By Susan Regan, MFT
Activities to Deepen your Relationship
Here are a few activities to deepen your relationship: you don’t need to do these all at once. Space them out over a month.
Just take one or two things that you think would be most helpful to the two of you.
1. Think of one behavior you have that the other person likes or praises:
Ask yourself why you do this. Share with your partner your feelings as you think about this behavior and why you do it. Then, think about a negative behavior that you do, especially around your partner. Describe it in the same way and watch what happens when you extinguish the negative behavior and do more of the positive behavior. Ask your partner to take note and let you know when they’re seeing more of the positive behavior so that this positive behavior gets reinforced.
2. Listening to how we talk to each other:
Record one hour of being with your conversation with partner in an evening, perhaps through dinner or in the morning, as you’re getting ready for the day. Make sure you find a time when you’re interacting such as at the end of the day when you’re checking in. Listen to the recording together a few days later. Share with one another how listening to the recorder makes you feel. You may find things you can work on such as not interrupting, your tone of voice, or what you talk about. It’s really important to examine how we are in relationships, especially when we are in a long-term relationship as our actions oftentimes become unconscious. We need to be working on being more conscious in our every interaction with the people we care about the most.
3. More on Communication:
During the weekend, try to do something different. Don’t ask your partner to do anything for you. If you notice that your partner gets things for you, such as bringing you a coffee or your shoes, try to stop this and do it for them instead. Ask them if they need anything and try to do the things that they do for you and see if it makes a difference with your interactions. See if it makes you more aware of what you take for granted. Take a few minutes to talk about this with your partner, making your work really obvious to both of you.
4. Think about your actions:
Think about actions you do that instill guilt in your spouse, whether it is because they didn’t finish a chore or they forgot to get something from the store. Notice when you do this and try for one week to refrain from these behaviors and negative responses. See if your relationship feels different to you and make it obvious to your spouse that you’re working on these things do.
5. How do I feel when I nag you?
Some typical conversations I have with people who are working on improving communication and changing their relationships for the better involve a two-way behavior pattern between the nagger and the nagged. Often times when we are in a long term relationship we stop listening and understanding each other. We speak in a tone of voice irrespective of whether or not the other person understands. In other words, communication is ignored and we are not paying enough attention to each other. It could help to get back to basic exercises like direct listening where you just hear what the other person says without interpreting it. You can also make a conscious effort to sit down a few times a week in more of a business meeting like review of logistics and make commitments to each other about what types of things need to get done around the house or are to be managed differently. Often people give up and they stop trying to talk to each other and only when they’re really frustrated do they try to communicate. When people are upset or frustrated, the other partner really can’t hear what they have to say beyond the frustration. While working with couples, one of my favorite theorists, John Gotman, actually has couples wear a blood pressure cuff so any time their heart rate accelerates he has them stop and go into the waiting room to calm down. He believes, and it is widely believed, that it is only when people are truly calm can hear each other. So my suggestion for a couple who is trying to improve communication is to plan a time for it and to do some kind of business, logistical meeting where you really share some of the things that aren’t working for you in the relationship and strategize, negotiate, and compromise how to do things differently so no one feels frustrated. This way people feel needed, heard, and respected.
6. Do we make enough time for the two of us?
Often times when there are so many obligations: work, home, children and social life, couples don’t have enough time for each other or themselves. Stress becomes a real predominant theme in people’s lives and often we feel like they don’t have enough quality connections with family or in their relationship.
In couple therapy I often ask folks to make a life pie chart and list 7 values that they have and section out in percentages how much of these areas you’re focusing on in your regular, daily, and weekly life. Here are 7 values:
family, work, relationship, friends, hobbies, exercise, spirituality, and creativity.
Draw the circle and fill in the pie with the percentage of time each topic takes up in your daily life. If you’re feeling like you aren’t spending enough time in any of these areas you should take some time to focus on how you could add more time to this area. Let’s say in the circumstance of relationships you might try to find some quality time throughout the weeks and days. Maybe not such big chunks of time but small periods of time where you’re connecting with your relationship. Often times we expect a lot from each other in a relationship but we don’t spend enough time building the foundation so then the relationship lacks what could be called equity so there is more frequent fighting and discourse because there is not enough flexibility or equity to be kind and loving and to let things go . Often times when there is negative equity in a relationship there is a lot of conflict. Instead of spending a whole day with your partner because maybe that’s not realistic or maybe you have young children that require a lot of time and attention, maybe you can think of shorter times like having a cup of coffee together, taking a short walk, reading or finding a time just to share some thoughts and interests whether it is sharing an article or music, or a film or book. There are many ways to spend small moments of time together. Maybe before going out with friends for an evening, you spend time together before you are social with other people.