerfield, a Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider, suggests, “One of the most genuine ways of being connected with a partner is to ask questions about who they are. The connection grows when one knows their partner is genuinely interested in them.”
“Instead of asking how was your day, ask ‘What is one new thing you learned today or learned about yourself today?’ Or “What could have gone differently and you would have felt heard or seen?’ Deeper level conversations bring about a deeper connection. If you can mirror the response in your response to your partner, they feel more connected to you.”
Ask your partner questions and don’t fall into a pattern of simply asking about their day and leaving it at that. “People like to feel like you are genuinely curious about their endeavors,” says Samantha Daniels, founder of Samatha’s Table Matchmaking. “Nothing shows that more than asking questions. However, make sure your questions make sense, are inquisitive, and are not condescending.”
And when you’re deep in conversation, really listen instead of gearing up for a response. Adina Mahalli is a relationship expert and mental health consultant from Maple Holistics. She suggests we might have an “empathetic need to fix people’s problems,” which may prevent us from building a meaningful conversation. We’re so focused on the end goal of fixing a problem or respond; we forget to listen with understanding and offer validation.
Activities to Foster Connection
Don’t stop at a conversation. Build a lifestyle around ensuring your relationship is growing and thriving with you. All the relationship experts we consulted agreed that engaging in your partner’s hobbies is a surefire way to build a meaningful connection.
Not sure what they’re interested in? Adina Mahalli suggests asking your partner about their interests and hobbies. “It can often happen that your partner won’t open up about their hobbies, not because they don’t want you to know, but because they don’t think that you’d care.”
Natalie Nesbitt, MS, LPC, NCC suggests, “Surprising them with tickets to a game or a showing of their favorite sci-fi movie with their friends while you provide the food. [It’s] a great way to say, ‘I support this. I support you.'”
Looking for other, more creative ways to engage? Montigus Jackson of Starting Pointe Counseling recommends a relationship card game! “This helps the couple engage in not your typical conversations. The cards ask random questions to engage each partner on a fun, non-threatening level.”
In a similar vein, Suzie Pileggi Pawelski shares a practice she and her husband James use in their relationship to nurture a strong bond. She suggests beginning each day by asking three questions:
1. What is one thing you are grateful for?
2. What is one thing you are proud of?
3. What is one thing that you are looking forward to?
“These questions will help orient you both to focus on the positive, focusing on what is going well in your lives and your relationship, rather than dwelling on what is wrong,” says Suzie.
“At the beginning of a relationship, it seems to be easy to be curious about our partner and focus on the positive. However, later in the relationship when the newness whereas off we often mistakenly think we know all there is about our partner, we stop asking questions, and we fall into a rut. These questions can help us strengthen our relationship.”